Friday, February 16, 2007

I’ve Been Tagged

…by one, Robin Brande, to reveal five little known facts about myself. I feel like I’ve done this before, but I’m too lazy to check, so I apologize if this is a repeat (I’m just a really boring person so this won’t be anything new to my friends). Tell me if you’ve heard any of these before (at this site) and I’ll replace it with a new fact.

1. For the first four days of my life I was known as Girl (family name here) because my parents couldn’t decide what to name me (both Sydney and Bronwyn were considered and discarded). Finally the hospital told my parents that if they didn’t name me they couldn’t take me home, so they managed to cobble together something they liked. Only when my father went to tell the nurse their choice and make it official he misspelled my first name by spelling phonetically. It’s been a distraction for people ever since.

2. I was in the Vagina Monologues for two years in college. The first time I played several different roles including the moaning monologue, and the second time I just performed the monologue “Hair.” Everyone involved in each production got their own video of the show. Years later a good friend used her copy to “educate” her boyfriend—specifically the “Hair” monologue—which was fine when I thought I was never going to meet the guy. Silly, naïve fool. When we came face-to-face mere months later I could barely look him in the eye as my friend introduced me as, “This is _______. You know, from the video…” Killlllllll Meeeeeeeee.

3. I can fold my tongue in half—not rolling, but fold it so the tip points towards the back of my throat. Since it’s a pretty useless talent it’s not something I advertise.

4. I really dislike being asked what my ethnicity is, and it’s a question I’ve been asked a lot lately. My dislike stems from the fact that most people tend to phrase their “Hey, what are you?” question with absolutely no tact, and ask me out of the middle of no where. Mostly I just tell people that I’m a Heinz 57 variety style baby and leave it at that, but I once made the mistake of actually admitting that I don’t know (at least not about the chunk responsible for my skin tone and hair color), only to be asked if it was because I was adopted (I’m not, see fact #1). The whole conversation was pretty awful and probably one of the few times I actually came close to yelling “none of your business” at a customer.

5. I have a secret past as a fanfiction writer…

Hmm, that’s all I can think of tonight. Told you I wasn’t interesting.

Tag to all y’all, just let me know if you do the meme by leaving a link in the comments.


alvina said...

I can do #3, too! And I've also discovered that it's a useless talent, but I pull it out every now and then at parties.

Robin Brande said...

Those are great, BSC! I was right to tag you. Thanks for telling all (or at least telling five).

Becky said...

I can sooo relate to number 4. I hate it when people ask me that. One time this guy came up to me out of nowhere and said "what nationality are you from?" No kidding. I wanted to give him an English lesson. Loser. Then he tried to recruite me for his distrabution business selling sport drinks.

Kate R said...

hey, I can kind of do the tongue thing too, maybe.

flem snopes said...

Hello BSC -- I've lurked and enjoyed your journal for some time now. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experiences.

Would you mind my asking you and becky why it is you mind people asking about your ethnicity? :-) I've occasionally asked such a question and never realized it might be annoying. I won't do it again.

Ethnicity fascinates me, especially in the context of the American story. So many nationalities and so many races mixing their histories, their cultures, and yes, their races. To me, ethnicity and background are part of -- guess what? -- a fascinating STORY. I'm interested in other people's stories. Ever seen "My Big Fat Greek Wedding?" or how about "Mississippi Masala" or "Bend it Like Beckham?" {Ack! I'm using movies to illustrate a point on a bookseller's blog!)

I was in the Peace Corps and I've traveled around the world twice at "backpacker's" level. I've had quite a few beers (or whatever the local poison) and enjoyed talking with locals in village dives. I used to be very active in international clubs and host international students. I'm a student of America's early years, when we began our tradition of mixing and mingling races and cultures.

Now, just to be clear, I don't VALUE people because of their ethnicity. I had a friend who collected people on that basis. He'd invite exotic looking people to parties because he thought it made him look cool. I'd be annoyed if I thought someone was using me to boost his "diversity" image that way. That's not where I'm coming from.

