In a Jam

This blog entry contains an interesting story. In Aix-En Provence, the group had a wonderful time. We had a full day here, so it gave us a bit of time to explore the town after a walking tour. During our day, we had a light lunch at a restaurant called Brasserie Les Deux Garçons. This was so cool, because people like Pablo Picasso and Winston Churchill ate there! It was the oldest restaurant in the town, founded in 1792. It was charming. After a little grub, we made our way through the shopping area. It was basically a mini Champs Elyéssén. During our walk, we found a cute store that sold jams, jellies, rhubarbs, honeys, and things of that nature. I liked this store especially because we could have as many samples of the products our hearts desired. I found one that I really wanted to take home. It was a strawberry jam, unlike anything I had ever tasted. I figured I could take it home to my family and let them try jam from France! How cool would that have been? I wouldn’t know, because I didn’t buy it.

I had spent time trying the plethora of jams, jellies and honeys in effort to pick out the perfect one. My perfect one was a strawberry kind. I found a mini jar of it, perfect for travel, and headed to the cash register to purchase my oh-so-lovely jam. I waited patiently in line, as another girl from our group was purchasing her jelly. There was only one person between her and I, which was no problem. When it was my turn to check out, I walked up with a smile, excited I had finally found something to take home. Meanwhile, I noticed the store associate would not make eye contact with me. She wouldn’t even acknowledge that I was standing there. This was odd to me, because the other girl from my group and her had a nice conversation while she was checking out. I tried to say something to surely get her attention and still nothing. She was actively ignoring me, then walked away to go help someone else. Next, I finally came to the realization — it was what I was wearing. Before we came to Aix, we were told by our guide that people dress nice here; it is a way to show how much money they have, and earn their spot in town. I was wearing a tie-dye shirt, jean capris and my chacos. Compared to those around town, I did have a less-than-classy outfit on that day.

The woman did not want to give me service because in her eyes, I was less than her. I did not display my financial status in my clothing, so she gave me the cold shoulder. Now, I could be over analyzing, but the other girl in my group was wearing a very cute dress and sandals, with curly hair and make up. Before I could bring myself to ask why she wouldn’t pay me any attention, I set the jam down forcefully and said, “Well okay then, I guess I won’t be buying from here.” And I walked out.

I discussed this in further detail with my group just to ensure I wasn’t being dramatic. The girls and even my professor agreed that my outward appearance could have put an influence on how the lady treated me. While I don’t believe I displayed good conflict management, I do know I tried to open my own eyes and see things from her perspective.

Later on in the trip, this experience became a joke and I can now laugh about it; but that day I was upset, and was able to finally realize what it feels like to be discriminated against. I have always been very aware that on the privilege wheel, I am considered extremely privileged in this world — the only thing going for me is that I am not a man. I know I am extremely fortunate to be in my specific shoes… But being intentionally discriminated against because of my outward appearance gave me a great reality check.