I’m on my back, right leg in the air, and a woman I met less than half an hour ago is making casual conversation with me while spreading hot wax on my netherbits. She doesn’t know it, but she’ll soon be the second person in my entire life with whom I’m able to share details of my ethnic background.
You have questions, I realize. First among them: Don’t I have one dedicated, regular person I task with this torture every 4-6 weeks? I do! In fact, when it comes to these types of very up close and personal self-care rituals, I’m quite loyal. But my regular aesthetician—a kind-hearted French woman named Marion—is unavailable, and I’m desperate. My backup waxing salon exists for this reason alone, and here I find myself, prone on a foreign table with a stranger as intimately placed as one could be.
We’ve covered the usual topics: relationship status, jobs, where we are from, and I mention in passing that my husband is Indian.
“That’s cool,” she says, popsicle stick spreading molten blue lava carefully. “So he’s Indian…what’s your background?”
I perk up as much as one can in my position.
“I’m half Korean,” I say excitedly, “And then the other half is a mix of Japanese, Chinese, and other mixed Asian from all over.”
She hasn’t registered my excitement. “Oh cool,” she repeats in that off hand, slightly-interested small talk way, concentrating on her task.
“Yeah.” I’m quiet for a few seconds. “Actually, I have to tell you—you’re only the second person in my entire life who I’ve been able to say that to. I only found out my ethnic background last summer. I did a DNA test.”
Now she really stops and looks at me. That is cool.
* * *
She was the second person; the first was an Uber driver who asked, “What are you?” maybe three months before. That a livery driver should be the first person to ask me post-test was ironic and yet not at all surprising, since cab drivers have the highest ethnicity inquiry rates based on my non-scientific tracking over the last 15-odd years.
And they’re not the only ones. To be sure, wherever I’ve gone throughout life — college, convenience stores, conferences; on dates, to the dry cleaners, to the drive-thru —I’ve heard this same question, or some country-specific derivative of it.
“So, what are you?” View more