At some point in the midst of my serious talk with Mr. Jones in the third grade (about how I was acting out, how he thought I needed to ditch my friend Sara and start being true to myself, etc., etc.) he stopped, looked at me very seriously, and said, “Are you Norwegian?”
This is the story of my life.
On my first day in Edinburgh, I was eating breakfast at my B&B and an older couple at the next table struck up a conversation with me. This was pretty common, since I was travelling on my own and I was only 19. Everyone felt like I needed company, which was really sweet (most of the time). They asked me where I was from, where I was headed – all of the usual small talk questions you ask someone you’re meeting who is also travelling in a foreign country. Then they said, “You’re Black Irish, right?” Apparently, it was my very fair skin – but dark eyes and hair – that gave me away.
When I got to Ireland, I got asked if I was Scottish. No, let me rephrase that: people assumed I was Scottish.
(When I was living in Scotland, people knew, before I even spoke, that I was not Scottish…)
A great percentage of the people who see my last name – Beça – written down on paper immediately look up at me and say, “I thought you looked French!”*
Wait a second…
Throughout my life, I have been told I look like and/or asked if I am:
- Black Irish
- South African
- And others I know I am forgetting…
(Big breath out…)
Ironically, the people who thought I was English were the Portuguese. I would walk into a store or restaurant and I would see the employees prepare to deal with a tourist. They would look at me expectantly, waiting for either very slow English or broken, butchered Portuguese, and when I would speak to them in their own language, they often took a moment to get over their shock. One woman actually froze in her tracks and stared at me for a good 30 seconds, like she was so surprised I spoke the language that she needed a minute to process what was actually happening. Her response came in confused, stuttered Portuguese. Then she asked me what part of Great Britain I was from.
“I’m Canadian-Portuguese,” I told her (in Portuguese, obviously).
She just stared again, then got me the food I ordered.
In 26 years, no one – and I really mean no one – has ever asked me if I’m Portuguese.
So apparently, I have a very international face, which I’ll take as a huge compliment.
*So far, I’ve discovered that the cedilla is used in French, Portuguese, and Turkish, and that it does the same thing – makes the ‘c’ sound like an ‘s’ – in each of those languages. Know of any others? Let me know – I’m genuinely curious!