I lost my temper. Telemarketers had been calling at least twice a day for weeks, making me jump, startling me from whatever I was doing to dig my phone out of my bag in the middle of the store or turn off my bluetooth speaker. They called from various numbers but they always played the same music when I answered. Because of my pending residency, I didn’t have the luxury of not answering calls from unknown numbers. Initially, I told them I wasn’t interested in their internet offer, and then mostly just ignored them. But one day I lost my temper.
“Look, who are you with? Stop calling me! I’m tired of you calling me! Do you understand me?” My rush of emotion garbled my Spanish. “No, I don’t understand.” “Who are you with?” I demanded again. She hesitated split second, thrown off-script. “I’m calling for María…” Liar. “I’m not María and I have had this number for three years!” “I’m sorry for bothering you.”
After I cooled down, I began to wonder if this poor lady had received the brunt of my anger at a Spanish demographic. Not at Spanish culture as a whole–more often than not, I view the culture as a welcome Western break from North African culture–but at a certain bossy attitude I bump into. In America, the current lingo has something to do with the name “Karen” (which I believe is an injustice to the name since no Karens I know act like the memes). It’s the women who believe it is their duty to uphold every law they can get their hands on. And they enforce invisible laws too.
“You can’t sit there! We’re supposed to keep a distance of 2 meters!” The bossy voice at my ear caused me to jump. And the familiar dread rose. “No?” The last I had heard was that we were allowed to sit side by side on the bus. Had regulations changed again? The man behind the sharp voice piped up: “Yes, we’re allowed to sit with a partner.” His tone was just as blessedly bossy. “No, we’re supposed to keep a distance of 2 meters!” she bugled. I closed my eyes. As if anyone on the bus could sit 2 meters apart. Then again, I sure wouldn't mind having more than 2 meters separating me from that voice. They fought it out, those two equally matched enemies while I sat, staring forward, trying to talk myself out of venomous irritation.
Sometimes I deserve a reprimand as I cut a corner here or there. Most of us probably do. After a sharp comment at the post office after I violated a hyper-enforced regulation (Note: no getting a number to wait outside while “Karen” is on duty), I obediently returned outside and pondered what in the world made me so angry about that attitude. Spanish culture is abrasive, yes, especially for thin-skinned Americans, but this went deeper than hurt feelings.
Then I found it: shame. It was shame. Every time someone barked at me, whether or not it was to enforce a covid regulation (or an imagined one!), they reinforced my sense of incompetence in their culture. And deeper still, they contributed to a deep-seated fear that I did not nor would I ever belong.
That fear is what bubbled to the angry surface with the unsuspecting telemarketer. The solution? Probably a cocktail of growing a few more layers of skin as long as I am a “stranger and pilgrim” while simultaneously rooting myself deeper in the One I belong to.
I’m still working on that, but in the meantime, I’m learning that shouting at telemarketers probably doesn’t solve anything. Although, they haven’t called me since that day…