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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Mommies

One of my summer resolutions is to meet and cultivate a minimum of two mommies with children Klara’s age. Obviously, I’m doing it for her sake and not mine. I’m prepared to make heroic efforts to melt the Midwestern immigrant-wary ice. 

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20 thoughts on “Mommies

  1. Evelina Anville on said:

    If it makes you feel any better, I’m American and I find Midwesterners cold: nice and polite but cold. I typically can make friends easily and I’ve become close to very few people in this state.

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  2. Fie upon this quiet life on said:

    I’m a midwesterner, and I love talking to immigrants and hearing their stories, but I have heard that this is a “not okay” and even perhaps offensive thing to do. So I’ve stopped asking people where they are from and assume that they don’t want to tell me. It’s made things awkward when I meet someone from a different place. But I still WANT to hear the stories and am excited to learn something from other cultures. I’m just tired of being pounced on by the liberal police for just trying to be a human being.

    Identity politics has made me so afraid to talk to people that I can’t even make friendly conversation anymore.

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    • Stringer Bell on said:

      I dunno, but I feel there are better ways to engage in conversation with people. ‘Where are you from? Please tell me stories about your people’ is perhaps not the best ice-breaker out there.

      This is not ‘identity politics’, it’s basic socialization. I’ve made friends with people without having to tell ‘my story’ to them first. As you get closer to someone, you share more intimate things about yourself. That part comes later.

      To want to connect with people only on the basis of their accent or nationality is just lazy. They can tell.


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      • Stringer Bell on said:

        Let’s see if this comment ends up in moderation too.

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      • I am with Stringer Bell here 100%. I really, really appreciate it when people whom I have just met rein in their curiosity and spare me the question “Where are you from?” (or, upon my attempts at deflection, “No, where are you REALLY from?”) and instead talk to me like a normal person who has every right to be there. Ask me what I do, ask me where I went to school, ask me where I live, if I have kids, what sports my kids play, what I do at work all day… Anything other than “Where are you really/originally from?” Sadly, very few people have that restraint. I hate being asked where I am from because there is no way that ends well — people already think I sound a certain way, but I am not from there, and the place I am from many of them can’t place on the map and don’t know what to do with that information.

        A few days ago a woman asked me for directions in the building and I walked her down the corridor to where she was going. Even though I helped her out (so should get karmic brownie points and be left alone) and our whole interaction lasted 10 seconds, she absolutely had to ask, “You don’t sound like you are from This State.” I said, “I am from This State enough.” What she did was very rude — this is really a personal question and she doesn’t have the right to ask a perfect stranger such a personal question because in a 10-second interaction something sounded off to her. People have to realize that not every bit of their curiosity has to be satisfied on the spot; they don’t actually have the right to know this. As Stringer Bell says, when you get to know people, it will come up naturally and then it doesn’t feel so intrusive and forced. But I really wish people would stop asking altogether, honestly.

        I saw the movie “The Girl on the Train” last night. The story happens in the US, suburbs of New York City. In one scene, the protagonist who has a British accent starts seeing a shrink, who has a Hispanic accent. The first thing she says to him during the first session is “You have an accent.” He responds, “You have an accent, too.” She won’t let it go (I really wish people would just let it the fuck go) and says something like, “But where are you from?” and he responds, “I am an American citizen,” and starts asking her about her own issues.

        And that’s the main thing — these urges to know where foreign people are from are generally rude, intrusive, and meant to highlight that you have noticed that they don’t really belong there. Even if Fie doesn’t mean it that way, most people do. (No it’s not the same as asking a guy from Ohio or Texas where he is from.) About 30% of the time, sooner or later one of these conversational partners who started with “Where are you REALLY from?” will ask what they really want to know, which is why I came to the US and if I plan to go back (these are all implications that I have no business being there). I am a fuckin’ US citizen — you know how delighted I am to constantly be reminded that there are people who think I am here taking something away from the natives?

        To be crude and perhaps a bit (but only a bit) too dramatic: if you just met me and you immediately go to “So where are you REALLY from, because you know you have an accent?” (No, I don’t know, no one has ever brought it up ever) it’s like wanting to fuck me without bothering with even a little bit of foreplay. We could have both enjoyed the encounter; but you went straight for it without consideration of what I may think or want or need, and maybe you got what you wanted and maybe you didn’t, but you pissed me off and I guarantee I will never want to go anywhere near you ever again.

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        • “he first thing she says to him during the first session is “You have an accent.” He responds, “You have an accent, too.” She won’t let it go (I really wish people would just let it the fuck go) and says something like, “But where are you from?” and he responds, “I am an American citizen,” and starts asking her about her own issues.”

          • I remember that scene, too, and for the same reason. If I had a big birthmark on my face, for instance, people would not bring it up all the time, would they? They’d assume I know and wouldn’t be so eager to inform me about it. But with the accent, it’s a curse. The only way to avoid the endless announcements of “You have an accent!” is not to leave the house at all.

          I also find it disturbing that even the music teacher doesn’t understand me when I speak. She is a music teacher! Shouldn’t she have good hearing and a good relationship with sounds?

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  3. Stringer Bell on said:

    Reposting:

    I dunno, but I feel there are better ways to engage in conversation with people. ‘Where are you from? Please tell me stories about your people’ is perhaps not the best ice-breaker out there.

