On my first day of college, a girl with a messy ponytail asked me where I was from. We were in a van headed to Wal-Mart, and I remember feeling dazed and overwhelmed. “I’m half-Japanese,” I said without blinking. She paused. “I meant…where did you grow up?” “Oh!” I laughed. “New York City.” She became one of my best friends, and we frequently joked about our Wal-Mart trip, but that first day of college, I must have been asked about my ethnicity five or six times. I’m so used to it by now and it doesn’t generally faze me, but it still feels like such a personal, invasive question. A good follow-up question would be “and how much do you weigh?” or “what color are your panties?”
The thing is, strangers pop the question in a million different ways, but I’ve found that being asked directly is 1,000 times better than getting a vague version of the question like “where are you from?” or “where did you grow up?” It’s similar, in my mind, to the way that being asked “how old are you?” is probably better than being asked “are your kids in college?”
What I struggle with most is being asked at a bar setting, when I’m hanging out with friends and enjoying a beer and someone practically does a drive-by. Once, at a bar in Wisconsin, I overheard a slimy guy ask a girl with a gorgeous head of hair about her looks, and she said matter-of-factly, “I’m a unicorn, and you’re a horse.” His expression was priceless, and as he stuttered over his words, she took the opportunity to walk away. I’ve kept that line up my sleeve for awhile now, and I can’t wait to use it.