The life and times of an ethnically ambiguous little lady.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Genetic Game

I have always slightly resented families that look like they’re cut from the same cloth. “Oh my goodness, it’s like you’re twins!” “That’s your mother? I thought you were sisters!” These are not ever things that are said about my family.

Every so often, after much squinting from the observer, I’ll get “ooooh, I can see it. In the eyes.” Yes, my whole family has been blessed with two eyes of varying degrees of vision. That might be where the similarity ends.

Perhaps this discrepancy is because my mother is blue eyed and blond haired and my father is brown eyed with black hair, encouraging my genetics to play tug-of-war. Maybe it’s because half my family are midgets and the other half are way above the national height average. Whatever the reason, my parents have had to reassure me several times that I’m not adopted. And they always hug me hard after, as if trying to assure everyone involved that they are telling the truth.

Most of the time this chromosome mishmash is not that much of a problem, but there are times when these differences make me slightly sad. After all, I can’t look at my mother and ascertain what I’ll look like in thirty years. I can’t share clothes with anyone in my immediate family because they’re all taller than me by at least five inches.

I notice the differences most with my brother. It’s like mother nature split up all our genetic traits and decided we couldn’t share. He’s 6”3, with big blue eyes and wavy thick brown hair—the kind of hair that makes girls jealous—which he wears in a ponytail. Fred is a musician and dresses the part, wearing relatively tight, worn-in jeans and ratty T-shirts. He has a propensity for both cowboy boots and sneakers. His most recent addition is a tree tattoo that creeps all the way down from his shoulder to his hand. The tattoo is complete with colorful leaves, a character from Where the Wild Things Are, a heart with an arrow through it which holds my deceased grandparents’ initials (my father seems to think that they might not have appreciated the homage), and a knot in the bark of the tree that incorporates his strange scar, the result of a car accident. He carries himself with confidence and has the long stride that only a tall self-assured person can have. My friend once noted that Fred looks like “an Argentinean tango instructor.”

As for me, my look is noticeably different. I may be the older and wiser sibling, but I’m five feet tall, a point that seems to greatly amuse him. I also have wavy brown hair, but not quite as thick. My hazel eyes are my most striking feature, and carry my vaguely Mediterranean/Eastern European-looking face. (According to a cab driver I once met, my face takes on different nationalities based on the lighting.) I dress in what fits me, which is a constant struggle for a petite girl blessed/cursed with a good-sized rack. While I have a tattoo as well, it’s a small tramp stamp—a not-so-affectionate term for a tattoo located on one’s lower back—that’s an American Indian god called the Kokopelli, a symbol of wine, fertility, mischief, and all sorts of other good stuff, which I came across when I was visiting New Mexico. We also share a fondness for shoes. While I also enjoy cowboy boots—mine are gold—I additionally enjoy any shoes that make me taller. What I lack in my short strides, I attempt to make up for with a sarcastic wit. Occasionally this is successful.

Despite our differences, we get along quite well now that we’re all grown up. Long gone are the days when we’d scream at each other for using the bathroom too long, or hogging the phone, or just misunderstanding each other because there was a great deal of teenage angst and a three and a half year age difference between us. I fondly look back on the days when I blamed my brother for the lone beer can my parents found in our soup cupboard after they had been away on vacation. (This blame most likely backfired because I was the one who had had a party, and Fred was 10 years old at the time.) Or when we’d war so ferociously when forced to share a bed on vacation, kicking each other and yanking the covers to our respective sides, that my parents made one of us sleep on the floor. Or when I’d get so frustrated I’d wrestle Fred, which must have been particularly amusing to watch in a David and Goliath kind-of way—if David had wrestled Goliath and not had a slingshot. My best chance for any kind of success was usually to punch Fred in the kidney before fleeing for my life.

These days we go out together whenever we can. And this is fine when we’re in New York, because we’re out to see each other, but when traveling it’s a whole other story. Part of soaking up the culture of a new place isn’t just going out, but mixing with the locals. Sure, you might not be able to speak the same language, but that’s what charades is for.

