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!