Is a question that a library patron asked me the other day. Actually, he asked, ‘what’s your ethnicity?”
I wanted to say “white,” but instead told him the truth; half Norwegian, and then a bunch of other stuff.
“Oh,” he nodded, “I would have guessed Armenian.”
I had no idea what to do with this information. Growing up in New Scandinavia, I know what Norwegians, Swedes, Icelanders look like. Everyone knows what Italians, or Greeks are supposed to look like…but Armenians? I have no preconception for Armenian.
“Is that a good thing?” I asked.
He nodded, “That’s a good thing.”
Because I’m freakishly pale, people usually assume that I’m either English or Irish (that also depends on the redness of my hair when the question is being posed). People have also asked if I’m German, rather insisted that I must be, given my last name; they’ve asked if I’m French, Russian, basically almost every European (and logical Asian) country except the ones that make up the biggest part of me. I don’t know if my appearance is just really enigmatic, or if people don’t realize that non-blondes come out of Norway and Sweden.
What’s interesting, besides the fact that I have no idea what Armenian people look like, is that Gentleman Scholar (rather to my chagrin) has become a bit fascinated with genealogical research lately. At first I recoiled, considering my past and current experiences with genealogical researchers, but he’s not a douche about it, so I’m glad he’s happy. Except he got a bit bored with his own family one day, since they all died poor, tragic deaths in Providence, and decided to snoop a bit into my family tree.
It turns out that I have a pretty impressive pedigree, so much so, that someone else actually traced one particular line back to the 1200s, and some of my ancestors were Boston bigwigs before heading west–so much for me getting that EU passport I’ve always wanted. Gentleman Scholar was so excited to tell me this stuff that he actually woke me up by shaking me like someone in a movie.
As mildly interesting as this all is, I have to say, I really don’t care. This is hilarious because Gentleman Scholar’s family is a bit dull, and he cares a lot, whereas mine are interesting, and I can’t be bothered. It is kind of cool to know where I come from, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with me right now. So what if I had important ancestors, does that make me important? Not really. I certainly don’t expect anyone else to care what long dead people were up to when they lived in Lincolnshire.
That’s the problem with genealogy as an obsession. You find out all this stuff that’s exciting (to you) and you want to talk about it, but no one else really wants to know. It would be cool if I were doing research on a certain period, and came to learn that I was descended from someone who did something cool in that context, but other than that, it’s just names on paper.
Having all this new information, I don’t feel like I know anything more about myself. When I was growing up and would tell people that I wanted to be a writer, they’d ask if there were any other writers in the family. I’d mention the famous one, and they’d get that knowing “that’s where you get it from” look in their eye. I don’t like this predestination approach to my life where the only reason I do what I do is because of inherited traits. I’m far too bratty for that.
Of course, I probably got that from someone as well.