Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Language Magic. I ride "MetroRail", a commuter train, from about a mile near my house to the Government Center on the west side of Downtown. From there I transfer to the "PeopleMover", another public mode of transportation that is elevated and runs in a couple of loops around all of Downtown and over the Miami River to what we call the Brickell area (if you remember Miami Vice, Crockett was always shown driving down Brickell Avenue in his sports car.) The PeopleMover brings me within a block of my office building, and I walk the rest of the way.

Sometimes the PeopleMover is crowded, as it was today. One stop away from my stop, even more people entered the already crowded car. I had moved over near one of the doors so that I could more easily exit when we arrived at my stop and thought I was well positioned. But one stop away the new crowd got in and several people bunched between where I was standing and the door. Not a big problem, but I knew I was going to have to ask for folks to let me out. The people who were between me and the door were several Haitian young men, one of them dressed in a kitchen uniform. I figured they were going to one of the hotels at stops beyond my stop. They were speaking Creole.

As my stop approached, I was trying to think of the French word for Excuse Me, Please. I managed to remember Excuse Me, but not Please. So when my stop arrived, I said "Excusaymoi" (I did not study French and I know that's not the right spelling).


Those guys were really surprised. They had been ignoring me and everyone else when the crowded in. Not in an offensive way, but I think that if we had been in a Southern, middle-class place, they would have been careful to position themselves and conscious that others may want to get off (not because they were black and others were white, but just because of the idea of community courtesy that I think is stronger in the South). But that was really OK. This is Miami, and people tend to keep within themselves and they are not going to relate to "strangers" automatically.

So here I was in my lawyers uniform: white middle aged guy, $400 suit, white shirt, tie - the works.


They were surprised. The fellow right in front of me moved over without hesitation and said very politely. "Monsieur", as if to show me the way out. Absolutely no irony in what he said. Pure courtesy and a little surprise in his voice.

I couldn't remember the words for please and thank you until I got out and the doors closed. Shoot! I should have said, "Si vous play" (again, bad, bad spelling). And "Merci".

Oh well. But that little interchange, where I connected with these young men, was a flicker of intensity, recognition, and friendliness that I did not expect, but which, I guess, I was really hoping for.

Miami is a great city, and I am very happy to live here. I am going to learn some Creole.

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