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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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I think I'm getting old. [20060131|18:37]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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This story is for all the Americans out there who assume that the average British person is smarter than they are.

I'm staring out the window of the bus when the two young men sit down next to me. Lost in a half-doze, I don't notice them until one bumps my leg with his backpack. I look up and shift a little and he turns his face to smile an apology. I see his friend, sitting opposite, looking at me with an openly appreciative smirk on his adolescent face. It bristles with stubble, and I instantly know he's proud of it. In the same instant, I can see his expression change as he realizes he's made a mistake. He's misread the puffy parka, pirate beanie, baggy green combat trousers and boots. I'm not in his age group. He nods a little stiffly and I say hello, to make the awkwardness pass. His face lights up again, then he remembers to be cool and pretends to ignore me. I look out the window again, to hide my smile.

He and his friend begin to talk. They have powerful south London accents, and I listen carefully, picking through the "innits" to understand their conversation. Covert glances at their attire permit me to see that the one across from me has left the sticker that shows the size of his baseball cap on its bill, though his black hoodie almost obscures it. I wonder if this is deliberate. To my delight, they shortly provide the answer. One tells a story about being in a shop and having a salesperson stop him and tell him that he still had a tag on his cap. The disdain in his voice for the ignorance of adults almost sends me into giggles. They exchange a few more mumbled sentences that I can't understand, and then I feel the one next to me digging out his wallet. I glance over, and he's pulling out several tags, of the kind that are typically clipped from items of freshly bought clothing and discarded. They admire one another's collections. The one across from me catches my eye again and smiles.

They return their wallets to their pockets. The one next to me reaches into his jacket and pulls out a bit of paper that's falling apart along the creases and shows it to his friend. They begin an animated discussion of electric pedal bikes, some of which are apparently designed to look like scooters but don't require a license to operate. I glance over again.

The one next to me turns and asks, "Excuse me, do you know where I can get one of these pedal bicycles?" He exaggerates the last two words, pronouncing them with greater clarity than I've heard during the preceding portion of the bus ride, and points at the wrinkly picture while he says it.

I blink. "I'm sorry, but no."

He nearly drops the paper. "You're not Chinese?"

I stare at him. Should I point out that just because I look vaguely East Asian, it's terribly ignorant to assume that I must be Chinese? Should I point out that, in fact, there are a lot of East Asians in the world who speak perfectly good English? Should I point out that not all East Asians run restaurants, electronics and cycle shops? Should I point out that if someone were to assume that he spoke only Swahili, or that he made his living selling weed, he would probably be mightily offended?

Should I squinch up my face and say, "I sorree, I no unnastan, HEEHEE?"

Fortunately, his slightly less thick friend solves my problem by starting to laugh, pointing at him and convulsing. I patiently explain that no, I'm not Chinese, by ethnic or national origin, and that I moved to London from California. (He knows where that is. Or at least, he knows that Long Beach is there.) They disembark at the next stop.

"I'm sorry," yells the one who was across from me as he hops off the bus.

The last thing I hear the one who was next to me say is, "What you apologizin for?"
linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: victorine
2006-01-31 18:51 (UTC)

Because I can totally relate!

OMG! I am rolling in my chair! I wish I could have seen you say that to them. That's priceless. Like the time that lady on the corner was screaming "nihama" at me, or the time the guy who sells tokens for the subway told me I speak english really well! ha ha ha ha ha!!!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2006-01-31 19:01 (UTC)
HAHA. You once told me a story about a person who asked you if you were Chinese or Japanese, like those were the only choices. I love to relate that one to other people.
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[User Picture]From: chickenfeet2003
2006-01-31 18:51 (UTC)
few peoples (or indeed species) look particularly good if judged by the behaviour/apparent intelligence of their adolescent males
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2006-01-31 18:59 (UTC)
This is true. However, I get rather tired of speaking to Americans who tell me that all the British people sound so smart and educated. Most of these people have only heard BBC news presenters. They've never been to London. Or if they have, they've never ridden on a London bus. Or if they have, they've been in a huge group of other Americans who are all talking so loudly that they can't hear anything around them.
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From: ripperlyn
2006-01-31 19:21 (UTC)
Slightly OT, but imagine if a certain multi-billionaire heiress had been conceived at that branch of the chain...
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[User Picture]From: chickenfeet2003
2006-01-31 19:25 (UTC)
Those must be the people Andrew Motion was thinking of when he suggested that every child should read Ulysses.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2006-02-01 09:46 (UTC)
I can't think of a cunning response to this, so I will simply bow my respect to your erudite wit, sir.
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[User Picture]From: sekl
2006-01-31 20:25 (UTC)
That's priceless, innit?

