Saturday, May 3, 2008

Conversations you wish you never had

Scene: Avis rental car agency
Time: late evening
Characters: Me, friend dropping off a rental car whom I'm driving home, Avis rental car employee, my dog "B" in the back seat of the car

Avis guy (looking at my dog, who is inside the car): Is that your dog?

Me (standing outside my car waiting for my friend): Yes (I smile)

Avis guy: Is he male or female?

Me: Male (at this point I notice that his nametag reads "Ousmane" and that he is speaking with a slight French accent. I think about asking him if he has read Sembene Ousmane, but figure that seems like a pretty stereotypical thing to ask someone who appears to be Senegalese and who has the name of a famous Senagalese author).

Avis guy: How old is your dog?

Me: 5 years old.

Avis guy: How long will he live?

Me: Oh, hopefully 12 or 15 years.

Avis guy: And what will you do with him when he dies?

Me (confused): Well, I guess we'll bury him or cremate him.

Avis guy: Oh? You won't eat him?

Me (thinking I misheard him): Excuse me?

Avis guy: You are Chinese, no? Chinese eat dogs--won't you eat him when he dies?

Me (I can hear his words but I'm not quite processing them quickly enough): Um, some Chinese people in Northern China do eat dogs, but I'm not going to eat my dog when he dies.

Avis guy (smiling and laughing): But you are Chinese. Chinese people eat dog, why aren't you going to eat this dog?

Me (not believing I am actually having this conversation): Well, not all Chinese people eat dog, only those in Northern China really, and it's really not that common, and anyway I'm not going to eat my dog.

Avis guy (not letting this go and still laughing): No, no no! I know Chinese people eat dog--you must eat this dog.

Me (getting angry/annoyed): No, I'm not going to eat my dog when he dies! (friend starts to approach car)

Avis guy (still smiling and laughing and shaking his head): OK, good bye!

Me: ?????!!!!!!


Cipher said...

holy HELL

that's all i have to say about that

baby221 said...

siiiiiiiiiiigh. It's a pity you can't just get away with an evil grin and "Absolutely" in situations like those.

s-fizzle said...

soerha: ?!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Genepool said...

Funny story! Sorry, but wow! Shoulda asked him why they didn't have schools where he grew up.

I'm almost jealous no one asks me questions that stupid. Oh, the seeds I would plant...

Brian Hunt said...

That is almost unbelievable! It's bad enough that that clown was buying into a stereo type, but then he kept taking it a step farther. Kudos to you for keeping your cool. I would've lost it.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for commenting everyone--yes, it does seem unbelievable that I had to have this conversation. The thing is, I can't quite figure out if he was race-baiting me or whether he truly just thought that this was the cultural practice of Chinese people. I mean, leaving alone the whole "we all look alike" scenario, because really, it's a fluke that he got my ethnicity right--I've been asked or assumed to be Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Singaporean, Hawaiian and during one summer when I guess I was fairly dark, African American (perhaps it was an associative thing since the person asked if I was someone's sister and since my friend is African American, he found it hilarious--of course, the minute I took off my sunglasses he realized his mistake--still, it was a first for me).

Anyway, I can't quite explain it but the reason I didn't just go off on him is that I at least initially took his inappropriate questioning as a sincere attempt to reach out transculturally to me.

What really pissed me off was his insistence and then his laughter did make me think that perhaps he was just fucking with me--that's what's so maddening about these situations--you just don't really know, and of course it isn't until you've driven away that you think of all the zingers you WISH you could say/did say.


Eastern Reflections said...

I'm so sorry. It sounds more like he SINCERELY believes this stereotype, even though it's such an infuriating thing for him to say.

I've been saying a lot "this reminds me of an incident" haha, and I am sorry if it's annoying.

I briefly volunteered with an english language for internationals program at my university. I met some wonderful friends there. And one mentioned how in his English class each student had to talk about their country's cuisines. It was a very mixed group (Chinese, Koreans, Afghanis, Saudis, Omanis, Japanese, Ukrainians, etc.).

An Afghan girl (Who, the friend said, had a temper to begin with) was struggling to give her speech and when question time came up a Korean student asked her point blank "What is it like to eat camel?"

My friend said the girl got so upset she immediately shot back "What is it like to eat DOG!?!?!"

My friend and I both had a good laugh about it. And honestly, thinking about the action and reaction makes me laugh, but thinking about the CONTENT of it really is something that can hurt and infuriate anybody.