Race or rally?

After nearly five years of marriage I didn’t think I needed any further confirmation that my husband and I are polar opposites. This trip, however, has proven that we are officially from different planets! Maybe not Mars and Venus, but planets that generally orbit in a similar pattern and align occasionally, like an eclipse. I’m not much of a space cadet (and he is) so I’m not even sure if this is making literal sense!

We have different interests, different approaches to the world at large and most definitely, different coping mechanisms. He loves studying life and ancient history in museums and I love to be out in markets and coffee shops witnessing life as it is today. He is fascinated by science, I am obsessed with human behaviour. He is patient and has a softly, softly approach. I, on the other hand, am standing in the same queue applying LEAN principles to an ‘obviously broken’ process and impatiently concocting strategies to more efficiently weave my way through the unnecessarily long and beaurecratic line. He uses order (I call it OCD) to deal with change and I use frenetic explosive bursts of energy (fuelled by anxiety),  coupled with ‘collapse in a heap’ rest to deal with surprises  (he calls this schizophrenia).

These differences are played out best at the airport with our 20kg backpacks on. Me leading out the front with my bags barely on and definitely not done up, setting a record Olympic speed walking pace to dominate the check-in line before the whole world descends upon it. My lips are pursed, brow furrowed and eyes locked into the main target – the lady at counter 20, who looks like she speaks English, will be lenient with our baggage weight, and will accommodate his need for a window seat and mine for an aisle seat and will do so without placing an obese, sweaty man between us! He, on the other hand, is just entering the terminal at a more leisurely pace, with his bag properly and ergonomically aligned on his back, buckles done up tightly and is more than 20 paces behind (and is potentially putting our ultimate check-in desk scenario at risk). He has taken the time to observe the key signage for security, toilets and food. You see, he knows that once this burst of anxiety is over for me, I will be HANGRY and quick access to food, water and bathrooms will be essential to our marriage’s survival in the next stage of the Amazing Race, Mexico City International Airport.

These differences are our greatest strength and what makes us a great team, if we let them. We learnt early on that we needed to play to our strengths and let go of the idea that we needed to be equals and play equal roles in every scenario. And when I say we, I actually mean me. And reflecting on the last 6 weeks, where there have been no major disputes and only a few spats (mainly instigated by me) it seems this strategy continues to serve us well.

But one of the differences that doesn’t matter much to either of us, but is the most obvious to those observing our relay race through the terminal, is that I am an enormous, white viking and he is a slightly shorter (I’m being a little generous), brown, island boy. More than our race strategies, our actual race is the thing that others in the airport see and judge us by.

More often than not, people don’t put us together and they definitely don’t think we are husband and wife. I am often called forward to check in first and when he comes up to the counter with me, we are always asked if we are travelling together. We don’t have the same surname – so that doesn’t help, but more often than not, people will ask us our relationship status and look a little surprised to find out that we are married. This continues through immigration, where one form is needed per family and we are often questioned as to why we are using the one form. Security clearance is always a hassle, as I speed through and he is always stopped to be body scanned, physically patted down and to have his bag searched. That is, unless I am holding his hand and looking the security guard in the eye, as we pass with no complaints. His passport is always questioned and a second opinion always sought. Mine – no questions asked – just stamp that baby!

This doesn’t just happen in airports. If we are at a restaurant, I will be given the bill to pay 80% of the time. If we book a room under his surname we will always be given the room we booked, whereas I have a better chance of an upgrade. I have less of a chance of being taken advantage of and can negotiate a discount on things more easily than he can. However, sometimes it works in his favour – particularly when the service attendants or event security guards are of similar descent and have themselves experienced similar scenarios. At those times he gets to walk straight through and I get the evil eye.

Unfortunately, this is the reality around the world and is deeply entrenched in many cultures. The darker your skin, the deeper down the social rung you are. The bias is there – whether it is unconscious or very much conscious. It is accompanied by billboards for whitening cream and European brands modelled by Arian looking people who you never see walking down the street beneath that sign. It is there when we read surnames and ask people where they are ‘actually from’ when they’ve already told you they are Australian, for example. We have talked to many locals in Mexico, who have told us stories about the class system and that being a ‘have’ or ‘have not’ starts with your skin tone, your last name and the degree (the less the better) of indigenous blood that runs through your veins. Sound familiar?  There is no better example than the restaurants we have dined at over the last few weeks. Looking at the colour of the skin of the people working there tells you a lot –  the cleaners, the servers, the waitstaff, the kitchen staff, the chef, the front of house and the manager. The further up the chain the lighter the shade of skin. This isn’t just a Mexican challenge, it is in the USA, UK, Europe, Australia – the world over.

It is such a limiting lens to use to look out into the world, as the richness that exists in the diversity of a country’s people is what makes that place, city or town unique. It is a wealth that is understated and under appreciated. It is latent potential that exists because people are focussing on the race between the classes and not the rallying of strengths across a nation.

It would be like looking at our marriage and assuming traditional roles, no questions asked, and not embracing the beauty and complexity that exists in our unequivocal uniqueness and individuality. I like that my marriage is a little microcosm of the world – a place that affords us space and time to observe and experience diversity; in personality, in culture and experience within this sometimes harsh and crazy world.

P x

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