In the last post, I mentioned that British people seem uncomfortable talking about race and ethnicity. By contrast, the Asian, especially Chinese, students in my hall are always curious about my ethnicity and eager to find out. They inquire in roundabout ways, sometimes speaking to me in Chinese (assuming that I am too), or asking me where I’m from, no like, where I’m from-from. A roundabout question deserves a roundabout answer, so I give them the runaround even though I know what they’re really trying to ask. The incredulous gape when I say that I’m American—I probably shouldn’t enjoy it so much, but I have to admit it’s amusing.
Today’s encounter was surprisingly cute. I raced to catch the elevator (I still don’t say lift, though quite a few other British-isms have caught on by now) on the way down to dinner. An Asian girl who seemed shy and sweet held the door and smiled at me as I got on. On the way back up from dinner, the reverse happened—she raced to catch the elevator I was already on. She smiled at me again.
She asked, “So… are you Asian?”
“Yes,” I said with a laugh. “I’m Korean, but I’m from America.”
After all, kudos to her. The beat-around-the-bush approach bothers me, but she certainly got right to the point. It’s also about context; for example, if someone were to say that in a crowded bar, it would qualify as the worst pickup line ever. But in her very mild-mannered way, it was actually an endearing conversational overture.