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DALL·E 2023-12-17 20.48.41 - Man wearing turban and white clothes walking to Bear Creek Park in Surrey BC.png

Thanks for not wearing pajamas to the office

They were stopped on King George Boulevard, just south of the hospital, waiting for the light to turn. Since it was a crisp, clear autumn day, they’d decided on the spur of the moment to stroll through Tynehead Park and visit the salmon hatchery.


            Lietta, Anne’s mother, shrieked and pointed at a man crossing the intersection and walking down 88 Avenue. Her voice seeped with disapproval. “Why is that man wearing pajamas?”


            The roof of the car was open and Anne was mortified. She hoped the man hadn’t heard her mother. Anne let out a sigh of relief when he continued across the road without looking in their direction.


            “They’re not pajamas. He’s wearing a shirt, pants, and a long coat. You may think they look like pajamas because they’re white and made from cotton.”

            “Why’s he wearing a towel wrapped around his head?”

            “Lietta, it’s called a turban. He wraps his hair in it. It’s a part of his religious heritage.”


            His mother turned toward her son-in-law. “Why can’t he dress like you?”


          Her son-in-law grinned. He was wearing a casual T-shirt with holes along the shoulder seams, and faded jeans that were frayed at the bottom. If his wife had her way, the jeans would have been discarded long ago and the T-shirt would have been consigned to the rag pile.


            “This neighborhood has a large Punjabi population, and this is what the man is most comfortable wearing. He’s probably walking to Bear Creek Park to meet his friends,” said Lietta’a son-in-law.


            The next day, Anne recounted the story at work, apologizing profusely to her colleagues.


            “You’re very hard on your mother,” said Kaur, a surgical clinical reviewer working to improve patient care.


            “It was awful! She was so disrespectful of the man crossing the street, I wanted to crouch down in the seat and disappear.”


            “Anne, when you introduce new colleagues to us, you give them time to adjust to their new work environment. You help them become culturally more sensitive. Can’t you give your mother some slack? She lives in a small town on the other side of the country. Everyone in her small town looks just like her. It’s obvious she’s never seen a Sikh man.”


            “When you put it that way,” conceded Anne.

            “Why don’t you invite her to the office tomorrow morning? We’ll make a cup of chai for her.”

            “I suppose,” said Anne dubiously.

            “It’ll be all right. You’ll see. She’ll see that we’re no different from anyone else.”

            Lietta was thrilled to receive the invitation. She washed and curled her hair, making a special effort to flip the ends upwards. She even applied lipstick.

            “You’ll see,” she told Anne. “I’ll prove to you that I can learn new things.”

            “Mom, promise me you’ll be on your best behavior,” said her son-in-law.

            “I promise.”

            The next morning dawned all too soon for Anne. Her hope that Lietta would sleep in was dashed. Lietta  had made coffee for Anne and her husband, and was already dressed and ready to visit her daughter’s workplace.

            Anne and Lietta walked quietly into the office. Before Anne could introduce her mother, Lietta walked up to Kaur and visually inspected her from head to toe. Lietta nodded approvingly. “Thank you for not wearing pajamas to work.” 

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