“Do You Speak English?”

I was walking to the bus tonight, with my usual combination of focus on the path in front of me and absorption in my own thoughts, when to my right I suddenly heard a woman raising her voice and asking, “Do you speak English?” (It was more of an exclamation than it was a question.)

It turned out to be a well-meaning if politically incorrect matron from out of town, maybe from an Oakland County suburb like West Bloomfield or Farmington Hills, wanting to know if I had change for a dollar to feed one of the greedy State Street parking meters. She’d obviously been rebuffed in her pleas by other passersby. I dug into my backpack and gave her some quarters.

She was at least amiable, which was far more than I could say for the surly undergrad at Shapiro ten minutes earlier who’d not even looked away from his computer screen when I’d approached to check out a book. This always puzzles me. You’re a student, you’re employed at a desk to check out books and probably also to fulfill a work-study requirement, yet you ignore approaching foot traffic unless it’s (presumably) of the opposite sex, roughly your age, and physically appealing.

Yeah, I was an undergrad once too, back in the Pleistocene Era, so I know the mindset (and had the mindset, too). But that doesn’t make it right.