|Photo Description: book cover for 'The Alexandria Quartet' by Lawrence Durrell with and introduction by Jan Morris|
I said to her, patiently, "Yes it is an awfully big book, but every now and then, I find, it's good to settle in for a nice long read."
She looked at me startled, "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were ... " Then she was lost for words. Or, perhaps more accurately, she didn't want to use the word that finished that sentence.
After a moment's pause, she said, "I shouldn't have spoken to you in that tone of voice," and then she caught herself again by continuing, "it's just that I thought ..." Stuck again. Another unfinished sentence.
"You thought I had an intellectual disability, although you may have used another word in your head, but I don't. But I can tell you this, no-one likes being spoken to in that tone of voice. Not me, not people with intellectual disabilities, not children .. no one."
I'd have been fine if she left it at that and headed off, but she didn't.
She said, "But ..."
And that's as far as I let her go, because there is no 'but' here. It doesn't matter what she thought. It doesn't matter what she intended. The only things that mattered is that she felt that disability gave her permission to speak to me in a tone of voice that NO ONE likes or appreciates. NO ONE. The idea that there is a tone of voice that is reserved for people with intellectual disabilities is patently ridiculous. Patronizing is patronizing. Offensive is offensive.
"There is no 'but,'" I said, "you made two assumptions, one about me and one about how you are allowed to speak to the person you thought I was. Both are wrong. Just apologize and let's move on shall we."
"You don't have to be mean," she said.
"I'm not mean, I'm not bitter, I'm just interrupted and insulted - typically people apologize for that, if you are above apologizing to someone with a disability, then please, just leave me alone and go about your business."
"I'm not above apologizing to anyone, but I won't apologize to YOU!"
"I'm good with that, I wonder if you will still be this evening at around five."
She hadn't left, so I did.
I went an bought my AWFULLY big book.