Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Can I have a Do-Over?

Just a few days ago, I was talking to some people I'd just met. I was explaining about something that had happened when I was in China, which lead me to telling about the adoption. Like most people, they asked a bunch of questions about Ms. Bao.

One of the questions was "does she have a weird name?"

My response was, "she has a Chinese name." Then I explained how she got her name, and that we kept it for her middle name.

I've been reflecting on the question and my response for a while. Lots of thoughts run through my head.

First, should I have answered the way I did? It wasn't a big deal in that setting, but I'm not sure I'd want to answer that way with an older Bao in my presence. (Though, she'd probably be able to answer for herself...)

To get to the point: the question was insensitive. The person who raised it was trying to ask if she had a Chinese name. But calling it "weird" is insensitive.

And let me be clear: I am not angry or even sad. And I have no doubt that she did not INTEND to be insensitive. But I think it should also be made clear that a person's intent doesn't determine whether something is impolite, tactless, or insensitive.

Here is why my answer bothers me: because the real answer to her question is "no." No, my daughter does not have a weird name. But I knew what she meant, and answered the question she meant to ask rather than the question she did ask. I am trying to imagine how Bao (when she is older) would process that if she'd been there to hear what I'd said.

She asked mom if I had a weird name. So why did mom tell her I had a Chinese name? Is my Chinese name weird?

Maybe that's not what she'd think. But maybe it is.

"No" seems like a harsh answer. But it is the truth. And I think that answer would be very affirming to Bao.

But, there is a problem with that answer too. Simply saying "no" doesn't point out the error in the inquirer's thinking. While it is true that a Chinese name isn't weird, answering "no" would likely translate (in the inquirer's mind) into "she doesn't have a Chinese name."

I think it is part of my responsibility, as a mother of a mixed-race family, to point out these kinds of thoughtless comments. People really don't mean to be thoughtless, and they probably don't want to be thoughtless. But unless someone points it out, they won't realize that they are being thoughtless.

However, if I point these things out, I want to do it gently. The problem is that I don't know how to do that while avoiding the subtle insinuation that (in this example) the Chinese name is weird.

I don't know if that makes sense. But what I am pondering right now is - if I ever get a do-over, what would I say?

"no, she does not have a weird name"

"you are so insensitive."

"her name is Bao F... Y... Does that sound weird to you?"

"Is that really what you want to know?"

"Only as weird as your name sounds to a Chinese person."

"I do not think her name is weird at all."

"Not as weird as your outfit (hair, shoes, whatever fits) you big, crazy WEIRDO!"

"Only as weird as one of the most common names in China!"

"Yeah, we named her [real name]... I know it's weird, but we couldn't resist."

"Weird? What do you mean by that?"

I could go on. But one of these actually sounds good to me.

Let me ponder this a little bit more...



Blogger PEZmama said...

Oh yeah, just to be clear, I would NEVER say many of the responses that I listed at the end of this post. I meant most of them to be funny.

Wed Feb 22, 09:31:00 AM  
Blogger Minnie said...

I went through the insensitive comments my whole life (and still do) about my name.

"Is that your REAL name?"
"Wow. Were your parents hippies?"
"Boy, your parents must not have liked you much." (Someone really said that to me once.)

And the list goes on. I get the first question all the time. The thing people don't stop to realize is, your name is the most personal thing about you. If someone insults your name, you take it as a direct insult against you personally.

As far as your response the next time someone asks if she has a weird name, just say, "No. But she does have a Chinese name."

It'll answer their question and shut them up at the same time.

Just my $.02 :o)

Wed Feb 22, 03:05:00 PM  
Anonymous mom a said...

Social workers are in the business of correcting without insulting or being insensitive. We do a lot lot of simply mirroring back to people what they have asked (or stated) but with a question mark at the end. This gives the person a second chance perhaps to clarify or even to realize her own mistake.
I might have responded, "weird?" -- as if I didn't quite understand and needed more info.

Wed Feb 22, 03:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

having read your last few posts, i wonder how you would feel if everyone was as critical and self-righteous toward you as you seem to be in your posts.

that comment that set you off was probably an attempt by someone to be friendly, make conversation, and ask about your daughter.

instead of a gracious answer, you labeled them a xenophobic bigot and got up on a self-righteous soapbox.

Wed Feb 22, 06:47:00 PM  
Blogger PEZmama said...

Well, I think I might just know exactly how that feels. Rest assured your point will be given due consideration.

And thanks for stopping by.

Wed Feb 22, 11:14:00 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Wow! You can really attract them can't you?

Thu Feb 23, 02:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Cup-a-Joe said...

I'm not sure if the previous poster really gets what a blog is about. Blogging is about getting the inner thoughts into the outer world. Sometimes it's messy, sometimes it's weird, but it is always thought provoking. This stands to reason since they were originally someone's unbridled thoughts.

If you want a more cultured approach to opinions, might I suggest the New York Times or Wall Street Journal Editorial pages. Better yet, the Last Word section of Newsweek with Anna Quidlin, and Goerge Will is also thought provoking.

However, over-simplification and name-calling are the hallmarks of emotional reactions rather than thoughtful debate and discourse. This has mostly been a blog where people discuss ideas and thoughts while avoiding invective and personal attacks. If you please, check your critical, self-righteous, labeling, un-gracious soapbox at the door. The rest of us will endeavor to do the same. Thanks.

Pez, feel free to edit these comments out if you like, no hard feelings.

Thu Feb 23, 07:02:00 AM  
Blogger Addie said...

Pez, your blog scares me sometimes! :P

I think you're on the right track with her. You had a few answers in there that I thought were good responses and the rest were just really funny. Although I'm not sure you needed to resort to using curse words! ;-)

Pride in who she is and where she's from will help her during the awkward puberty years I would think. The thoughtless things that peope will say to her, will in the very least make her a more empathetic person when she's older.

My friend grew up as a missionary kid in South America until she was in the 5th grade. When she got here she felt pretty different and adults and kids alike would ask some stupid questions (Our favorite "Do people there ride in donkeys?") I'm sure it was really hard for her during her preteen years but it shaped the very confident individual she is today.

Anyhoo, Just my 2 cents! :-)

Thu Feb 23, 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger PEZmama said...

Comments that were deleted here were deleted because they mentioned my daughter's real name. This includes one of my own comments in which I clarify that the "F.... Y...." within this post refers to the initials of her middle name, and not an attempt to cuss someone out.

Tue Mar 11, 01:52:00 AM  

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