I wrote this on Saturday 2/19/06, but figured I'd publish it now anyway because it made me laugh. Or maybe just cringe. With a sort of smile...
Setting: Friday night in the ER
Characters: My dad, me and my sister (and my mom via phone from NH where she was visiting her sister)
Enter stage left: Doctor McGreevey.
E's Dad: "McGreevey! Ya big Irishman! It's Mick, right? Or are you a Mac?!"
Doctor: "Um, I'm a Mc."
E's Dad: "Ah! An Irishman! I knew it! My wife is a Mick as well! You're all lovely in your own way, you know!"
Doctor: "Thanks, so-what brings you here?"
Thus began my dad's experience in the ER, where he proceeded to dissect the ethnicity of every single person who came into his curtained area. After Lucky Kenyan Person #3 left, I finally had to say something a la, "Dad, could you NOT ask people where they are from?! It's really quite 1954, you know..."
He completely didn't get my point. He literally could not understand what was so offensive about asking people about themselves. I tried to explain, but he just didn't get it; thereby epitomizing the notion of offensive results coming from completely unintentional and inoffensive intent. To be sure, the upside of having a completely non-malicious, politically-incorrect father is that I tend to give people a momentary benefit of the doubt when they ask about The Bambina's heritage. Because I can picture my dad asking the same question, and because I know my dad always asks because he is interested and trying to make a connection (however mortifyingly for his kids when he does it), I will often give the inquirer a minute to see if their question is well-meant or just rude before saying something like, "Do I know you?" or "Why do you ask?"
But back to the ER: My point was not helped when a young cocky cardiologist came in whom my dad perceived to be Indian. I immediately implored my dad to not guess his ethnicity because it would be so awful to get it wrong, not to mention even bring it up. So what did he do? He of course said, "Are you Indian? You look like you're from Ootacamund!" I was in mid-cringe and full-on mortification when the doctor smiled and said, "what would make you say Ootacamund?! I'm from that state, but that town is the smallest blip on the map! I can't believe you even know that town!" Cue the warm conversation and social connection...
Go figure. In a perfect world, my dad would finally "get" why ethnic inquiries are annoying and offensive, but in this imperfect one, he's rewarded for his lunacy almost every time perhaps because he is so obviously harmless. Or maybe it's akin to the luck o' the Irish; the luck o' the Scottish Jewish Americans With Asian Grandkids but Without An Internal Monologue. I mean, you know how THOSE people can be...