What Does An American Look Like?

US flagI guess that I don’t look all that American to Americans. On my second day here in Abu Dhabi I was waiting in the lobby of my residence building with a couple dozen teachers who are in my program. I wasn’t feeling particularly social, so I sat alone on the side of the lobby. Regardless, the lobby was densely packed and one couldn’t avoid being more than a couple feet away from another person. I think anyone who entered and observed the language and demeanor of the people would assume that all in the lobby were part of the same group: Americans.

At this point, I’ve previously spoken to a few of my new colleagues, but I hadn’t met everyone. As I sat there, a group of four women in the program stepped out of the elevator and began making their rounds greeting all the teachers in the lobby. Interestingly, I was excluded from these kind formalities.

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Yes! We’re Together!

Living in America as half of an interracial couple isn’t that unique these days, but it doesn’t feel all that common when my wife and I interact with the general public.  I will not discuss overt acts of prejudice or racism.  That will have to wait for another day.  My focus now are all the subtle actions from others that send the message to my wife and me that we don’t belong together.

Here’s a situation that happens quite frequently:  My wife and I are standing side-by-side at a check-out counter of some store and the store employee addresses her or me, “Hi! How can I help you?”  It seems quite normal, until the transaction is complete and the checker turns to the other one of us and asks, “Hi! How can I help you?”  That’s when we annoyingly respond, “We’re together.”  In response, we’ll hear an embarrassed, “Oh!”  Sometimes one of us will raise the ring finger for extra emphasis.giving the (ring) finger  I guess that’s one way to send someone a message by giving them the finger.

Another case: We’re walking through a crowded area like a busy sidewalk, a fair, a sporting event, etc.

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