Overtom's weblog

The verbally deprived  (24 December 2003)

The other day I visited a local supermarket. For those who are familiar with the west of Amsterdam: it was Dirk van den Broek at the Mercatorplein

If you are a regular visitor of supermarkets, you must sometimes have seen articles lying around in the wrong places, apparently because people first chose to buy them, but later changed their minds.

Some people go as far as dumping deep-frozen articles in this way. It doesn't take much imagination to understand that after a few hours you may as well throw these no longer deep frozen products away. That's one of the drawbacks of the self-service system (and of quite a few other systems): it's not resistant to antisocial behaviour. 

Anyway, I was waiting in the queue to pay when some not very clean and rather alien looking young man decided he no longer wanted the can of soft-drink he had chosen before, and he decided to deposit it out of sight in some obscure corner. 

As I think people are responsible for their own mistakes, I told the young man that I would discuss with the cashier if she found it no problem that customers left articles behind. 

This enraged the aforesaid youngster so much that after a few preliminary remarks he threatened to smash my face. If it was because of the difference in height (he was about one foot shorter than me) or for some other reason, I will never know, but the quarrel petered out in some empty threats on his part. 

Later I considered why this young man, obviously of alien origin and verbally not amongst the most gifted in our society, had displayed such Pavlovian behaviour. I remember that many years ago guests at Chinese restaurants were often received with a curt "ja?", which is Dutch for "yes", as you may have guessed. It sounded very impolite, but was not meant that way. The waiter's command of the Dutch language just did not make it possible to express himself in a more polite way. 

Now returning to this alien young man, I wonder if his command of the Dutch language went much further than "I'll smash your face". I also wonder if it is not a task for the government not just to give these youngsters benefits so they can buy soft drinks and marijuana, but also to give them some kind of education linked to their benefit, so that they will learn how to use other verbal expressions when they come across things they don't like.

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