i was standing in front of the administration offices few weeks back, when a faculty member of the academy rushed up to me and asked, “are you the exchange student from japan?”
as usual, i smiled back and replied, “no, i’m not.”
he continued, “oh, i had heard that there were two students here on exchange from japan….”
okay, and so you assumed that it was me because i fit the ‘japanese’ look.
i had already met the exchange students and so i replied, “well, they are two guys…and it’s not me. i am a student here in the MA program…”
i guess it was awkward, so he said, “welcome to valand!” and shuttled off to wherever that he was going.
“thank you,” i shouted back, even though i’ve already been here for six months.
isn’t it funny how people think that it is okay to simply guess your nationality or ethnicity or background just by looking at your face. and unfortunately, since i have that supposed ‘asian’ look (small eyes, brown face, straight black hair), more often than not, people simply don’t bother to ask me where i’m from. they like to play the guessing game. like dumb charades…where my ‘face’ automatically becomes the ‘gesture’ and they feel the need to guess my nationality. as if i am inviting them to play it.
like only last week in my swedish language class, the teacher was taking attendance, going from student to student. he reached my desk and blurted out, “China???”
but i maintained my composure and played along, “NEJ.”
“NEEJJJ.” try again.
it had to stop. “Nepal.”
“aahhhhh…wooowww…i would have never guessed.”
NO, OF COURSE NOT. you would have never guessed. And that’s why it would be polite to simply ask me the right question, “Varifrån kommer du? Where are you from?” I could be from anywhere in the world, regardless of what i look like. I could have been born in Canada, raised in Korea and living in Nepal. whatever happened to the ‘we live in the globalized era of the 21st century.’
in another similar incident, the (swedish) guessing guy was actually apologetic after asking me if i was from china. “sorry for that…it’s also true that i could be from another country too…”
“yeah of course…like you could be from…” before i could end my sentence with ‘USA’, he interrupted…”like Norway!”
hahahhahahaha i found his choice of country quite hilarious. but anyway, he could have been from china too if he had settled there and felt like china was his home.
but even us nepali people aren’t without flaws in this guessing game. we are always ready to say, “she looked like bahun or he looked like rai.” we do it all the time, when it comes to our diverse ethnicities. while we talk to each other, we are already creating an equation in our heads – flat small nose, pointy nose, big nose, small eyes, big eyes, no eye lids, thick eyebrows, straight hair, wavy hair, etc. etc. etc. and then people get confused when it comes to me. they ask me, “how are you a ‘burathoki’ when you don’t look like one?”
let me run away with that question for now.