My simple mission was to print pictures for the fridge. Yes, for the fridge—in an ideal world, I’d have a wall full of perfectly aligned framed pictures, but since this is not going to happen, lose prints, magnets and fridge display work just fine. We’ve gotten used to staring at the fridge, remembering good times, better weather, happy moments. Sometime, we almost forget we were about to open the door to get food and we just stand there, lost in travel memories.
“Yes, I want 6 x 4 prints.”
“Yes, I swear I’m not infringing any copyright law.”
“No, I don’t want the shitty collage upsell.”
Yes, I’m talking to a Kodak machine.
After tapping the “I accept” button half a dozen times, I finally placed my order. Because I’m cheap, I didn’t choose the “prints in seconds” option where the machine spits out snapshots in minutes (not seconds). I opted for the “one-hour service,” which at Walmart often translates into “if we are not busy and if there is an employee behind the counter, you’ll get your pictures at the end of your grocery trip.”
I had to provide a phone number and a name. I entered my cell number and because I didn’t feel like typing “Giannesini” on the touch screen, I borrowed Feng’s last name. “Hey, it’s mine as well, we are married, after all,” I muttered, typing the three letters. I hope Mark thanks us one day for giving him Feng’s easy-to-spell last name. On the other hand, I was rarely called up to the board because teachers didn’t feel like saying “mademoiselle Bossard-Giannesini.”
I walked to the photo counter to pay for my order.
“Twenty-five pictures?” the employee said. “It will be ready in five minutes.”
“Oh, that’s great,” I replied.
I stood there, checking my emails on my phone.
Five minutes later, I saw the machine behind the counter printing out what were presumably my pictures, since I was the only customer around (snowstorm outside, don’t ask).
The employee collected them, placed them in an envelope and paused.
“I think the pictures are ready…?” I suggested to speed things up.
“Ahem … ma’am, I don’t think so … is your name ‘Pan’?” he asked, almost suspiciously.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Your name is ‘Pan’?”
He was still staring at me, dumbfounded.
I laughed. “It’s my husband name. Obviously, I’m the non-Chinese member of the family.”
I was about to tell him to look at the pictures, where he would see the three of us—although I had printed out quite a few beach shots and I wasn’t sure I was ready to share them with a random Walmart employee. He finally handed me the set, still suspicious, as if I was stealing some Chinese guy’s treasured memories.
Once home, I told Feng the story and we couldn’t stop laughing.
“How come you can get away with picking up a half-white kid at school and I can’t be Mrs. Pan?” I joked. “That’s not fair!”
Yes, we laughed. I wasn’t offended. I’m used to it. Because this is the truth: no matter how progressive and open-minded people are, when you are an interracial couple, by default they assume you aren’t a couple but two strangers.
It happens all the time. If the three of us are queuing together, employees will ask for my order and someone else will ask for Feng’s as if we were two separate customers. When checking in at the airport I have to state that we are a family travelling together. Before Mark could say “mommy” and “daddy,” if Feng was joining us at the park, strangers would warned me a man was playing with my son. “That would be his father,” I’d correct.
Are people stupid and ignorant? Maybe. But I am too. I’m going to confess something. Early on in the pregnancy, one of my fears was that the baby would look 100% Chinese and nothing like me, and that no one would believe I was the mother. In my dreams, I pictured a little Chinese doll, straight black hair, dark eyes, Asian features. It would have been a very cute baby, for sure, but I was scared it would be harder to bond—and at the same time, I was fully aware I was being irrational. I laugh about it now, it was just one of these strange pregnancy moments. Mark is a chameleon: with me, he looks European, with Feng, he looks Chinese, when travelling, he looks like us. And frankly, who cares? Parenthood and family bonds go way beyond physical features and are much stronger, like every adopted kid can testify.
Bottom line is, since we are young, we are taught to match shapes, associate by colours, organize stuff logically—square with square, light blue with dark blue, girls with girls, boys with boys. We absorbe stereotypes—families with a mommy at home and a daddy at work, people with a different skin colour are “foreigners,” big guys play sports and small kids read books… the list goes on and on—for an up-to-date version, schedule a meeting with your local far-right-wing party member.
The human brain is built around pattern recognition and predictability. We like to generalize, to stereotype—it does make life convenient and yes, some stereotypes are true. But life is also subtle and complex and should be embraced as such. We can adjust and expand our perspective to eventually eliminate stereotypical thinking.
We aren’t a stereotypical family. It’s cool. I can deal with a pause, a curious look, some assumptions. I don’t get offended. Hell, I can even handle ignorance … as long as people are willing to change and embrace difference.