March 29, 2007

"Mister? Why your face so red?"

Every now and then I get this question. "Mister? Why your face so red?" A Chinese woman who works at the grocery store on the ground floor of my block asked me this this morning. Was it so red because I ran all the way down to the store? No, my face is normally this shade, although sunlight can bring out the redness even more. I have an old driver's license photograph of myself. All the summer before I got that license, I had been walking around Phoenix in the sun; the suntan I acquired made my face a very dark red. Last year, when Milady and I were visiting Malaysia, we had been running around Putrajaya one bright, sunny day. When we returned to Kuala Lumpur later that night a very young Chinese boy came up to me and asked the same question, "Mister? Why your face so red?" Milady and I had recently seen the third X-Men movie, and I almost told the boy that I was a new "mutant," with my X-name being "Magento." :)

The fact of the matter is that my ancestry is primarily Irish and English, and many of us who come from the British Isles have this type of skin coloring. The above photograph isn't me, of course; it's the British actor Richard Griffiths (he plays the mean muggle "Uncle Vernon" in the "Harry Potter" movies). And while I don't exactly look like Mr. Griffiths, I do think we have somewhat similar facial skin with the reddish cast to the white complexion. So I guess the only real answer I can give to people when they ask that question is, "That's the way I am."


dramamama said...

Salam JD.

Heh, that's funny.

I get asked why I don't speak Chinese, by those who assume I'm one because of the colour of my skin.

JDsg said...

Wa 'alaikum salaam.

That's my bro-in-law (one of them), who's Malay (obviously) but looks Chinese. I've heard that some Chinese have gotten angry at him when he hasn't replied to them in their language.

JDsg said...

I think this notion that, because someone "looks" like us (ethnically, racially), we will assume he or she speaks the same language as us. Yesterday I was on the MRT to work, and there was this white couple across from me on the train. He leaves, and she pulls out a book from her purse. The title is in a Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet. "Whoa!" I think. I'm so used to white people in S'pore being English speakers from either the US, UK, Australia, or New Zealand; I don't normally think of them as possibly being Russian or Eastern European (although I did see a Russian sailor here - in uniform - a few weeks ago).

So, yeah, I do fall into this mental trap from time to time, assuming that people are "like me," when obviously not all of them are. Best, perhaps, to watch, listen and observe before trying to engage in a conversation.

alajnabiya said...

Assalaamu 'alaikum,

I get the same sort of question. I live in Palestine, and although many Palestinians are very fair skinned, they just don't have the red. Unfortunately, I think that sometimes people assume that my face is so red because I am hot from wearing hijab, but generally my face would be even redder if I am cold.

Thanks for the chuckle.