Look, I have to be honest with you here. I really wanted to start this piece off with a quick and quirky quote in Spanish. You know, the kind of thing usually yelled at me on the streets by people who think I speak the language. But alas, I have no idea what people yelling at me try to communicate. Don’t get me wrong; I’d love to learn Spanish. What a beautiful language. It’s my next goal on Duolingo, an amazing app that helps you learn a new language (please sponsor me). I would, however, like to make something clear. I am not Spanish.
It seems quite redundant to make this point, but let me explain. I get yelled at in Spanish way too often. Not in an angry way. It’s more of a sudden excitement that washes over some very enthusiastic people waiting to utter that Spanish phrase they know. I know this because after 12 years of studying French, I can finally say, “Bonjour, comment c¸a va?” (You can bet your vie en rose it’s on my re´sume´).
I guess it comes from the way I look, because this only happens with complete strangers who know nothing about me except my external appearance. If you ask me to describe what I look like, I’d have a pretty hard time. You kind of get used to your own face after 19 years. What I can say for sure is that it includes two brown eyes, hair that’s sometimes dark brown and sometimes light, and skin that some people call very fair and others call very tan (leaving me very confused).
I wouldn’t usually call these Spanish traits. A lot of people I know have those exact features and don’t face the awkward interactions I do.
Here’s some anecdotal evidence for your reading pleasure. I was once doing a sales job and three men approached me. One rather excited man turned to me with the widest smile I have ever seen and yelled out something. Except it wasn’t in English. Internally I was thinking, “Nour, you’re Arab, maybe it’s Arabic?” On second assessment, I figured that it was most certainly not Arabic. With all this internal thinking, the external scene was quite the suspense: three young men waiting for me to answer while donning grins the size of Spain itself.
After staring for way too long, I finally said, “What?”
One of his friends looked at me and replied, “It’s Spanish!”
All the while, I’m thinking, “Oh Lord, Gina Rodriguez did not prepare me for this.” I watched their grins turn into chagrin. Then I said, “I don’t speak Spanish.”
“Where you from?”
“Oh.” At which they frowned and walked away. I guess Egypt wasn’t the million-dollar answer.
I’m flattered that they thought I was from a country I’d love to visit someday, but this still leaves me very confused.
Sometimes people make me feel like Egypt is a mystical land from which no-one comes. But I can’t blame them. I can’t even describe what the average Egyptian looks like. I have an Egyptian friend with very fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes. Another with red hair, freckles and green eyes. A tan friend, a curly-haired friend, a straight-haired friend. Hell, my sister had blue eyes that one day decided to turn green.
I once sat in my college room with some friends discussing what different people from different countries look like. I, however, never had an answer for what Egyptians look like. Even when I met new people at college, I was often looked at with a bit of confusion and a “What are you?”
But a common comment was, “You don’t look Egyptian.” What does an Egyptian look like, anyway? It’s such a great mixture of features that I myself can’t really pinpoint the look. Sorry I didn’t bring my camel in today, guess my image is shattered.
Honestly, all in all, it does end up being a really fun guessing game. Giving off a first impression that causes blatant confusion is kind of a skill, and a lot of us Egyptians have somehow mastered it. What am I, indeed.