03 August 2016

Silly Assumptions

A few weeks ago, we were walking into the neighborhood where we used to live, heading to a goodbye dinner for my sister Anna. My parents stopped to say hi to a passing acquaintance, an expatriate, and, seeing the house we headed for, he asked, "Oh, are you visiting your nanny?"

I was open-mouthed, silent in shock, and quite proud of my mom for responding, rather fiercely, "We are visiting a dear friend who is hosting a goodbye dinner for our daughter."

There's just something weird about seeing an American family visiting a Malaysian family and making the automatic assumption that the relationship is that of nanny/employer.

Assumptions are easy to make. People do it all the time. It's not so terribly bad if you're able to keep said assumptions within your own head, unspoken and unacted upon, forgotten quickly, but if you're silly enough to let them escape from your mouth, they can land you in a bit of trouble.

-Back in high school, I was with a friend and his sister eating dinner. An older man we knew stopped by the table and asked my friend, in reference to his sister, "Oooooohhhhh, is THIS your girlfriend?????" Awkward.

-Angel was once asked, at work in the Burn ICU unit of the hospital, if he had come to Michigan to work in the onion fields.

-An older man, who came to our door to sell something, referred to me as "Brother" the whole time he spoke to me.

-The tour guides who were sent to welcome me to Calvin College and give me and my family a tour of the campus walked straight up to my younger sister Lizzy, shook her hand, and said, "Welcome to Calvin, Rachel!"

-After Lizzy moved to the USA to start college herself, she was occasionally asked by friends of our parents and grandparents how she was enjoying newly-married life.

-While riding in an elevator, a lady pointed at Angel and said, "Pakistani, right?"

-My own dad accidentally congratulated the identical twin brother of the groom on his twin's wedding day.

-My mom, while holding my newborn sister, was approached by an elderly lady and scolded for being far too young to be a mom and told she should have waited till she got married (Mom was in her mid-30s, had a total of 7 kids, and had been married 16 years).

None of these assumptions were life-threatening or utterly unspeakable. For the most part, they actually end up providing pretty funny stories for years to come. If I think about it, I can come up with reasonable explanations--I had pretty short hair at the time I was mistaken for a boy...Lizzy is taller than me and maybe looked like the college-aged mom looks exceptionally youthful...and identical twins look pretty identical, ya know?

But! All embarrassment and awkwardness could be avoided if we were willing to simply ask questions instead of acting as if we are starting from a place of knowledge. Here's some potential questions:

"Hi, great to meet you all! Which one of you is Rachel?"

"Now, who is this with you?"

"Where are you from?"

"What's your background?"

"What brought you to Michigan?"

"Is this your first baby? She's adorable!"

I'll never be offended by questions...except those asked by doctors. There's something wrong with those people (and I can say that since I'm married to the nurse who, when not working, asks people if they were breastfed as infants). On the whole, I think questions tend to be a much better way of opening up the lines of conversation than assumption-based statements. Next time your brain leaps to a conclusion, take an extra second to formulate a question instead of blurting out whatever you think is the truth. You might just save yourself a little embarrassment.

Has anyone ever made an awkward assumption about you? Have you ever been embarrassed by an assumption you made about someone else?
Suzanne said...

Well I was asked when I was due. That was NOT a good day.

I agree, so many people open their mouths before thinking and make fools of themselves. Questions are a million times better.

I *wish* I had your Mom's problem!


Rachel ¦¦ A Nesting Nomad said...

I'm frequently mistaken for a teenager, mixed up with my sisters, and assumed not to be married (I guess because people think I'm a teenager). It happens so often to me that I'm extra-aware not to do it to others!

Funny story - in a swimming pool changing room in Turkey, my husband had his nipples tweaked by an Iranian man who assumed my husband was also Iranian (NB he is very much British). I'm not sure who was more embarrassed, my husband or the Iranian man!

Katie said...

I was asked once if I was pregnant (first time that's ever happened in my life) and it felt pretty terrible. Also when I started at my job back in November, someone asked me if this was my first job out of college (I graduated college 8 years ago)!

Bethany Carson said...

Ha! Some of these are pretty good! I'm learning that it's safest to assume assumptions are generally unsafe.

Kate Curtis said...

Oh man. People usually don't mean to be rude, but can really come off that way sometimes. I know I am totally guilty.

The Lady Okie said...

