Not having had a phone for a while at the time, I was used to waiting. My good friend and I had agreed to meet at 9pm at our go-to bar in Linz; I had gotten there a little early. My long walk to France had only recently come to an end and in my mind I was leafing through all the stories I wanted to tell him.
Around the time he would have been about an hour late I struck up a conversation with a regular sitting at the bar by himself.
We started on classical music but, as dictated by what the media was touting, it did not take long for the conversation to meander over to refugees, politics and the general state of things. I talked to him about how refreshing I found my experience in Nancy, in that its large population originally hailing from North-African and Middle-Eastern countries seemed widely not to be deemed as strange or other. The guy said he thought that the right-wing populist party Front National was likely going to take over France in time; I reminded him that Austria's own right-wing populist party was doing better still in the polls, and told him that I perceived an "anti-Islam" sentiment as being more palpable here.
"Well, I'd certainly say of myself that I'm anti-Islam", he said, which took me a little by surprise. Sure, I have no love for organised religion either but having plenty of muslim and christian friends I know that a person's religion is not necessarily a great obstacle to finding some kind of understanding, and that taking an explicitly opposing position in a religious discussion (or a discussion about religion) had never been particularly constructive to me whenever I had been guilty of it.
Further, identifying as anti-Islam in this day and age arguably does carry somewhat of an ominous connotation, given that there exists a large crowd in Europe that carries that label with pride and that by that time (October 2015) this crowd had already had some very nasty offenses under its belt.
To illustrate what he meant he gave a brief account of an experience he had recently had on public transport in Vienna:
A woman with a head-scarf was riding the subway with her son. The child (of perhaps 7 years of age) was having a fit, and being contrarian and a general pain-in-the-ass toward his mother. When she scolded him, he would punch her and she would simply take it. "She would have to. In Islam, the woman is considered lesser and when her own son hits her she can do nothing to stop him," he said. "Do you want to meet that kid when he's grown-up?"
"Maybe not," it took me a minute to find an appropriate response. I finally told him about something I noticed on public transport in Vienna as well:
Once while taking the tram home I was standing across from a white and audibly Viennese pair of father and son (the latter being about 7 years of age as well), and became fascinated by their interaction. The father was immersed in his telephone while the child unceasingly bobbed his head around**not unlike a chicken, seemingly in search of some kind of impulse.
We passed something that caught his attention, he got excited, started bouncing up and down and tried to make his dad aware of what he was seeing that pleased him so. The kid pointed: but the dad did not raise his glance. The kid tried to use language: but he rather stumbled over himself; his sentences were fragmented and broken (and to my knowledge the words he used didn't exist), and it seemed altogether as though the excitement aroused by whatever he was seeing, was fueling his mouth faster than he was capable of articulating the words he would have needed to describe it.
His father took quite a bit of time to show any sign of reaction, and when he finally did slightly lower his phone and glance off to its left side in his child's general direction (still far from looking directly at him), he said this: "Look, the thing about the.. the way that you.. (pause) .. When you talk.. you're so.. I mean.. imprecise. And that's.. that's not.. that's gotta stop." He went back to thumbing his phone and the kid stared blankly out of the window.
"What's that kid gonna be like when he grows up?", I asked. "Is that something to look forward to?" The regular seemed to like the story and appeared to be watching the moment play out again in his mind's eye. "No, I suppose not." He parroted the punchline "That's not.. that's gotta stop", and laughed.
My good friend was a little over two hours late at that point, so I decided to say good-bye to the guy at the bar and to pop by the nearby apartment of my brother's girlfriend to borrow her phone and give my friend a call. When I did, he berated me for not having a phone of my own and told me it was my own fault for waiting.
He apologized and took it back when we met later. To a certain degree I guess he had been right though.
Anyway, long story short: this was the friend I was on my way to visit in Madrid.