Again, I'm interested in people's ethnicity because I'm interested in their story. If they're willing to share it small bit of their story, fine. I don't expect details. I forget where you live - NYC? I wonder if the there is a different etiquette about this stuff in cities than in fly-over country (where I am). The last time I visited NYC I asked a friend from Brooklyn for tips. He said I only needed to know two things --1. Don't make eye-contact with anyone and 2. If someone approaches you yell "Get the F*ck out of my face!" -- Where I live it's the norm to nod or say "Howdy" to anyone you make eye contact with, even strangers.

Now, have you ever thought about quitting book selling and pushing sports drinks? I've got this cola made in China, bottled in Kenya, labeled in Bulgaria, and ...

ERiCA said...

I really dislike being asked what my ethnicity is, and it’s a question I’ve been asked a lot lately. My dislike stems from the fact that most people tend to phrase their “Hey, what are you?” question with absolutely no tact, and ask me out of the middle of no where.

This drives me absolutely crazy and happens to me ALL the time. People have gone so far as to come up and touch my hair to see whether it's soft or not (and then verbally express their surprise to discover that it does in fact feel just like regular-people hair.)

Since the question has NEVER popped up from a relevant conversation (as is typically asked by random strangers or near-strangers), my typical response (since early childhood) has been to lie.

I've claimed to be Mexican, American Indian, Swedish, Arabic, Eskimo, Aborigine--you name it.

(Believe it or not, if said with a straight enough face, the asker can't call your bluff and seriously considers the idea that these things might be true)

I think maybe I hate this question because it's like asking somebody, "So, how'd you get that big scar across your face?" Maybe it's an interesting story, but if you're not close enough for them to have told you on your own, maybe don't ask.

Sorry, sister. I feel your pain. Thanks for letting me vent mine. =)

ERiCA said...

To flem snopes:

Sorry, I wrote my post before reading yours. (Bad Erica!)

To answer your question, I think it bugs me because asking the question implies that the answer matters. As though, whether consciously or not, I'll be judged/pigeonholed/something based on my answer.

Maybe YOU have totally innocent, legit reasons for asking, but trust me--all walks of life come up and ask (literally "What are you", just like BSC says) when I'm at the supermarket, etc, and it happens with enough frequency that I've probably developed a complex about it.

I like people, too. I try to backpack (okay, rolling suitcase) in another continent every year or two, too. So I get you. Just, to me, it's a personal question, because for me, there's personal reasons why I look the way I do (and like BSC says, whether or not I *know* why I look the way I do.)

Hope that helps?

Bookseller Chick said...


Like Erica and Becky my reaction to this stems from the fact that there is very little lead in to this question. I've been walking down the street, shelving books, or buying coffee only to have someone come up to me and ask what I am. No lead in, no "Hi, my name is blah and this might be a weird question, but...," nothing. Sometimes they'll change it up a little with a "Hey, you Persian/Basque/Italian/Irish/etc?" in the middle of a conversation the question has no bearing on.

While I don't identify myself by how I look and what my ethnic background is, it is always a shock to hear these questions out of no where. In the back of mind there's always this question of why this total stranger wants to know. If it were a friend asking or someone I was in casual conversation with (who then presented the reason why they were asking) it doesn't bother me. I've had some great conversations where we've played the ancestoral guessing game or come up with weird things for me to tell people ("I'm decendent from the Romanov's.").

I live in a really friendly West Coast city where people say hello to each other on the steet and most people will smile at you in greeting. It's a great city that I love very much and would love to talk about more, but the friendliness of my city has nothing to do with my reaction to the question. In some ways my complaint stems from the same roots as those of pregnant women who have strangers come up and touch their belly without asking--only in this case "the belly" is my background and it's being treated like communal information. And they can't seem to deal with the fact that I don't know or care, so their questions become even more intruding.

If phrased correctly (and not the first thing out of their mouth), I don't mind as long as they can deal with the fact that I don't have an answer for them.

