Bloganuary: Incorrect Assumptions

Today’s Bloganuary prompt is:

What do People Incorrectly Assume about You?

Before I begin, let me introduce myself.

This is me. It’s a two-year-old picture and the hoody disguises my grey hair but it’s a good indication of what I look like.

Common misassumptions about me, are best illustrated by incidents from my past.

It’s my first year of university in Canada and I’m in a funky smelling common room deep in the bowels of the Engineering building. It’s 1 am in the morning before a big assignment is due. Empty coffee cups and computer paper are scattered over the table and I’m wrassling with an unfathomable logic problem. As I unwrap my last packet of vending machine sustenance, a chirpy Asian girl comes up to me and says “Nǐ chīle ma?”

“Whaaa?” I say.

“Have you eaten yet?” she replies.

I look at my packet of biscuits, shake my head and say “No.”

Later that week, the same girl sees me in the cafeteria and asks the same question. Since I’m clearly heading into the cafeteria and towards the sandwich bar, I find it peculiar. I shake my head and say “Not yet.”

Another day when I’m walking into a 10am lecture, she waves at me from across the aisle.

“Have you eaten yet?” she shouts.

I pretend to not hear and hurry to a seat several aisles away.


I grew up on a small island in the Caribbean. The country’s motto was “Out of Many One People” and indicates the multi-racial heritage of the population. Everyone on the island had ancestors who came from somewhere else. Some willingly, some forcibly but all left their homeland many generations ago.

Distance and time have a way of diluting cultural heritage and one of the first cultural origins to fade, is language. The country’s national language was English and that was my first and only mother tongue.

Decades after my university years, I went to work in China. I took lessons in Mandarin where I learned that Nǐ chīle ma was a common greeting, equivalent to “Hello” and “How are you?” It literally translates to “Have you eaten yet?” That poor girl was only trying to be friendly.


Five years after I graduate from university, I’m at a job interview in a historic building, smack in the heart of downtown Toronto. The company is an old financial institution founded in 1871 and governed by a series of conservative old men. The interviewer is the manager for the project I’d be working on and we’ve been talking for a while. He’s commented on my qualifications, my degree and the results of an aptitude test I’d taken earlier.

Finally, he looks at me and says “… and you speak English very well.”

He says it as if it’s a compliment.

“Actually,” I say “English is my first language.”

“Where are you from?” he asks.

“Jamaica,” I say.

Nonplussed he looks down at my resume before looking up again. An awkward silence falls as he thinks carefully about what to say.

“You don’t look Jamaican?” he says.


Many iterations past this first time, I’ve figured the appropriate response is to explain that my great-great-great-grandfather emigrated from China and that there used to be a substantial Chinese community in Jamaica. Economic and political reasons displaced them in the 1970’s but many Chinese Jamaicans live in cities like Toronto, New York and Miami.

However, I still haven’t figured the appropriate response to this next, inevitable question.

“But you don’t sound Jamaican?”


What about you? Do people make incorrect assumptions about you? How you feel about that? I’d love to hear in the comments below or in your own Bloganuary post.

33 Comments

    1. Some things are better left unsaid.

      In my case … I’ve always been an odd duck … either by not looking the same, or looking the same but being different. I’ve only glossed the surface of examples here. It was an easy piece to write 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  1. An adorable story and it also illustrates the point so well. I can relate, too. I just got complimented on the blog by a long-time follower that my English is better than many native speakers’. I replied that I’m bilingual. And not in the way Americans say bilingual when they mean they know two sentences in another language, but the global nomad way. I look very white and Finnish and my name is Finnish, but I’m not from Finland. It isn’t the roots of my personal, cultural sense of logic that forms the way my brain thinks and interprets life. Finns think I’m bragging when I mention anything about my past, so mostly I avoid those situations – except in job interviews. 🤪

    Like

    1. Now I’m intrigued. What’s an example of a Finnish root of cultural logic used to interpret life?

      I don’t know anyone from Finland and my only encounter was with a bunch of Nokia execs who crowded into an elevator with me. They were so tall, I felt like I was surrounded by human trees.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ”Finnish root of cultural logic used to interpret life” 😅😂 Did I say that?!

