This past week has been a hard one. And please do not think that I will address the election results and how I have been feeling about them–but this post will not be related to that.
I feel in order to address everything I am feeling about current situation in the US–I need time. I want to be able to articulate my thoughts and words without being rushed to do so.
But, just so you know, it is coming.
In the meantime, I thought I would do a TAPIF update and talk about my work at my current lycée.
I still feel extremely lucky to be working at the high school I am working at and to be working with the kinds of students I am working with, but of course, as with any job there are some ups and downs.
I have my favorite colleagues and my not so favorite colleagues and there are some cultural differences that have taken getting used to.
My supervisor is an interesting fellow. Let’s just call him Mr. Supervisor. I have mixed feelings about him. Sometimes he can be very nice and welcoming, while at other times, things he says or does rubs me the wrong way.
I work in total with six English teachers, Mr. Supervisor being one of those English teachers.
I had been in contact with him prior to the program via e-mail but I didn’t actually meet Mr. Supervisor until a few weeks after starting the TAPIF program as he was on sick leave.
Here was one of his first questions when we met.
“What is your origin? Because your eyes, they go like this,” Mr. Supervisor asked, pulling the corners of his eyes to his temples, making them squinty and small.
I took a deep breath and reminded myself that what might be completely unacceptable in California may be more acceptable in France. But I couldn’t help but wonder–is this really just a cultural difference or is he being racist?
Mr. Supervisor had me answer any questions students had so they could practice their English and get to know me a bit. He told all of the students not to ask anything too personal.
“What is your origin?” one student asked.
I tried to explain to her that in English (especially in the United States) we don’t phrase questions this way. I explained to her, that I am from the United States but I believed she was really asking about my ethnicity. I was about to show her how to properly phrase the question, when my supervisor interrupted me. I think he misunderstood what I was trying to explain to the student.
“Why are you asking her this question?” he said, “Is it because her eyes are like this?” he grabbed the sides of his eyes, pulling them and making them small. “You’re wondering if she got in an accident?”
The students laughed while some exclaimed how he was being mean.
The questions continued, though at that point I felt extremely uncomfortable. Mr. Supervisor thought he was being funny, but I thought he was being racist. An accident is an “unfortunate incident” so for Mr. Supervisor to reference Asian eyes as the result of an “accident” sounded pretty f*cking racist to me as he was equating the trait as something less than.
But when I expressed my horrors to another colleague, who has always carried herself very professionally and treated me with respect, she was quite surprised I found the squinting and pulling of eyes to be offensive. (I forgot to mention the “accident” bit to her).
“I don’t understand why this is so offensive,” she shrugged, “But for me, I am not particularly struck by the fact that you are Asian.” Implying that I didn’t look as Asian as others–not that that should be a good or bad thing. I explained that I was half Chinese, but it seemed in Bordeaux as there was not a big Asian population I was automatically identified as Asian.
“Oh no, that’s not true. There are lots of Asians in Bordeaux!”
I almost laughed, “Maybe for you…but coming from Davis, California–no, there are not very many Asians here.”
Though the eyes bit wasn’t the only thing that I found problematic that day.
Mr. Supervisor told the students don’t ask anything too personal.
They asked my age, what school I went to, where I studied, where I was from, etc.
Then Mr. Supervisor went on, “Okay boys…so–you have a young American girl here–don’t you want to know if she is single!?”
In some classes, the boys did not want to ask this question. But Mr. Supervisor pressed on, until a student asked me.
When I explained I was married, some boys shouted, “merde!” while others shook their head in disappointment.
THIS IS SO PROBLEMATIC. WHY WOULD YOU PRESENT ME AS A SEXUAL OBJECT OR SOMETHING ATTAINABLE TO TEENAGE BOYS WHO I AM SUPPOSED TO BE TEACHING ENGLISH TO? THERE ARE BOUNDARIES.
It’s strange. Sometimes I really enjoy working with Mr. Supervisor and other times he makes jokes that make me think “If I were in California, I could probably file a lawsuit right now.”
He’s a nice guy but we clearly come from very different backgrounds.
I don’t feel that it is my job to educate someone on what I consider to be racism or sexism in the workplace. But at the same time, that first day with those questions made me so uncomfortable. He’s my supervisor so if I have a problem, I should be going to him. But I can’t, because he is the one making me uncomfortable!
Since that day I haven’t really had other interactions that have made me super uncomfortable.
Though I did speak with a couple of different teachers about the incident and both felt it was not something to get worked up over.
“Don’t take it personally,” they said.
So–there you have it.
Cultural difference, according to them.
I’m trying to adjust…but with things like this, it’s difficult.