Jul 26, 2009

"They"

Living in China, I've grown to hate it when people refer to me in the third person in front of my face, as if I'm deaf or retarded. It usually happens when you're out in a group with one or more Chinese companions.

You're there minding your own business with your friend (or friends), and then someone from outside your social group that you're out with asks your buddy, or you girlfriend, or whomever, "So where's he from?". It's like they're asking the AKC breed of your new dog. "Cool looking dog", they ask. "Yeah, he's a Labradoodle. He's a designer hybrid", you respond.

To put this in perspective, imagine if you were out at TGI Friday's in your hometown, and you happen to chance across some college buddies of yours watching the game at the bar. You exchange greetings, have some polite catching-up conversation, and find out what everyone's up to these days. You notice an Asian-looking fellow in their group, not someone you remember from college. "So where's that guy from?", you ask your buddy, while casting a brief look at the Asian guy standing right beside him.

No, you would never do such a thing, because it would be incredibly rude to talk to someone else about a person you've never met while you're three feet away from their face, and they can hear everything you say. It would be incredibly rude. Before you even reference the person you don't know, you'd politely introduce yourself. "Hi, I'm Fred, nice to meet you," you'd say. "I know these guys from back in the day. I don't think we've ever met." Then the new guy lets you know his name and relation to the group, and you didn't have to act like a racist douche, as is the treatment I often get over here.

Sometimes you won't get referred to in the singular third person (he, she, it) in front of your face; often times it will be the collective "they". I was at the local vegetable market recently with my girlfriend, buying some meat and vegetables for dinner. I'm in this market about twice every week, so it's not the first time the vendors have seen me.

So we're buying peppers, onions, eggplant, and garlic from a vendor. I point out that we should get some potatoes to cook with, and then the vendor chimes in, unprompted, with a comment to my girlfriend, "Yeah, they like potatoes".

That just got my goat, the way the vendor dropped in that "they". And right in front of my face too. I know, it's not like Ross Perot saying "you people", but the ignorance gets to you just the same.

I wanted to ask that vendor, who do you mean, "they"? Did you mean, "People that live in apartment community XYZ"? Did you mean "youths"? Did you mean "white folk"? Did you mean "dudes"? I'd appreciate a more descriptive term next time I'm being talked in front of my face like I'm three years old.

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