Sunday, July 31, 2011

You Look Just Like (No!)


The tactlessness of our fellows is a massive force. I have experienced it in the you-look-just-like trope since childhood. If you do it, stop immediately.

The routine goes like this. You are in a social or work/social setting with anywhere from four to 50 people. You exclaim at high volume to someone, "You look just like..." and insert a name of someone either unknown to others or famous.

Cross-post note: This kind of rant seems to belong both here and on Harrumph!

Let me make it plain. Regardless of lack of sobriety or imagined perceptiveness, you are wrong, very wrong. The object of your exclamation and other will know you're an ill-mannered ass, whose mother had trailer trash pretensions of sociability. Whomever you are comparing to whomever looks at best only vaguely like each other. Moreover, it's almost certain that you are a different ethnic background that the alleged twins, with the added flavor of racism.

I've been hearing that from elementary school. It took me quite awhile to realize that the folk who said it invariably were of different ethnic or racial backgrounds...that all of the other looked alike to them. So, I have always been blond and kind of Nordic looking. Yet whether I was trim or chubby, had lots or little hair, or whatever gross anatomical status and age I was, I heard it.

If you do that, think and stop.

For the object of your attention, the proper answer is along the lines of, "Horse feathers!" or some other contradiction. Without the other person handy corporeally or photographically, you've put the just-like person in the flight-or-fight situation. You are also really revealing:

  • You're a poor visualizer
  • You have intrusive, poor and self-centered behavior
  • You are indifferent to whether you are insulting someone or putting someone on the spot
  • If you look little like the two people compared, you likely are revealing your stereotypes, racial and otherwise
  • You expect everyone to shift his or her attention to you
  • You are so arrogant that you don't consider the near certainty that you are very wrong

When this shtick gets amusing is when you can check on the spot. This is easier with smart-phones, iPads and such. Honest to God, if you get called on this even once, and proven to be way off base, take the lesson.

For me, it was finally realizing it was the swarthy Mediterranean types, Ashkenazim, Asians and others who had none of my physical characteristics that pronounced my twins. Boy or girl, man or woman, young or old, it was invariably someone who looked nothing like anyone in my family who'd say, "I know this guy you look exactly like," or "You know that actor (name); you could be his twin."

At last, I heard the real message. That was, "All you blond, WASP types look just alike to me."

How dumb is that?

The times there was a picture of the alleged twin or the rarer occasions when we could be together with the proclaimer, without a single exception, the consensus was either, "You look nothing alike," or "Gee, I guess you are not that much alike." Never once was the follow-up, "Oh, sorry. I'm a jerk."

With my many experiences like this, I've never done it. In fact, I felt for our middle son, who did, truly and unmistakably, look like Daniel Radcliffe in the Harry Potter movies, particularly the first several. People would stop him on the street, either to inform him of that or to ask if he was the actor. I am pretty sure if Radcliffe had met Eli or saw pictures of him then, he would have agreed there was a similarity. There too I see the humor in that among our three sons, he looks the least like my side of the family and the most like my wife's. He'd never be seen as twin of a Norseman or blond WASP.

I should have been more racially savvy about this by high school and figured out the cultural component. I got a flavor of it then with a Chinese friend. She was born in Canton, came to America at 8, and was the only Chinese student in our three-year high school of over 2,000 students. She grew up with white folk, black folk and no Asians outside her family.

One day she and I were in NYC, playing around in the West Village, Little Italy and Chinatown. As we walked around the latter, suddenly she turned to me and said with surprise, "All these Chinese people look alike to me."

1 comment:

Uncle said...

Never had that from strangers...Welsh are a rarity hereabouts so we don't look like anyone else. But many years and pounds ago, a maternal relation said "you're getting to look just like your father." It was neither meant well nor taken well, so I get the point.