Friday, July 2, 2010

You're American?!

People just say the darnedest things sometimes.  Bryan and I have encountered a variety of sometimes hilarious responses to our heritage.

One day I was following the monkeys at Bukit Timah and a woman started asking me some questions about the monkeys before moving on to interrogating me about my origins.

Woman with a Bad Ear for Accents: So you're Australian, huh?
Obviously Not Australian: Australian?!  No.  I'm from the U.S.
Woman with a Bad Ear for Accents: No...really?  You don't sound American AT ALL.
Obviously Not Australian: Welp, I am.  Born and raised!
Woman with a Bad Ear for Accents: (Lengthy pause as she digests this information) Are you SURE you're not Australian?
Obviously Not Australian: Seriously?  I've never even been there.  I will show you my New Mexico driver's license, if you really don't believe me.
Woman with a Bad Ear for Accents: (Appears to consider taking me up on my offer, then decides against it, and walks off, shaking her head.  Even as she walks away, I'm pretty sure she thinks that I'm lying to her) .

On another day, Bryan and I went out with some people we'd never met after listening to a talk at NUS.  An English guy asked us where we were from, and we said the U.S.  He seemed surprised, and then complimented our "soft, pleasant accents." Later, after a couple of beers:

Englishman: Where are you guys from again?
Standard American: The U.S.
Englishman: Wow.  You guys definitely sound Canadian.
(20 minutes later)
Englishman: You're REALLY QUIET for Americans!!!

One day, I hopped into a taxi outside our building in Jurong East.  Before pulling away, the taxi driver twisted all the way around in his seat to look me up and down.  He turned back around and then:

Taxi Driver:  You stay here?
Not Like the Others: Yes, I live in that block there (pointing)
Taxi Driver: (Guffaws)  But your face!
Not Like the Others: (My hand flies to my face.  Oh God, did I have cereal on my face again?  A milk mustache?  Was he mocking me for being sweaty?)  What about my face?!
Taxi Driver:  No, no, no!  (still laughing)  You FACE! YOU FACE!
Not Like the Others: (silently mouthing the word "face" over and over, trying to figure out what he is saying)  My RACE?!
Taxi Driver: YESSSSS!!!  Why you live here?!  No foreigner live here!
Not Like the Others:  Well, the rent is cheap and my boyfriend and I thought it would be interesting to live among Singaporeans rather than other Westerners.
Taxi Driver: You boyfriend live here too?!  (renewed laughter)  He foreigner too?!
Not Like the Others:  Yes, we're both American.
Taxi Driver: WOW!!!  No foreigner live here.
Not Like the Others: Yeah, we don't see many others like us.
Taxi Driver: No!   Not!  Hahahaha, how long you live here?
Not Like the Others: Since July...
Taxi Driver: (more laughter....)
It continued like this for awhile...

One rainy grocery day, I had dragged myself to Giant to stock up on cheddar cheese (there's suddenly a dearth of yellow cheddar on this island.  At every store I go to, it's either been taken off the shelves, or marked up to some exorbitant price, or the only "yellow cheese" available is some nasty knockoff "cheese product" that makes Velveeta look organic.  Giant is the only place I can currently find good, normally priced yellow cheddar.  End rant).  Anyway, I was standing in line with all my groceries up on the conveyor belt.  I thought I had pretty normal stuff- a pumpkin, a couple types of whole wheat pasta, milk, the coveted cheddar cheese, strawberries, etc.  The woman behind me apparently thought that I was some sort of anthropological oddity, because she kept staring at my groceries and then eyeballing me.  Eventually she just started picking stuff up and prodding other stuff.  She was especially fascinated by the whole wheat pasta, and picked both bags up a few times.

