That up there is the reaction (in so many words) that I get whenever I tell someone I’m Lebanese. Apparently, according to friends and strangers alike, I don’t look like one.
Some people may take offense at being told they bear no resemblance to their fellow countrymen, but I’m not one of them. Instead, I like to take it as a chance to engage in a little guessing game with those who can’t pinpoint my nationality just by looking at me. It’s fascinating to see what stereotypes or labels people ascribe to certain ethnicities, and I often find people good-naturedly struggling to “place” me kind of cute.
Mind you, I don’t exactly enjoy it when the stereotypes are negative (and I haven’t gotten any of those yet) but I do take the guesses as a window into how others see the world around them. I especially like it when I get a country or ethnicity I haven’t gotten before, because the more variable it gets, the more intriguing it becomes.
When I was a kid, I was often asked if I was Indian or Pakistani because of my constant suntanned skin and dark hair. As I got older, people gave me Greek, Spanish, Italian and even, one time, Native American. (That was an interesting one, to say the least). Some others, to be safe, would simply say I’m American because of my accent, which isn’t wrong since I was born there and have citizenship. (I just don’t identify as one because I’ve spent maybe three months of my entire life on American soil, and the last time I was there was 18 years ago).
People are usually shocked (SHOCKED!!) to learn I’m Lebanese. I don’t find it too surprising though because even I admit that I don’t look like your typical Lebanese woman. Hell, even my mom and sisters are often guessed to be Russian, German, Polish and just about anything but Arab. (We’re like a rainbow of nationalities under one roof!)
When people have a pre-established image of your race or ethnicity, and you come along and defy almost every feature, it becomes really difficult for them to box you into that ready-made package. It feels pretty good to break those kinds of stereotypes…it shows that there is way more to people than meets the eye.