Chameleon Boy


On our trip to Itariamura I had a weird experience that ties into several I’ve had before. Normally we think that Americans dress and act in a unique enough way that we stick out in any country. While I would consider myself very American, I often get mistaken for being from someplace else. When someone from one country mistakes me for being from another, it only stands out a little; but, when someone mistakes me for one of their countrymen, I think it is remarkable. A few cases:

While pumping gas in Italy I chatted with the station attendant. He was sure I was French. I guess I was butchering Italian so bad that he assumed I was someone with no regard for his language. 😉

Many years ago, I was socializing in Osaka with a newly met group of friends. One of them insisted that I looked just like his friend. “Your foreign friend?”, I inquired. “No he is Japanese.”, came the reply. All of the other members reaffirmed this. My hair was still a dirty blonde at that time and, of course, my eyes are blue. This didn’t dissuade anyone.

Before meeting with some Swedish and some Norwegian clients, they had assumed I was one of them by my name. I guess they were mostly right. Unfortunately, I could do know more than greet them and call them toads because of my limited vocabulary.

Recently at many parties and at the too oft visited licensing center, I have met Brazilians who mistook me for one of their own. I pull this off without speaking a lick of Portuguese. I think it’s because most Brazilians are people of few words, relying on unspoken communication.

Somehow I am identified as a Canadian by just about everyone. Even by people whom I have repeatedly reminded that I’m from America. I am perplexed about how to answer when they ask me, “What is <such and such a condition> like in (your homeland) Canada?” Although I know a lot about my neighbors to the north, I’m afraid to answer lest I reinforce the idea that I am Canadian. When speaking to my Canadian friends here, I tell them I was born in South Vancouver (Seattle). One of them has labeled me as a Canadian wannabee.

On Sunday’s trip I chatted with a gondola driver and another entertainer. Both conversations started with a knowing look and then, “Ciao?”, “Ciao!”, “Italiano?” I was proud that after one word they both assumed I was from Italy, but simultaneously disappointed that I had to tell them no.

I just hope Americans don’t mistake me for a foreigner when I visit home.


5 Responses to “Chameleon Boy”

  1. Sylvia Says:

    That might be a compliment.

    Sometimes I tune in to a Seattle news program and I’m always amazed by (1) the shootings and (2) how little of an accent they seem to have. (Of course Vancouver has been trying hard lately to keep up in the gang shooting department so I might have to drop amazement #1.)

  2. びっくり Says:

    Seattle is the accent-free city! Which helps keep me employed as an English teacher. People often tell me how easy it is to understand me when I speak.

  3. Naomi Says:

    Beware of any long-term exposure to Canadians, we have been known to infect others with out strange ways.

  4. びっくり Says:

    OK, thanks for the warning. I was going to ask if you would like to see the Ukiyo-e exhibit in Nagoya on Sunday. I can get us cheap train tickets and I have a pair of tickets to the exhibit, but… you being Canadian and all… I guess I better not mention it. 😉

  5. Maikeru Says:

    Getting back into the states, the hardest thing for me to do for a while was get out of the ‘being Japanese’ state. Ie., gestures, movements, accent… Gambatte, ne.

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