Sunday, March 02, 2008

I must be looking particularly Asian lately...

I've had a blissful few months without this particular annoyance, so I've lost some of my patience about it. In the last few weeks, I've had a lot of "No, where are you really from"-type exchanges.

The vast majority of people who ask me where I'm from do so because, obviously, I don't sound like I'm from these parts. When I say "California" or "San Francisco", they usually say one of two things: Oh, I visited and loved it! or Oh, I've always wanted to visit! And we continue with our lovely conversation, where I generally tell them they should go back, or they should try to visit as soon as possible.

There are, however, a certain percentage of people, here and at home, who will ask me where I'm from not because of how I sound, but because of how I look. The "No, but where are you really from" question is annoying, not least because I get tired of being asked it all the time, but there are lots of other reasons I hate this question.

First, it implies that I can't really be from California. Which, fuck you: my whole family is there; my mother is buried there; my grandparents are buried there. I'm Californian, and American, so you can stick that where the sun don't shine. Second, it shows that you don't really care to actually find out anything about me- you just want to check off the box in some list you have in your head. Listen: the fact that I'm from San Francisco tells you way more about me than the fairly irrelevant factoid you're needling for. If you were actually interested about me as a person, you would work with that.

I know that many people ask this out of genuine friendliness and curiosity. But, okay, how often do white people get asked that by random people at bus stops? Not as often as I get this question, I'm willing to bet. Does this mean that because you're white, your family and background are inherently less interesting? Well, if that's true, I'm offended on behalf of the white people I know. I mean, when people ask The Limey where he's from, and he says Stoke, that's the end of the conversation. (Or they say, Oh, where is that exactly? Or, I'm sorry.) But is his family's story any less interesting than mine?

The last few of these exchanges have involved people addressing me with the few words they happen to know of some Asian language, generally greeting me with "Ni hao". Once, I was going to say something, but the person was a well-dressed missionary, and I thought it was prudent not to attempt any conversation with them at all, so I just walked on. Another time, I responded with a smile and, "I'm sorry, I don't speak Mandarin Chinese." To which the reply was a surprised, "Well, that's a first!" How is that a first? The last time I checked, 5 billion people on this earth don't speak Mandarin, asshat. So is this really the first time you've come across a non-Chinese speaker? Even amongst us slanty-eyed Orientals, hundreds upon hundreds of millions don't speak Mandarin. It's something this guy should get used to.

I'm thinking of getting some good stock response printed up on business cards. I can just hand them out. Let me know if you have any good comebacks.

Okay, rant over.


Lien said...

Despite the fact that this is a rant post, I couldn't stop laughing! I know how you feel. I had a really stupid experience the other day. A colleague and I had lunch at this really skanky Vietnamese restaurant (you really couldn't call it that) and as I got up to leave, this moron guy comes up to me and goes "Do you do takeaway?". Then he must have seen the outraged look on my face and mumbled "oh, you don't work here" and couldn't get away fast enough. Just because I'm Asian and we were in an Asian food joint, does not mean I'm the Pho lady!!

hana said...

So it's not just ignorant Americans that ask that question? Wow.

jacqueline said...

Wow, I was just ranting about this the other day, ask Hana.

see... I TOTally get this too... and what's worse, when people won't take "here" as an answer and keep digging for my ambivalent ethnicity (despite a lack of any discernable accent whatsoever) by, oh god please stop or I'll punch you, guessing it... it just kinda ends up insulting really (no offense against the ethnicities presumed... it's just WHAT THE FUCK!?! Can't the inquisitor see I'm scowling??).

No one (except other half-bloods or already well-known good friends) has ever endeared themselves to me by probing this subject. I agree with you, I am the summation of my experiences, values, imagination, and education, and what from that I've walked away with intact. Trying to surmise something secret about who I am due to my mixed genealogy will get you, and I emphasize this clearly, NO WHERE further in knowing anything about ME.

Heh, at least I didn't get the "Konichiwa"s in London like you two did. That was pretty funny.

Averil said...

I had to laugh with the other Lien about your rant, even thought I can imagine how annoying it is. At least in Spain we´re all called "aliens" (extranjeros) where ever we´re from!

susan said...

Everyone makes comments like this, no matter what. I get it a lot in the US, and it's silly and funny and infuriating all at once, and it's sometimes so hard to get other "normal" people to understand why it's so frustrating. One person even told me, "I wish other people were as interested in me as they are you!", but he doesn't understand that they're not interested in me or us. They're interested in some sort of perceived image of us. And I agree, I'm tired of being told that I'm not really from Memphis. I was born there. My parents live there now. How am I not from there?

I live in China now, my mom's from HK but my dad's white, and people ask me the exact same thing all the time. People here are a little more excusable, because they've been isolated a bit more and haven't been taught that other people don't really like it when you stare at them or talk about them while they're right in front of you. They're also not used to other people understanding Chinese. And if I have any sort of exchange with someone at all, we have to go through the whole thing where they say "Are you from the north/south? Are you from Japan? Korea? out west?" and then when I say I'm American, they freak. And then they yell that I must be mixed blood, as it translates in English. The one good thing about China is that people will at least act like it's the coolest thing, and some of them actually believe it. Not always a positive reception in the states.

Noo said...

My other half has a Malaysian Chinese father and a Singaporean mother but was born in the UK. I'm sure he has had this experience (he knows a few words of Cantonese, but that's about it).

The funny thing is when we go abroad, for example to Japan, when everyone assumes he's "native" and starts speaking to him in their language! We nearly bought him a t-shirt in Tokyo which said "I don't speak Japanese" because so many people launched into conversation with him. Perhaps you need a t-shirt with a collection of similar phrases in English/Mandarin/Cantonese/Japanese!