        Well, the last time I felt like a foreigner was a few days ago watching Finns hang out on thin ice. It’s their tradition, and they’ve always done it. But it’s so freaking dangerous!!!! Each year, so many people drown. For me, it’s out of the question. I have no desire to tempt fate and see if the ice will hold.

        https://yle.fi/news/3-11728174

        Liked by 2 people

        1. In the article, this caught my eye … “December saw ten drownings, nine of whom were men who all slipped through ice”
          It sounds like a very sly sense of humor. I don’t think I’d see that qualification by gender in news reports here.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Hah! Perhaps. I had a second look to see if it was written by a woman, but it didn’t mention the author’s name (possibly because it’s a translated, shortened version of the original). Passive aggressive guilt-tripping!
            But your comment reminds me of a comment made by my writing group’s mentor. She said she wanted to read us an interesting quote by ”some white guy”. I found it interesting, since mentioning race was just as unnecessary as gender in this article. Over here, I guess gender is more often brought up than ethnicity, since the country doesn’t have a long history of cultural blending – or a long history of anything, since it’s a relatively young country!

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I am English and look English and speak English, so I haven’t had to deal with this sort of misapprehension. The closest I can think of is the surprise expressed by my husband’s family (all very firmly rooted in their north east heritage), when we first met, that although I was from London I wasn’t ‘posh’ and stand-offish 😆

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wouldn’t even know how to make the distinction between Londoners and North Easters. Isn’t it funny how everyone finds differences to distinguish themselves? I’m glad to know that you aren’t ‘posh’ and stand-offish!

      Like

  3. I’m English, male, and white. I don’t get questions based on my appearance, but most people who hear me speak guess I’m from Australia/New Zealand/South Africa. I’m not bothered by this but I think it would be a lot different if people were making assumptions, often negative, based on appearance or speech. I love it when someone speaks with an accent that seems totally at odds with their appearance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t that funny. Up until recently, I made the opposite assumptions. I thought everyone from Australia/New Zealand/South Africa sounded English. Only after getting to know & talking with them, did I start to distinguish the accent.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I’m English, but when I grew up in Devon, I lived near a Devonshire man and all the years we lived there, I never really understood him, his accent was so thick. I used to try and pick out a few words and from that deduce what he was saying. It was a bit of a hit and miss process.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read that at one time, Cuba had the greatest population of Chinese immigrants in the Caribbean. I’ve also heard that there’s a special type of Cuban Chinese food and in parts of NYC and Miami, there’re restaurants that serve it up. Have you ever had?

      Like

  4. I am liking the response to these prompts, Sandy. They are so illuminating about you as a person and your background – in other words, your story! I never imagined you to sound Jamaican. Isn’t that crazy? I imagine a slightly posh sounding, Jamaican inflected, Asiany English accent!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Like all things, I’m sure real-life will be different from imagination I hear myself on zoom recordings and think “I don’t sound like that!”

      The prompts have been surprisingly easy to write. Although, as I look at the next topic… I’m thinking I might have to revert to one of the earlier & more interesting topics.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hate the sound of my voice on audio. When I was young, I thought I sounded way deeper than what I heard in my head. Now I sound more nasally and Australian – urk….
        Looking forward to reading more responses.

        Like

    1. This is going to sound wierd … but growing up in Jamaica, I thought all ‘pale’ people were white. In that society, the distinctions were black, white, Chinese and Indian, and almost everyone had a bit of everything. There were still prejudices but it had more to do with economics than regional origins. I guess that’s one advantage of a small island – there’s less space to draw the many lines of differences 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I would imagine that people who don’t know me would incorrectly assume that I don’t speak Chinese – when, in fact, I speak Mandarin and Cantonese. Thirty years ago I was quite fluent – not so much anymore…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mastering both Mandarin AND Cantonese is quite an accomplishment! I’m ashamed to say that I couldn’t, I just don’t have the ear for it. My husband did though. He is French and whenever we’d go out in Beijing, he’d be yattering away in mandarin. The wait-staff would look confusingly at me and him, and direct the questions to me, even though he was the one answering.

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s