Sunday 23 Oct 2016

Sjef Frenken

Jack and I were quietly munching away at our lunchtime repast. It isn’t often that there is a longish stretch of silence when Jack and I get together at our usual meeting place. There was this time: an island of calm in the hubbub of munching and chatting shoppers around us. It was too good to last.

At a table next to us sat a middle-aged couple. Up to now, just like us, they hadn’t said a word to each other.

The man suddenly tapped his wife’s hand and nodded with his head in the direction of two women talking to each other as they waited in line at Kojax, the souvlaki counter. They were wearing traditional Muslim dresses, with the head scarf, but without the facial covering. “Why the hell don’t they wear ordinary clothes?!” said the man.

“Yeah,” agreed his wife, “if they want to come to Canada, why don’t they dress like Canadians?”

“When in Rome,” said the man, “do like the Romans do.” Ungrammatical, I noted, but in line with St Ambrose’s sentiment.

I observed that Jack had been following this brief exchange of views. Jack, who as you know, has travelled all over the world, was not to be restrained from adding his twenty-five cents to the discussion. Jack leaned over and tapped the man on his shoulder.

“I hope you don’t mind my interruption, but I couldn’t help overhearing what you just said. ‘When in Rome …’ blah, blah. Let me get this straight,” said Jack, “If you were on a trip to another country, you’d dress like that country’s inhabitants?”

“Well,” said the man, “I don’t know as how it’s any business of yours, but yeah, I’d dress like normal people.”

“So if you’d go to the Congo, you’d wear nothing but a loincloth, and neither would your wife?” said Jack.

“First of all,” said the man, “I’m not going to the Congo – never will. And besides not everyone in the Congo is dressed only in a loincloth.”

“Point taken,” said Jack. “But what if you have to go to Saudi Arabia, would you still wear the kind of clothes you’re now wearing?”

“Sure,” said the man, “that’s what I call normal clothing.”

“Well,” said Jack, “Those dresses the women over there are wearing, are just normal clothing to the people in Saudi Arabia. So if you were ever in Saudi Arabia, you’d refuse to do as the Saudi Arabians do, but you don’t like it when those women don’t do as the Canadians do. That doesn’t seem fair, now, does it? Tit for tat, it seems to me.”

“And I’m not going to Saudi Arabia either,” countered the man.

“That’s a non sequitur,” said Jack.

“Watch your mouth, mister!” said the woman.

That was the end of that inter-table discussion. Not a happy ending for Jack, but no fisticuffs either. We’ve had worse lunches.

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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