We don't mean *real* British people sound smart...we mean the ones on TV. Just like how everyone in LA is like 90210 and everyone in New York talks like Friends.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2006-02-01 09:25 (UTC)
Do you mean to tell me that the teevee doesn't always tell us the truth?

Shocking.
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[User Picture]From: nationofsheep
2006-01-31 21:39 (UTC)
This reminds me of your post about always defending America to British people. I just got an email from a British friend in Hong Kong asking me, among other things, why we have such an ignorant president. Like how could we elect such an idiot that does such idiotic things. And it finally occurred to me that the British elected a Prime Minister who is a patsy to our idiotic president. And I told him so. If the British are so fed up with our president, maybe they could start by electing a prime minister who would put some pressure on us to elect someone else. Or at least someone who didn't always appear to be the "Yeah man" henchman. Anyway, that's what it made me think of.
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[User Picture]From: paris_of_priam
2006-02-01 06:26 (UTC)
Heheh! Exactly, it's like that classic line from TRAINSPOTTING: "Some people hate the British, but I don't. They're just wankers. But what does that make US? COLONIZED by wankers!"
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[User Picture]From: omniana
2006-02-01 03:04 (UTC)
Strange. I didn't understand why he was asking you about bikes, I assumed he was attempting to flirt, so I definitely did not expect his next line! Heh.
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[User Picture]From: paris_of_priam
2006-02-01 06:30 (UTC)
Yeah, well, you know how it is. There are 1.3 billion Chinese, and 1 billion of them ride bikes. Ergo, they MUST know where all the good bicycle stores are, even in London. Some of that knowledge must have spilled over onto the Phillipines, due to the proximity to China, and all that. The whole thing makes perfect sense to me. ;P
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[User Picture]From: seismic
2006-02-01 03:11 (UTC)
I admire your restraint.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2006-02-01 08:35 (UTC)
It was kind of sad. I had the feeling that if I'd hit him over the head with something in anger, it wouldn't have done any damage.
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[User Picture]From: enn
2006-02-01 04:17 (UTC)

i love these little anectodes

that is all
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2006-02-01 08:34 (UTC)
I can see you laughing. Dimple goes pop! ;-)
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[User Picture]From: shamroq
2006-02-01 06:42 (UTC)
How do you say "I loved this entry" in Chinese?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2006-02-01 08:32 (UTC)
You say "You funnee, ritter gir'!"
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[User Picture]From: paris_of_priam
2006-02-01 06:58 (UTC)
Oh, there are much better (and more subtle) examples than that. Americans are usually making the 'smarter' call based on a posh accent and perfect grammar. But, obviously, there are plenty of people who speak perfect standard english, while being as stupid as a bucket of latex paint. The reverse is also true.

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[User Picture]From: nanila
2006-02-01 08:31 (UTC)
Yeah, I know. But as I explained above, what irritates me is hearing that the posh accent implies intelligence. I don't think perfect grammar is required.

I wonder how different people's reactions to this post would have been if I'd just left off that first sentence.
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[User Picture]From: mysti77
2006-02-02 17:39 (UTC)
Haha, Well at least they spoke to you in English. I've gotten people 'try' to speak to me in Spanish! Some people here think I'm Brazilian or from a Hispanic island). They don't believe that I know about 10 Spanish words!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2006-02-03 13:59 (UTC)
Heh, I get that too! When Marco and I go to Puerto Rico, people in shops will address him in English and me in Spanish. Then they look surprised when I reply in English and he replies in Spanish.
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