please don’t look at me like that

i once read in Sophie Kinsella’s book (one of the Shopaholic series… yes, i do read chick lits, too) about how the main character, Becky, learned how to do ‘the sweeping look’, or something like that. in that book, it basically means how a person living in New York (and most likely a fashionista) would know how to quickly (like… in 1 or 2 seconds, i’d imagine) look at another person from head to toe, to know what that other person’s wearing. and of course, he/she would then judge you based on that sweeping look.

yes, you may roll your eyes. i did, too, when i read it. but what made me roll my eyes was that the truth is, there ARE people like that. and not just in New York.

i know this, because i’ve been a victim of this sweeping look for God knows how many times. i don’t usually mind it if it’s only people trying to see my weird sense of fashion a bit better, in fact, i’m used to it & take it as a compliment. 😀 but what bothers me sometimes is when i KNOW that it’s not my clothes that they’re looking at. it’s ME.

i am an Asian-looking woman, living in a Nordic country, so yes, i understand if i look out of place here, no matter how i dress up.

but when i’m already working in a place where i speak with customers in the local language on a daily basis, it does bother me that some people would still first try to do the sweeping look at me while i’m at work, and then scrutinize my name tag (we wear name tags at work, just like in any other store), and then they still ask, “do you work here?”

… why no, i just put on a fake name tag for fun, what do you think???

i even once had a customer who, after reading my name on my name tag, mumbled (out loud), “oh, not a Finnish name….” that did it already, but as a good salesperson, i had to keep calm and serve everyone just the same. i ended up cutting pieces of 30cm of fabrics for her, and she still wasn’t happy. probably because she didn’t get a Finnish service.

also, another one, this one was actually quite a young woman who happened to come to me right after i finished helping a customer who was a tourist, so of course i spoke English with this previous customer. when i greeted this young woman, she spoke to me in English as well, and asked, “do you speak Finnish?” ummm… i’m working in a store in Finland, am i not? honestly, how do people think i can get a job in the sales department if i don’t speak the local language?

today it happened again, with a somewhat old woman. first she said, (in Finnish) “excuse me….” and as soon as i turned around, she looked at my Asian face and did the sweeping look. lastly, she searched for my name tag. i don’t know what she’s expecting to see there, my job position, maybe? making sure that i’m not just an ‘intern’? when she finally asked the price of some piece of fabric, my eyes were almost ready to roll upwards again, but as always, i smiled and served her. she didn’t even say thanks afterwards, by the way. nice.

i’m ‘thisclose’ to saying (or thinking) that this is a small form of a prejudice, but by saying/thinking that, i know that i myself am doing the same thing to them, so let’s not go over there. but it’s hard to not feel that way when they don’t do the same thing to my other co-workers.

i sometimes have interns working as my ‘assistant’ for a few weeks, and they’re usually school girls. when there’s the two of us standing behind my department’s cutting table, half of the time customers would go first to the intern to ask for help, rather than to me. they don’t look at the intern in a sweeping look, they don’t even look for her name tag (which clearly says ‘intern’!!!). only when the intern started to look at me nervously do the customers realize the intern’s name tag, and yes, i always come to the rescue (for the intern).

let’s say it’s not a case of prejudice. it still bothers me, though, because it makes me feel like these people underestimate me just because of my look. and if there’s one thing i really dislike is to be thought of as stupid or incompetent. okay, i’m sure (or pretty sure) they don’t think that way when they do the sweeping look or see my name tag, but still.

i mean, come on. you don’t really think a store would hire someone to sell things when he/she can’t really speak their language and not know the products inside out, do you?

fortunately this doesn’t happen THAT often. sure, i just gave out numerous examples, but those happened in a period of more than 3 years that i’ve worked in this same place. and for some reason, to me it always happens with women. there was one or two old men who would, upon seeing my ‘foreigner’ face, first talk to me in clear Finnish (like the written kind, very, very proper). but then when i spoke to them in everyday Finnish (spoken language), then they would start talking back to me in the same manner, and in the end, they praised me on how i could speak good Finnish even though i’ve only lived here for (back then) 3 or 4 years.

and to be completely fair, i have had tons of women customers (of all ages) who told me how happy and satisfied they are with my service at my work. sometimes some of them even say that they rarely get the same kind of service from Finns. 😀 and though i know my Finnish is not that perfect, but these people appreciate the fact that i’m trying. Finnish language is, after all, one of the hardest languages in the world to learn (so they say).

i can never change my face, and i don’t want to change my name. i may not look like a native, but i’ve tried my best to integrate with this life here. i have learned to not get these kind of things get to me, but sorry, i can’t help writing about it in my own personal blog. :p

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9 thoughts on “please don’t look at me like that

  1. …ummm, well…. I think you can write a short story or even a novel about life for expatriates, from an insider’s point of view 🙂 Consider it your “good luck” to be able to experience an “exciting” life, not just the humdrum life of the ‘average’ person. Remember the author whose books I translated, she always writes about immigrant’s lives 🙂

      • 🙂 It’s not about competing. It’s self expression through writing, and sharing with others. As for there being plenty already on the market, I think still there’s some aspects and points of view you can cover – and it’s also the style of writing that can ‘make or break’ the novel….. IMHO, that is :p

      • okay, okay, LOL. thanks :D. haven’t gotten any inspiration yet (except for this topic in this post) for yet another short story/novel, so don’t hold your breath yet. having a writer’s block at the moment, har har!

  2. Puniiii, I feel you…!! kadang aku ngerasa banget lho berhubung wajah asia dan biasanya Oz dipenuhi orang-orang imigran, keliatan banget dari wajah mereka setiap melayani gw. gak semua pastinya, tapi aku pernah ngalamin pas lagi ngantri di kasir, ngeliat sesama orang lokal saling mengobrol ramah, eh pas giliran ama aku, ekspresinya agak berubah gitu, ngomong juga seperlunya. doooh…nasib jadi imigran legal 😦 😛

    • dulu sbelom kerja juga aku ngerasa gitu, Tih… cuma kupikir itu karna mereka ga tau aku sebenernya bisa ga sih bhs Suomi, dan mungkin cuma perasaanku aja. nah, sejak mulai kerja, aku heran aja kok masih bisa ada org ngira aku ga bisa bhs Suomi walopun udh jelas2 kerja di suatu tempat di mana aku pasti ngomong sama pelanggan ya pake bhs lokal sehari2nya… atau ngira bahwa aku di situ ‘cuma’ magang (ga tau aja aku udh kerja di situ nyaris 4 taun skarang, huh!).

  3. Segini aja aku merasa Puni sudah hebat banget mau bersabar dan menulis pengalaman mains pahit kerja di negri orang tanpa emosi membara. Tapi mungkin karena inilah (patience, persistence), Puni pasti bisa melaluinya semua.

    Akan selalu ada orang yang menyebalkan di dunia, tapi mudah-mudahan tidak mengurangi kesempatanmu bertemu lebih banyak pelanggan yang baik hati.

    Sukses selalu ya Puni!

    BTW, ide tante Gita bagus tuh! 😉

    • thanks banget, Anne. 🙂
      hmm, klo lewat tulisan di blog-ku mungkin kedengerannya sabar, padahal sih kadang2 (baca: cukup sering :D) aslinya marah juga, hahaha… atau ya sebel2 sendiri aja sih, walopun tau bahwa ga ada gunanya. and it helps to remember the nice comments from other people. 🙂

      oke, nanti klo udh punya waktu buat nulis cerita fiksi lagi, mungkiiiiin bakal kutulis juga deh sebuah cerita seorang imigran di negeri asing. lihat nanti ya. 😉

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