Paul, the Mildly Sexist Racist
“The Pakistanis don’t enjoy sports at all!” Paul exclaimed.
I thought that might have been a bit of a sweeping generalisation – especially if their cricket team was anything to go by.
“It’s all because of theocracy,” he continued.
I held my breath and smiled politely. I had no idea how we’d progressed so far from safe small talk conversations – weather and the breakfast buffet – to religion and politics.
Paul was some 40 years my senior. Paul and I were staying at the same hotel. Paul and I both hailed from Australia. And Paul and I found ourselves on the same shuttle heading for the ski-field in Hakuba that morning.
By some strange twist of fate, I had been the only other Australian waiting at the bus stop that morning. The delightfully polite Japanese hotel manager, who communicated only in nods and smiles, had ushered me over. From what I could gather, he wanted me to aid in informing the man that if he did not hurry, he would miss the bus.
“Mate,” I said, trying to appeal to our common ground. “This is the last bus of the morning. If you miss it, you’ll have a 30-minute uphill walk.” I grimaced as I looked at the ski boots he was still trying to pull on.
Right on cue, the bus pulled up.
Feeling as though I had served my dues, I piled myself on the bus. Paul shuffled on, not far behind, and sat himself in the seat next to me.
I would like to take a moment to say that I have a severe aversion to small talk. I would equate it to having to pull on a pair of socks that have already been worn for the last three days. It is, however, a necessary evil. So it is with an open mind that I will suck up my prejudices and partake in this dull exercise of social etiquette.
“You can’t introduce democracy into a country like that – they just don’t understand.”
As I choked on my own saliva, I hoped that no one on the bus was listening in on this conversation.
I had nearly had a beer for breakfast that morning. Just have a latte, Jenni, I reasoned with myself. I very much regretted that decision now.
Paul was from Sydney. Paul had migrated from Greece when he was 13. Paul had two failed marriages and two daughters, and he wanted to know if I would accompany him around the slope until he got the lay of the land.
One gondola and two chair-lifts later, I also knew that Paul had not wanted his daughter to take a gap year in London because it was dangerous (she went anyway). He had always wanted to come ski in Japan, but had been afraid he would have no one to talk to, what with the language barrier and all. Though he had a “lady friend”, Paul had told her to stay at home. Because there was no point in her coming to the snow if she couldn’t ski.
It was one of those glorious bluebird days, and for the first time that week, the mountain had been blanketed overnight by a thick coat of snow. I was frothing at the mouth to be unleashed on the powder and try my luck dodging in and out of some tree runs. As I made my way down the mountain with Paul in tow, I weighed up the ethical dilemma – how morally conscious it would be to “lose” Paul? Because I was fast running out of defences for religion, travel, minorities, youth, vegetarians and environmental sustainability.
Through all of his gripes, I sensed Paul to be ultimately good-natured. The man may have had many opinions, but he had no malice. Or so I kept telling myself. Either way, I couldn’t bring myself to ditch him.
Eventually sensing that I was hankering to relocate my posse of powder hounds, Paul bid me farewell, resigning himself to the parts of the mountain where he would find his skis less bogged. I was eternally grateful for this reprieve, and was already half way up the chair lift as I waved goodbye.
Boarding the last shuttle bus of the day, I was buzzing from warmth and happiness, and also a few apres-ski beers. It had been one of those spectacular days where I couldn’t help but realise how fortunate I was to be on top of that mountain.
I scanned the bus, seeing all the seats filled with people that were grinning as much as me. Spying one spare seat, I plopped myself down, only to realise I was once again sitting next to none other than Paul.
“Make sure you don’t leave your run for children too late,” he reminded me as the bus pulled away from the station. “You’ll be past your prime soon.”
Cover by Jeff Hopper