“What will people say?” accompanied with the wringing of the hands and the let down look. You know the one. My parents must’ve used this line a million times while I was growing up. It feels like taking coarse sandpaper and rubbing it into my flesh and then sprinkling it with salt and lemon juice…really, really aggravating!
I grew up in a culture where people did not mind their own business, needless to say. For example, if I got into trouble at school and got lashes (they used to whip), I knew to expect some more when I got home even if I didn’t say anything because my parents would’ve already heard and judged. They respected the teachers and so there really wouldn’t be anything to say in my defense. Thankfully, I was a really good girl – avoided all that stuff. My brother…well…that’s a different story but lucky for him, he was a boy and was less censured.
As I grew into adolescence though, that phrase continued to haunt me – when I wore clothing that my parents deemed inappropriate, when I asked to go out with friends, when I liked a boy, when I didn’t get straight A’s, when I spoke too loudly or sang popular tunes (Madonna’s Like a Virgin)…it went on and on. Heavens forbid my father would have to hang his head in shame and not be able to look his friends and family in the eyes!
These days, in my fourth decade of life, my mother still has the audacity to say, “Why are you galavanting all over the world alone, what will people say?” You would think that she would’ve deleted that phrase from her repertoire when I was going through the divorce process and she said I should try to work it out because “What will people think?” I responded extremely unkindly. I ranted, “I really honestly don’t give a flying f*ck what people say, they don’t know me or my life, they don’t put food on my table or provide shelter for me” and I raged on and on. My mom – she just became quiet and had that sad look on her face and I felt like a total heel.
Realistically, living in NYC, nobody gives a rat’s ass about your life whether they know you or not, but our families are still under that immigrant mindset that our community is a close-knit group and they will judge and you should do your best to avoid that. The point is, our families try to maintain a sense of culture and propriety – something that is grossly lacking in mainstream America – and when you lose it, you lose a piece of your self and your heritage so I can’t really blame them. Tell me what you think, just don’t ask me – “What will people say?”