Indonesian food and random thoughts about identity

On Friday night, M. and I decided to have dinner at the Indonesian restaurant.

We arrived and asked for een tafel voor twee. The waitress seemed a bit confused, but after a moment she showed us to our table.

Another waiter took our orders, two biertjes and two rijstafels. He then asked us something in Dutch. A moment of panic! Ok, let’s switch to English.

Then the other waitress brought us the food, and said something in Dutch. We didn’t get anything, and we asked her to speak English. She looked like “Hey, you were speaking Dutch earlier!”

After a while, she came again at our table to check if everything was OK. She explained that she tought we were Dutch, and she was surprised when we switched to English.

How she could think that we were Dutch, that’s a mystery to me!

Anyway, she was also non Dutch. And when we asked her where she was from, she said: “Oh, I’m from a lot of places. I’m from Canada, I’m from Hong Kong…”

At first I was tempted to reply: “Ok, but where exactly are you from? Canada or Hong Kong?”. But then, is it really that important? Do we really have to look for an exact definition? Besides, the most precise information is exactly the one she gave us. And more interesting too!

Not only we learned that she is from here and there (and since a few months she is in the Netherlands to study) but her answer made me think about one’s identity, roots and culture.

It also reminded me when, while I was in Canada, I was asked a similar question – where are you from? are you Italian, you don’t look like Italian? – and I answered: “My mom is from the Philippines, my dad is Italian and I am…me!”

Not very precise, but true.

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One thought on “Indonesian food and random thoughts about identity

  1. Interesting blog. This business of categorizing people by this or that has interested (and often dismayed me) all my life. I was raised as a white man in a time (50′-60’s) and a place (pre-civil rights South) that put great importance on this, only to find out later that I’m a goodly part Native American (about 1/8 best I can figure) and Jewish (about the same). During the Vietnam War I caught a happily terminal case of ‘yellow fever’ and both of my wives are Asian. Asians from Asia, not Americans of Asian descent. Each marriage has produced a child and, I have discovered, children seem to go through a stage when they are very interested in backgrounds. I do the best I can with my explanations while hammering on my firm belief that this is a minor detail.

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