Wow, that turned out a hell of a lot longer than I expected. I hope the explanation helps.

Erica, I'm so sorry people come up and violate your personal space like that. Your hair is gorgeous (I always wanted to have perfect waves like that), but that sure as hell gives no one the right to come up and touch it out of no where. Yikes!

Becky, I'm glad I'm not the only one that feels this way.

Kate and Alvina, do you remember when you discovered you could do this? I think my brother and I were making faces at each other one day and I was trying to freak him out.

Robin, thanks for tagging me. I had a really hard time coming up with five things when asked. When asked on any random day for one fact, I can do pretty well (and not repeat myself), but five at once just kind of makes my mind go blank.

Kate R said...

I discovered all sorts of facial tricks (not tics) when I was staring at myself in the mirror while making a self portrait. I thought the picture needed help.

Sigh. No one has ever asked about my ethnicity. I did have someone ask me when I was going to have my baby about two weeks after I had my baby. I think the poor woman still hasn't recovered.

flem snopes said...

Thanks for the answers, ladies. I guess it comes down to individual preference on what's personal and what's "communal." It's hard to know these days. The etiquette is all ajumble. Y'alls stories about body-touching are definitely weird and I'd think anyone would know better, but then again in Peace Corps the Africans thought nothing of feeling our hair and skin whenever they wanted.

My wife is an exotic-looking Armenian-American who enjoys it when people ask her ethnicity (it probably helps that she's a flirt). And she's fairly intrusive on the other side, too. She spent a lot of time in Africa (in Peace Corps and other) and I can't tell you the number of times my heart has leapt into my throat when we've caught a taxi in the inner city and she's leaned over the seat and told the cabbie she heard him talking and what African country is he from?

FWIW, William Faulkner was once interviewed by a reporter who asked lots of personal questions. When the reporter asked, "What is the biggest atrocity of our time?" Faulkner answered "What you're doing right now."


Victoria Belyavskaya said...

well, a bit irrelevant, but i'll write anyway. to me the greatest is when people in the States ask "where are you from?", and i say, that i grew up in Uzbekistan (Central Asia), spent several years in Cairo, Egypt, have been living in the Republic of georgia, the caucasus, for over a year now, bur ethnically i am not uzbek, but polish-ukrainian :-))

i love your blog.

quiche said...

One more for #4. At least once a week someone asks me "Are you Native American?" When I answer in the affirmative most of the time the next thing they say is they are tribe X. I don't think it's meant to be rude but it is presumptuous to think I'll be giddy to meet another indian in a state that was once known as Indian Territory.

When people asked me when I was younger and cheekier what I was I'd answer "mammal." Only once did that not work. The reply was "I thought you were born in America."

Chris said...

I read your post a few days ago. When I read Erica's comment, the first thing I thought of is the pregnant-belly-touching thing. So I thought it was too funny to read that in your answer.

I think people say rude, personal things all the time without realizing it. I have fertility problems and people see me with my dd and ask, "So, when are you having another?" Or "Time for a brother/sister for her!" They think they're funny (or helpful)but it gets on my nerves. Mostly I laugh or nod and change the subject. Some days it bothers me more than others.

I think people are just naturally nosy and some are just missing a tact gene. I mean "What are you?" What the heck is that about?

alvina said...

Hmm, I can't remember when I discoverd my tongue thing. I think it may have been in college, but now I do it all the time absent-mindedly. So maybe I did it as a kid, too, and that's how I discovered I could do it.

My pet peeve is people asking me, "Where are you from?" because I think 3/4 of the time what they mean is "What is your ethnicity?" because when I answer, "Well, I moved around the northeast as a child and then moved to Southern California in 8th grade where my parents still live" they usually, say, "No, I meant..." Then again, some people really do just want to know where I grew up, or...well, who knows what they mean. But I agree with everyone's reaction above that it usually irritates me when asked abruptly or very early on in a conversation before I know someone.