Several years ago, Fred and I were on vacation with the family in Scandinavia, a place well-known for its drinking and nightlife. After hunkering down at a bar in Copenhagen, Denmark, and chatting and looking around for several hours, we realized something.

“You know, I think we cockblock each other,” I said, with my usual subtleness.

“I know. This would be so much easier if we were the same sex. Then maybe people would hang out with us,” Fred replied.

And it was true. We weren’t actually blocking each other from getting a date, but more “foreign friend blocking” each other. We weren’t approachable because people thought we were on a date. This is a thought we both found revolting. And sure, we look comfortable with each other, but you know what you’ll never see? Me softly caressing his cheek. Or Fred looking deeply into my eyes. Or either of us calling each other honey, shmoopy, or any other pet name.

In Stockholm, Sweden, on that same vacation we stumbled upon a small bar where a band was playing. We stopped to listen and ended up getting in a long, lively conversation with the band’s manager. As the bar was closing we said our good-byes, Fred leading the way.

“Well, good-bye, Mrs.,” our new friend said. And it was then that I realized we had never explained ourselves.

“Oh, no! No, he’s my brother,” I explained, smiling.

“Sure he is,” he said, winking at me. “You’re a cheeky one.”

“No, I know we don’t look alike, but I mean it,” I said, feeling a need to set the record straight.

“Oh, really? Then kiss me.”

I had less than no urge to do this. While our new friend, Jörgen, was a wonderful conversationalist he was not my type. He was not my type because he obviously had spent a lot of time out in the sun, and his skin resembled leather. And I don’t think he had ever gone to a dentist, because he had a lot less teeth than one should have. But most importantly, he was old enough to be my grandfather.

“Well, I know my brother wouldn’t mind, but I think my boyfriend might,” I said. And as the conversation had now gotten a little awkward, I decided it was time for me to leave.

But this was not Fred and my only awkward interaction with strangers. When we were at a club in Bergen, Norway, a girl gestured from across the room for my brother to dance with her. I was sitting right next to him. I thought her move was a little aggressive, and well, rude.

“Why are you offended,” Fred asked. “I’m not dating you.”

“Well maybe I don’t want you fraternizing with some girl who obviously has no manners,” I explained, trying to summon up all my big-sisterness.

And with that, Fred patted me on the head—one of my least favorite things—and proceeded to dance with her. While I was slightly peeved, it was amusing watching them try to both dance and converse, as the girl was very drunk and English was not her first language. Every so often Fred would look over her head at me and grin sheepishly.

Lucky for me, her friends also found her move to be ballsy, so they motioned me over to figure out exactly what was going on and apologize. I found this especially fortuitous; otherwise I would have looked slightly creepy sitting alone in a crowded club, leering as my brother danced with some girl because I had nothing better to do. It was nights like this that made me realize how many foreign friends I was missing out on making, how many couches I could have crashed on later in life. Not to mention all the fun facts one can only learn from talking to someone that’s native to the country.

“Jah, I’ve heard that. In some remote parts of Norway, they really DO eat sheep eyeballs,” one of my new friends said in response to my question. And with that, I politely thanked my new friends and left Fred to his own devices. Somehow, it had turned out to be a pretty good night.

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Blogger Amybeth/AB said...

I never cease to find you terribly amusing and utterly endearing. (And your brother is pretty dam cute too!)

8:40 AM

Blogger BrianAlt said...

As the taller older brother with light brown hair (was blonde as a child) of shorter sister with dark brown hair, I can relate. My mother has blonde-ish hair and my father has black-ish hair (what's left of it).

My wife, who has blonde curly hair, is often mistaken as my sister while my sister is mistaken for my wife. Very odd.

And this post was written on my sister's birthday.

How odd!

6:47 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed you on KATG. You sound adorable. Also, your mattress salesmen story was entertaining. (blog post)

9:24 PM


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