Old Lady: (gesturing at me with a bag of wholemeal spaghetti) Where you FROM?!
Girl Who Makes Apparently Bizarre Dietary Choices: The U.S.
Girl Who Makes Apparently Bizarre Dietary Choices: (bemused)  Ummm...
Old Lady: You stay here?
Girl Who Makes Apparently Bizarre Dietary Choices: Yup, since July of 2009
Old Lady: Wow!
Cashier: Do you LIKE it here?!
Girl Who Makes Apparently Bizarre Dietary Choices:  Sure, Singapore's great.
Old Lady: You like the food?
Girl Who Makes Apparently Bizarre Dietary Choices: Um, I love some of it, but not all of it.  And sometimes I miss the foods that I ate in the U.S.
Old Lady: (Nods sagely while prodding my pumpkin)

One day, a couple of students from NUS came out to Bukit Timah to join me and another researcher to test out whether they might be interested in monkey research.  Over lunch, I had this conversation with one of them:

NUS Student: So where are you from?
Indian Food Lover: The U.S.
NUS Student: Oh.  Do you like it here?
Indian Food Lover: Yeah!  I like the monkeys and the other wildlife.  And I like all the different cultures mixing together in one place.
NUS Student: But what about the food?  Do you like the food?
Indian Food Lover: Well, I love some of it, but I really don't like some of it.  Sometimes I miss the food from the U.S.
NUS Student: But Singapore's food is why all the foreigners like this country.
Indian Food Lover: Yeah, I know.  I really like some of the food.  There's awesome Indian food here.
NUS Student: (exaggerated eye roll) You Westerners all just LOVE Indian food.  I don't get it.  It's disgusting.  And it's bad for you.
Indian Food Lover: Well, I don't think it's disgusting.  And plenty of it is good for you.  The stuff that's bad for you is stuff with too much butter and oil, but a lot of it is made with tons of fresh vegetables, and that's great.
NUS Student: Yeah....I don't like it.
Indian Food Lover:  Clearly.

Sometimes it feels as though every single day in S'pore is an adventure.  That was certainly the case when I was walking home one day, rushing in an effort to beat an approaching storm.  As I hustled along, someone shouted "Ma'am!" but I ignored it and kept walking.  I often ignore men when they yell at me, since they usually want something less innocent than to tell me I dropped something.  The man yelled again, this time with such urgency that I stopped.  A man came up to me and asked me for directions to the Science Park.  Assuming he meant the Science Centre, I pointed him in the right direction, and then resumed walking.  He kept stride with me, obviously not intending to use my directions.  I pointed to a mapboard, and told him he should go over there.  Before he did, we had the following exchange:

Creeper: So are you Singaporean?
So Not Interested: Do I look Singaporean?
Creeper: Heh.  So are you European?
So Not Interested: I'm American.
Creeper: Oh!  So you like Negroes?
So Not Interested: (convinced that I must have heard him wrong) WHAT?
Creeper: You like Negroes?  Dark skin men?  Americans like Negroes.
So Not Interested: (how exactly does one answer this question?  I don't want to say yes and imply that I have some sort of fetish for dark-skinned men since he is a dark-skinned man, and I don't want to say no and sound racist)  Uh...they're fine, I guess?  I'm married though, so it doesn't matter what I think of dark-skinned men (my new philosophy: when backed into a corner by a creepy stranger, lie your way out)
Creeper: Can I have your phone number?
So Not Interested: I'M MARRIED!  NO! (green man arrives just in time to save me, and I dart across the street)

We've also been mistaken for Israeli, Iranian, Canadian, Italian, and Spanish.  It's always an adventure meeting someone new, because you never know where they're going to guess that you're from!


  1. Wow, those are some funny stories. In America people pretty consistently think I am German, in the UK (England) they think I am American, and of course here they think I am Australian.

    In general, people are not too good in recognizing foreign English accents if they don't know foreign languages. And even American English accents vary so wildly: I have a friend, born and raised in the US, and it took me a long time to believe that he is not French :)

  2. In the US, I get told once in a while that I speak English very well when I mention I'm from Singapore (though I have to say it happens a lot less these days) :)

  3. Hi crystal, I chanced upon your blog through the biodiversity thing. I love this post! It's hilarious! Yeah, the only way to know Singapore is to live it like a Singaporean. Even then, it is likely that you are more Singaporean than most Singaporeans. It's bizarre i know, but also very true. Enjoy your stay here!

  4. Haha yeah it's amazing how confident people often are in their incorrect opinions. Silly.

  5. I suddenly don't feel so bad for getting asked where I'm from in my hometown. Some of these are hilarious!

  6. I'm speechless. I'm seriously ashamed of the locals here.

  7. Oh there's nothing to be ashamed of. Actually, two of these conversations (the first and second ones) took place with foreigners and the rest are mostly just people being curious, which I don't mind. The last guy was kind of a creeper, but weirdos are definitely a worldwide phenomena.