Don’t judge a continent by a face…

I was recently privy to some entertainment at a student social, watching some European medical students (I don’t know if the fact that they are European or medical students is relevant to the story, but there you have it) trying to guess where a friend is from. She has a Chinese face like me, but she is from South Africa. For literally ages, these students could not guess.

We dropped heavy clues, eliminating continents at a time; no, not Asia, nor Europe, nor north or south America, nor the North Pole (which is not even a continent). Greenland? No, that’s in Europe (or America, but same difference in this case)… Tasmania? No, somewhere far from Australia…

Finally, someone said, almost as a side note, as if it were hardly conceivable, Africa? How, for nigh on ten minutes, did these kids manage to forget that somewhat large continent called Africa? We were literally saying, “it’s a really big continent, y’know…? Hint hint…”

Now either Africa passed them by in geography class, or they just couldn’t place an Asian face somewhere so unlikely. They kept guessing at Asian countries, even when we had categorically declared that all of Asia was out. Now admittedly Africa is not the first place you would think of when you see my friend. Still, isn’t it interesting how, for all the multi-culturalness of exchange student life, people can still draw a complete blank on imagining something a little different.

I always get the confused pause/stare when I first meet someone and they ask, “where you are from?” and I reply, “England”. Then often follows the, “Oh? You don’t look it!” To which I reply perplexedly, “Don’t I?” Most people then draw the (correct) conclusion that I am born of immigrants, and ask after my parents’ origins. Some tactfully ask, “yes but where are you really from?” Erm, England? I’m not pretending, you know… Some express surprise at my Spanish/Italian name; a charming bloke once commented, “I was expecting Ching-something!” One somewhat lecherous waiter in Milan absolutely could not get his head around the fact that I had an Italian girl’s name. Yes, yes, I know it’s very confusing for you all; try being me…


2 thoughts on “Don’t judge a continent by a face…

  1. I absolutely can’t stand this “where are you really from” nonsense… one guy (claiming to be from India) kept asking the same question, and I kept saying London… eventually, “no where are your parents from?”

    For the first time in England (26 years), I experienced racism on the train going to and back from London. In Northern Ireland, where I used to live, shamefully, yes it’s expected, but London?

    In my book, it seems life is superficial, and you are only as good as you look or that you are perceived to be.

  2. Pingback: Advice to a newbie exchanger | The Fondue Files

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