I know, this could totally turn into some sort of silly joke butta’erm — nope.
So my newly acquired friend Ms. G was invited out to dinner with friends, and she thought that I would enjoy their company as well so she invited me to attend. So exciting, a lovely time out meeting new people — I love doing that!
So we arrive, introduce ourselves all around – three fluent Italian speakers (including Ms. G) and three English ones, a Kenyan, a Germanic Spaniard and myself. I sat on the side of the table where the Italian speakers were because its good for me to listen, it helps me distinguish sounds and inflections as well as have my ear pick out words that I am familiar with. I attempted to express myself in Italian to one of the Italian speakers, and the Kenyan immediately said “Your Italian is awful”. WTF? (And I do not mean why-the-face, Modern Family lovers) Now, since he said it amongst a bunch of people speaking simultaneously, the Italian speakers didn’t quite hear it or pay attention. However, I heard it, glanced quickly at him, ignored him and continued to speak in my ‘awful’ Italian. Really? That’s what you say to someone you just met? Within the first 15 minutes? I am glad my Buddhist sensibilities kicked in immediately. I figured I’d give this ass the benefit of the doubt. Changing seats to get to know him and his extrememly tired and non-talkative Germanic-Spanish girlfriend better (yep, that’s the Buddhist in me), I found this man attempting to compete with me. I suspect I might have ruined his ‘being-special-because-he’s-the-only-Black-or-of-color-person-in-the-room’ schtick. He goes on to say that Italian is non difficile, that he’s been here for 2-3 months and he’s picked it up quite easily. So I reply, that’s great for him, but I’ve been here for two weeks, so yes its easy for him but not for me yet. He really didn’t have much to add after that.
Fortunately for me, I have heard too many native Italian speakers who didn’t know me tell me that my pronunciation and inflection are great. Brava, they tell me! No reason to butter me up if you don’t know me, so I kind of lean towards believing what they say.
Anyway, the Kenyan and I had another kind of disagreement about whether its important for Black people to know which parts of Africa they descend from (ummm, a fervent YES). And then I reminded myself (since I had already made this distinction in my head after his eloquent opinion of my Italian) that I had no desire to hang out with him again anyway. In my head I thought “Why can’t you just enjoy the damn meal, meet new people, and engage in friendly conversation? Without exploiting your insecurity by insulting and then attempting to compete with someone you just met?”
What I’ve learned about people over these past 30+ years is that when someone tries to compete with you verbally, just remove your ego from the situation and agree with them. It takes the bite out of them, and usually you can move on to another topic.