Friday, October 26, 2012


race, nationality, culture.

i got to think about it today because the nice young doctor who saw me at the hospital was very probably arabic. i am not making hasty assumptions about this; he was very semitic looking, had a thick accent, and his name (which i am actually going to tell you because i want to talk about his name specifically) is mohammed-ali babi. so given his appearance AND his accent AND his name, my best guess is that he is arabic, and at least culturally muslim.

i am used to being seen by "foreigners". "foreigner"is a term i usually apply to anyone living outside my local telephone calling area, or more liberally, someone not from vermont but also it can be applied to anyone from farther away than that, like from other countries.

we have a lot of foreign nationals living in northern vermont because this is a major refugee relocation center, but even before that we got all kinds of people from away mostly because of the university. the local hospital is a large teaching hospital, so you get medical students a lot of the time and they are often from somewhere else.

when i heard the name of this guy i was seeing, they didn't tell me his first name(s), and i was sort of expecting an indian guy.

hint of bias.

i am going to excuse myself a little by saying that when i noticed this guy's different-ness, i thought "how nice", so it is maybe benign.

but also i noticed that the lady at reception was kind of dismissive of him as if he'd only started working there last week, but i had to wonder if it was because he's arabic or because he's only still a resident. and i wondered what it's like for him, because i know that not everybody who notices his appearance and name thinks "how nice". i know it's probably hard for him to get on a plane in this country.

i want to understand more of what it is like for him in this place at this time, but it would not be polite to ask. i want to know how sick he is of jokes about his name by people who are trying to be friendly.

i am trying to unpack my feeling of "how nice" a little. i think (i would like to think) that i feel it is nice to run into people not like me because it is a wide world and people are interesting.

come to think of it, last week a white guy who needed a shave came riding up to me on an atv with a cracked shotgun in his lap and i thought "how nice", so maybe it's my general pleasure in meeting different people at work here but it's probably just as well for me to think about whether i am practicing a cultural arrogance or not.

it's maybe a good thing to think about on general principle. it's a big world out there and the more we run into people not like us the more we're either going to have to fight or get along. i know which i prefer.

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