Warning: we all stereotype people. I am no exception. In fact, I may be worse than average. I'd rather I didn't, but the reason we stereotype is to help us make sense of our world. As I realize that I'm possibly worse in this respect than others, I do try to see beyond the stereotype. But I thought I'd preface this entry with this warning, as I'll likely rely on many of my stereotypes.
One of my pet peeves walking down a typical Mexican sidewalk (which is normally only wide enough to accommodate 1.5 people walking side-by-side) is many other pedestrians' failure to let others pass. True, many people will move to one side if they hear someone walking up behind them at a fast pace. But often when two women are walking side by side and they approach another woman walking on the same sidewalk in the opposite direction, who gives way? My mind says that the party of two should walk single file for a few steps. But apparently this is not the Mexican way, as most women walking side-by-side hold their ground and it's up to that lone woman walking toward them to squish herself into the nearest wall in order to let the other two pass. I don't understand. This is also true if the lone woman is wielding a stroller. Go figure. Maybe we'd all pass comfortably if I adhered to some walking rule that they don't tell you about in customs. I was probably in the bathroom during that lesson.
To make a not-so-long story short, my encounters on sidewalks are usually not the friendliest. (There's also no animosity, but they're just not pleasant experiences.) Furthermore, sidewalks are generally not designed with strollers in mind--cracks in the sidewalk often rise a good 4 inches, people plant trees in the middle of the sidewalk, all of a sudden sidewalks turn into gravelwalks, and curbs can be precariously high. On Friday, I was walking downtown, dodging the loitering groups of school kids making nuisances of themselves after school while lugging the stroller down from 2 foot high drops between the sidewalk and the street. Out of the blue, a few of the loiterers came closer and politely asked if they could help. I almost dropped the stroller. And as the clouds rolled away and the sun came out and all the world looked friendlier, I flashed them a genuine smile, thanked them for their offer, and thought about what a wonderful world this is.
So I had to readjust my stereotypes yet again. But allow me to wallow back in them for just a minute. Normally we (I) think of junior high/high school kids (particularly the boys) as obnoxious, lazy, self centered, etc. But after the few encounters I've had with them (particularly the boys), it's easy to come to the realization that's not at all the case. Again, I've noticed that young men here (particularly those who are far too young to consider me a potential girlfriend) have been educated to treat others with an impressive level of respect. Really, it's basic decency that I've noted, but given by young men who go out of their way to deliver it.
One of the more touching ways I've seen this respect displayed was in a crowded mass a few weeks ago. There's a very old man who lives near the church and, despite his reliance on his walker, always manages to walk to church punctually every Sunday. This particular week, he entered a bit later than normal and all the pews were full. Of course, people will generally give up their seats to older people, particularly one with a walker--this is nothing out of the ordinary. (But quite shamefully, it's usually people in their fifties or sixties giving up their seats for the ancianos--what's wrong with my generation?) However, on this particular day, a young man in his twenties gave this man his seat. He also gently helped him up and down and offered him his arm to help him to the aisle for communion. Once mass was over he again gave this older gentleman his arm to help him out of the church, so he wouldn't get jostled from everyone else leaving. Both of these men I look up to and respect. One, for showing his devotion and getting out despite age, arthritis, and potential dangers. I hope that I will one day be as devout and uncomplaining. The other, for looking beyond himself and simply doing the right thing. After witnessing his example, I notice the ways in which I fail.
This is the other side of the coin. While every once in awhile I am truly touched by a display of respect given by a random man in public, I struggle to remember a similar display given by a woman. (Being a woman and a feminist, this is a particularly painful realization.) Perhaps I've seen this but simply taken them for granted. Whatever the case, I know I need to set the bar higher for myself. I'd like to think that I do look beyond myself and do the "right thing" when called upon. But do I really? And if I don't provide that example, what kind of young woman will my daughter turn into: the one that doesn't give way on the sidewalk or the one that helps the lady with the stroller?