I admittedly am TERRIBLE about blurting out the first thing I think. I am so awkward, and then I have to backtrack and say what I really meant (because of course what I actually meant didn't come out in whatever I said). But who points at someone in an elevator and guesses their nationality? That's pretty silly. I have had a few super awkward moments when I was out with my dad just the two of us, and people have thought we were a marriage couple. This has happened more than once in different settings. Really????

Patricia Victa said...

Girl, you have the funniest stories. I think people assume all the time whether expressed or not. Thank you for reminding me to minimize that if not stop doing it! I've been called "Sir" a few times when I cut my hair really short, and I've been thought of as unapproachable (which is sad!) because I look really serious. I'm just introspective and I destroy that assumption when I come up to someone and strike a conversation :) :P

Susannah said...

Oh goodness, some of these assumptions are pretty amusing! I think the biggest one for me was recently a woman at our church asked me when I was due... Yeah, not pregnant. ;-)

Cara (Kindly Unspoken) said...

Wow, the one about your mom being too young to have children is funny, but I'm sure awkward for her. I'm not sure why people make assumptions, it takes very little effort just to ask a question to make sure of something.

Michelle said...

In January, I was in a store when the employee walked up to me and asked me when I was due. It caught me so off guard, especially since I had been so proud of myself that morning for fitting in my skinny jeans after struggling to get the baby weight off. To this day I can't figure out what made her think I looked pregnant. I just choose to laugh about it.

Kim {Hope Whispers} said...

I get asked all sorts of questions. I once told someone I was from the Marshall Islands and they asked how a Mexican got all the way out to the middle of the Pacific. Well Im not mexican. Im Marshallese and I was born there. The one that irks me most is when people tell me that drinking is what probably caused my liver disease. Its not even close to the cause but thats for thinking I was a lush! Geeze!

Chelsea said...

Oh lord oh lord oh LORD. Talk about awkward. I can't think of anything at the moment but I've defintely had a few of these moments myself.

Crazy Shenanigans-JMO said...

I have online friends think I'm really tall when in reality I'm only 5'3''

Kristin said...

The onion fields thing made me LOL.
I have too many of these to pick just one.
This past year, a not-so-bright student saw a strange man in the classroom (he was another kid's parent) and asked loudly "IS THAT YOUR HUSBAND??". Kids are just as bad as adults.

mypixieblog said...

Ahh yes, silly assumptions commonly referred to as "Foot In Mouth Syndrome." :) The one about the elderly lady scolding your mom is just plain out RUDE.

I once had someone stand up to give me a seat on a subway. I thought it was such a friendly gesture until I realized that he probably thought I was pregnant because I was wearing a flowy top. But if I was pregnant, and he hadn't gotten up, it would have been rude. You can't always fault someone for having good intentions (unless, they don't, which you pointed out in many instances above) :) Happy weekend!

Jenn @ Optimization Actually said...

This is a great way to phrase this. I've seen other bloggers say that they don't think people should every pry into their lives with questions like "when are you having kids?" or getting married or whatever and, for me, I don't fully agree. I have never minded an honest question that just shows interest in my plans. But I can see how "when are you" doing something is assuming that it's even something you want to do vs "are you planning on having kids?" or "do you want kids one day?" would be a much better question if you're genuinely interested. That being said, I don't think it's ever necessary to ask what someone's race is and it's certainly not necessary to scold and judge people for making choices you disapprove of! So those are inexcusable even if you ask first to make sure your assumption is true. The twin story is pretty funny and that one seems difficult, because not making an assumption would mean you have to ask every single time you see the person, "Are you Twin A or Twin B?"

Rach said...

These are some great stories! I'm glad you can see the humor in them. Though some of them (especially regarding race) are just embarrassing to even imagine someone asking. Like, I'm embarrassed for the person who asked because it shows a lot of ignorance to assume that white people are only friends with white people or that someone with dark skin must be a field laborer. But some of them are pretty funny! The twin one would absolutely happen to me, haha!

The most frequent assumption about me from strangers is that I'm in high school because I look younger than I am. And the most frequent assumption about me from acquaintances is that I'm either pregnant (thank you food intolerances that make me look bloated) or that since we don't have children we have been facing infertility for the 8 years of our marriage so far. I get asked if I'm pregnant pretty frequently (most recently at an Olympics opening ceremony party last Friday) so I've learned to just roll with it. I always just assume that in general people are good hearted and curious so I don't mind the questions. :)