A couple of winters ago, I was living in a different part of the city. You meet a different type of person on the buses that go down Paisley Road West than you do on the buses that go up Great Western Road, which is a statement of fact and not a judgement, and this involved the former. It was a cold December night, a few days before the major celebration of that month, and the bus was packed full. I sat next to a black man of average build, who was in the window seat. Directly behind him there was a bigger-built black guy with a mean look on his face, and next to this guy was the evening’s Bus Arsehole – a drunk, mouthy, Glaswegian woman of forty or fifty.
The guy next to me was having a conversation with the gent behind him, I presume in their native tongue but short of knowing that it wasn’t English or one of the main Romanic languages, I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess as to precisely which dialect they were using. The big guy was happy enough when leaning forward and chatting this way, but he didn’t like the interjections from the Bus Arsehole – and it wasn’t hard to fathom why. She sat behind me, tutting loudly every time they spoke, and making a point of doing so in such a way that they would notice her disgruntlement.
The guy next to me was very affable, and starting talking to the woman in English – apologetically, for reasons I will come to. Whenever those two spoke, the big guy sat back into his seat, his demeanour changing and his engagement in social interaction replaced with the kind of scowl that suggests you will have the fuck knocked out of you if you even looked at him.
“Yous should talk in English,” the woman told the guy sitting diagonally in front of her (and next to me.) I bit my tongue and didn’t point out that we have our own recognisably distinct version of English – Scots – which made her remark a little hypocritical. Instead, I listened as the guy next to me apologised profusely and tried to explain why they were talking in their own language – as if it somehow needed justified to this inebriated stranger.
“Yous should speak English, so’s that other people know what yous urr saying,” she said. That was the moment when I joined in, siding with the guy next to me. “Mate, it’s none of her fucking business what you’re saying, don’t apologise!” Technically I had been doing as she wanted to – listening in to something that didn’t involve me – but since I was in such close proximity there was no way I could have reasonably been expected to have avoided it.
“Whit you sayin’ tae it?” she demanded of me, refocusing her attention and launching into a tirade of personal abuse, to which I responded by calling her an Earywigging Bastard. The big guy sat there next to her, stony-faced and saying nothing, and the man next to me continued to try and humbly defuse the situation. I wasn’t rising to it though, I can handle myself well enough against verbal abuse from drunk arseholes, and especially in my home city. Could you imagine that she would go to some far-off country with a friend then speak in that country’s native language and not her own? No.
I stayed calm and ignored her, and a few stops later when it was time to get off the bus I embraced the “Goodwill To All Men” spirit of the season. As I got out of my seat and headed towards the door, I turned and said to her – cheerfully, with a warm smile, and knowing it would probably wind her up even more, me being something of a wind-up merchant – “Have a good Christmas.”
“Have a good Christmas?!” she asked, as if that was the biggest insult she had ever taken. If she answered back to that, I didn’t hear it as I had already stepped off the bus. I have never experienced anything like that before or since, someone being so blatantly rude, arrogant, and nosey – “talk in my language so I can understand what you are saying.” Fuck off, it’s none of your business! Arseholes like that bring this city down.
A week later, I was in the town meeting a few friends and acquaintances and – small world that it is – the guy who had been sitting next to me was working in the pub we went to. We remembered each other, and shared an acknolwedgement of where from and a brief hello. I haven’t seen him since, but I hope he no longer excuses himself for holding private conversations in whichever language he sees fit.