    This is not ‘identity politics’, it’s basic socialization. I’ve made friends with people without having to tell ‘my story’ to them first. As you get closer to someone, you share more intimate things about yourself. That part comes later.

    To want to connect with people only on the basis of their accent or nationality is just lazy. They can tell.


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    • Fie upon this quiet life on said:

      I’m not saying “tell me the story of your people.” I’m interested in what brought them to the place where we are. I live in a crappy fly over state and I wonder why people end up here instead of the coasts. I have a story about that too that I used to share. But of course, I don’t ask or tell these things anymore because I get attacked by people like you.

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      • Stringer bell on said:

        Damn, I must have a lot of power of all these immigrants are listening to me about not hanging out with you.

        Instead of looking inwards and doing some self reflection about why immigrants don’t want to hang out with you, go ahead and blame pc cultire. Lol.

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    • “I feel there are better ways to engage in conversation with people. ‘Where are you from?”

      It’s the frontier mentality (still) in action. One of the defining experiences was the (mostly 10th expansion from the East to West coasts. In settler communities made up of previous strangers “Where are you from?” (ie how did you get here?) wasn’t just idle curiosity but part of the process of forming communities and keeping them safe.

      People from more settled parts of the world or places marked with endemic mistrust among the citizenry will find it weird and disorienting (or threatening) but talking about geographic origins is a basic part of a lot of US culture.

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      • Stringer Bell on said:

        As I said earlier, ‘talking about geographic origins’ comes later. It is trivially easy to connect to other people without going straight to their accents or nation of origin first. I’ve lived here long enough to see this in action. Believe it or not, real red-blooded white americans do this, too!

        Just lol at this ‘frontier mentality’. Maybe in your grandfather’s generation, yes. There’s literally nothing that younger people have taken from older generations in terms of behavior. But I am to believe that somehow they cling to a frontier mentality. I’m sorry, this sounds like myth-making. Putting a romantic, nostalgic spin on what is essentially an inability to make genuine friendships with people who don’t look like you. It’s not a big deal, though. We all suck at a lot of things. FUTQL just happens to suck at this particular thing. She can continue to believe that the PC POLICE got on the ethnic people mailing list and warned all the ethics about talking to her.

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        • “Just lol at this ‘frontier mentality’. Maybe in your grandfather’s generation, yes. There’s literally nothing that younger people have taken from older generations in terms of behavior”

          That’s a very odd idea, that cultural habits don’t survive past their immediate usefulness….

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          • Stringer Bell on said:

            Some do, and some don’t. This one didn’t. I find it very insulting to americans that some people are blaming their lack of socializing skills on their country. That has not been my experience at all.

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  4. Also, Americans traditionally are terrible at small talk and traditional ideas of not giving offense limit topics. I remember being socialized to not talk about religion or politics or money or sex with people you don’t know well. That doesn’t leave a whole lot.

    The net result of criticism of American small talk eccentricities is going to be reluctance for them to talk to anyone they don’t already know…

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    • Stringer Bell on said:

      “Also, Americans traditionally are terrible at small talk”

      You must be joking. You can strike up conversations with cashiers, people waiting in line with you, people in elevators, etc. so easily here. I don’t know which america you’re talking about.

      “reluctance for them to talk to anyone they don’t already know…”

      You’re desperately trying to make it an american thing, when it’s just an individual quality. There are people all over the world who are reluctant to talk to strangers, and there are people all over the world who aren’t.

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      • “You must be joking. You can strike up conversations with cashiers, people waiting in line with you, people in elevators, etc. so easily here. I don’t know which america you’re talking about.”

        • That’s only because they know they will never see you again in 2 minutes. 😦 At least, around where I live.

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        • Stringer Bell on said:

          But isn’t that the definition of ‘small talk’? That is what Cliff was discussing.

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          • It’s small talk with different categories of people. One works great but the other is impossible.

            This is one of those rare threads where everybody is right. The questions of “where are you from?” are extremely annoying when you get them from people you meet for 10 seconds and never will see again. But if the question is asked by somebody who is trying to develop a more in-depth relationship with you, it is actually fun to answer.

            Yesterday, several complete strangers complimented my outfit at the theater. This is very nice. But the problem is that if they lived next door, they’d have a problem even saying hi to me. For the longest time, I though this was my fault because I’m. . . peculiar. But then I heard other colleagues talk about this phenomenon and I realized it can’t all be about me.

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    • “Also, Americans traditionally are terrible at small talk and traditional ideas of not giving offense limit topics.”

      • This seems to be especially true in the Midwest. People are very polite and kind but only for as long as there is no chance of a less superficial connection. For instance, the same people who would be super nice at a gas station or at the post-office become very distant and huffy if you live in the same street or use the same daycare.

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  5. Stringer bell on said:

    Clarissa, I get what you’re saying. I only disagreed with fie’s ridiculous assertion that the so called pc culture is to blame for her inability to make friends outside of her cultural background. As if a newly arrived Chinese engineer moving to the Midwest is so attuned to the cultural debates happening on the Internet, and somehow he’s subscribed to the feministing newsletter where he’s told about microagressions etc etc.

    There is a reason why immigrants avoid her, unprompted by external forces.

    Blaming pc culture specifically for one’s faults is a ‘my dog ate my homework ‘ level excuse.

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