People are Remarkably Observant

Recently I had a meeting at a company I had never been to. The man at the reception desk was pleasant, greeting me with a “Good afternoon.” I popped over to the restroom, and when I came back to sit in the waiting area, he said to me in a definitive, declarative tone, “I think you’re Asian.”

“I think you’re right,” I responded just as surely, as if we had solved a mystery together.

It’s not as if he had guessed some enigmatic characteristic; I’m 100% Asian and look it. I’m also not a rarity; there are a lot of Asians in New York and New Jersey, so he can’t have been surprised to have spotted one.

By now I’m used to these weird interactions—they take place all over the world—and as long as the other person is not being offensive, I go with the flow to see where on earth the conversation will lead.

I learned that this middle-aged Filipino man grew up in the Philippines and has been living in the States for 35 years. This explained his enthusiasm and desire to talk about my background, as people sometimes think I’m Filipina and Filipinos often enjoy connecting with their compatriots. This is true for other nationalities as well, of course.

Still, his opening line was funny, since it pointed to race rather than ethnicity or nationality. Can you imagine a receptionist saying to a visitor, “I think you’re black” or “I think you’re white”? It just wouldn’t fly, even if the two people were of the same race.

He told me that after several decades in the U.S., he was planning to move back to the Philippines next year. Just imagine all the Asians he will see every day!

4 thoughts on “People are Remarkably Observant

  1. That’s so funny, I love your last line imagining his delight at seeing Asians every day in the Philippines!

    Don’t tell anyone I told you, but even I have to listen a while sometimes to tell whether someone is Kiwi or Aussie (sometimes it’s really obvious). So on the rare occasions I come across one here, I’m always furiously eavesdropping, but I never have the courage to say anything 🙂

    • I’m sure they would be happy if you said hi to them! In Paris there were so many Americans that it wasn’t novel to come across one, but I wouldn’t have minded if a fellow American started a conversation with me. In your case, since Kiwis and Aussies are rarer, they’d probably be even more delighted to meet you. On the other hand, not giving oneself away and eavesdropping can be fun 🙂 I am fascinated to hear French tourists in New York revealing what they think about the city. They are everywhere here.

  2. Don’t laugh, but when I traveled to China at 16, upon landing in Beijing, my first thought was “OMG, everybody is Chinese!” First time in my life I was a minority 😆

    Sometime, I find it hard to guess people’s ethnic background in North America. Asian? First nations? Latino? Take Mark, for instance. He can easily pass as a Maya kid, as Chinese or as white, depending on the environment and his clothes (with a hat, his eyes look really Asian, but he has my hair, so…).

    His comment was funny, though, I can imagine your face. Like, OMG, mystery solved! 😆

    • But I bet you didn’t actually say aloud to people you met, “You’re Chinese!” We all have mental observations about people every day, but we don’t necessarily voice them unless we’re kids…

      That must have been such an interesting and eye-opening experience for you. Very cool that you got to have it at such a young age.

      It’s true that it can be hard to tell people’s ethnicity. In my case, though, the man knew I was Asian and he just chose an… interesting way to bring it up. He was nice, though. In the five minutes I was sitting there, he told me his life story. It was enjoyable, and it’s possible he would not have delved into it if we hadn’t had that “Asian connection.”

      How does a hat make Mark’s eyes look Asian??

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