“I have a lot of trouble remembering the faces of my colleagues,” confessed Fang, a close Chinese friend of ours mentioned while driving home together from a dinner in town.
“How so?” I asked him.
He shrugged. “Foreigners just all look alike to me.”
“But how can that be? Foreigners look even more distinctive than Chinese do, because our eyes, hair color and skin tones are so different from person to person.”
John chuckled and echoed Fang’s frustration. “They look all the same to me, too.”
I could almost understand Fang having this problem — but my own husband? He married me, a foreigner, and I would have thought, after spending so much time around my “foreign family” that he’d finally see the differences in us.
“But, Sweetie,” I pressed John, “I can tell the difference between Chinese people, after all the years of living in China. I don’t see them all as one generic group.”
John just grinned — his embarrassed grin. “I guess I don’t pay enough attention.”
And maybe there’s no better way to explain it than that. Maybe John learned, from his childhood and family socialization, just how to pay attention to the distinctions among Chinese — but not those among foreigners.
The thing is, he’s not the only one.
Just yesterday, John and I signed out a pair of tennis racquets and balls from the university gym at his school here in the US, which required leaving his university ID at the desk. When we went to return them, the attendant — a plump Caucasian guy in his mid-twenties — fished out an ID. “Is this you?” he asked, holding up a photo of a Chinese man. This photo displayed the kind of squinty face and slit-like eyes that John didn’t have, along with a completely wrong last name.
John shook his head, and it wasn’t until I pointed to the ID lying on the desk — which hadn’t been filed away — that we finally got John’s ID back.
As John and I walked away, with his ID safely in hand, I couldn’t help but say it: “He thinks all Asians look alike, doesn’t he?”
Have you ever had trouble distinguishing between Chinese, or between foreigners?