What I Learned from Borat

Last week we went to see “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” While I am no prude, there were three parts of the movie I could not watch. I nearly walked out because of the offensive nature of these moments. The rest of the movie was hilarious! I laughed very hard. But these three things, they were pretty bad.

This is what I have realized from Borat. His perceptive contrast between a fictional Kazakhstan and a very real America highlight the backward attitudes in the United States. This has been the leading description of every review I’ve heard. What these reviews have often overlooked is the overly polite nature we have here. With exception of the three feminists Borat meets in New York, the rest of those who are featured during interviews go out of their way to make this stranger feel welcomed. In a tough neighborhood Borat asks for directions and learns some colorful slang. During a dinner in the south having made rude comments about guests and bringing a hanky full of poop to the host, the Americans are gracious enough to show him how to use in door plumbing. Yes, even the racist cowboy goes out of his way to try and help him assimilate to his world.

While getting fitted for a tuxedo this week I heard another retail “war story” from the young lady fitting me. There was a misunderstanding between two stores on three rentals for a wedding. The payment was made in cash at the first store, the tuxedos were being picked up in another and the mother of the customer was just unhappy with the way things looked. The young lady tried to fix the situation, offered to make changes, they could come back in the morning with the changes and new tuxedos, and she was on the phone with her manager to make sure all these things happened to her satisfaction. But the mother was very mad and wanted a refund. So the young lady explained that the only way to get the refund was to process it through the Atlanta office that would issue a check in three weeks. The mother wanted cash, and she wanted it right now. There was high drama at the mall that night as the mother began to threaten the young woman. She would get the money here or in the parking lot. Security was then called, police were called, and the young woman was escorted home.

Saturday at the bank I was closing an account. I had been next in line for about fifteen minutes (part of why I was closing the account.) One tellers was handling a drop bag for a retail store with a deposit. The other teller was flush faced carefully explaining how a checking account works to a belligerent woman. I don’t know the details of her problem, but from what the teller was explaining, it seemed like the most basic of banking skills was lacking in this woman. Those of us in line felt extremely uncomfortable in the situation. It was an emotionally heated exchange on the woman’s behalf.

Yes, it’s your job in retail to be nice to customers; but having put time in on the front line, I can say that it is rare people keep their cool in these extreme examples. It was the kind words of other patrons in line with me at the bank that made sure to encourage the young lady she had done well, and she was very professional about the situation. It turned out to be other patrons who called security and police when the tuxedo girl was backed into a corner.

There are loud, rude, obnoxious, and free spirited people in America. That is great, it keeps things here interesting and lively. The majority of us are pretty accepting and polite in dealing with this group. This is what I took from Borat, a sense that my fellow Americans are much more tolerant and accepting then given credit for. Sure there are lots of bigots, racisits, and idiots too, but they are well out numbered.
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