The other evening, I was taking a walk on campus and I happened to meet a grandmother-aged woman who stopped and talked to me for a while for no readily apparent reason. She seemed nice, and she was very fascinated by everything I said, especially after I told her that I was a dance major. After a while, she asked me if I was Italian, and I had to resist the urge to laugh or to say, “Well, that’s a new one.” (Instead, I posted a facebook status about it a little while later) I’m used to people asking me if I’m Russian, among various other nationalities, but nobody’s ever thought that I’m Italian before,  and I’m not sure how she came up with that guess.

The truth of the matter is that I’m mostly German and a little Hungarian, with little bits and pieces of English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Dutch, Swiss, French, and Cherokee. My family has lived in the United States for over a century on every side of the family tree, and several centuries on some sides. Even if you don’t count the Cherokee bit, I have some ancestors who were Americans for a couple generations before the United States was even a country. For some reason, whenever I tell people this, they’re very surprised. Apparently, there’s something about me that makes people assume I’m a foreign exchange student from someplace in Eastern Europe or that my family came to America very recently. When I’m meeting someone new or talking to someone I don’t know in a public place, there’s almost always part of the conversation that goes something like this:

 

Other person: Where are you from?

Me: Um, Chicago, originally.

Other person: Really? What about your parents, where are they from?

Me: Near Chicago.

Other person: Your grandparents?

Me: Chicago.

Other person: (In surprise)So you really are American.

 

Or else, it goes like this:

 

Other person: What’s your name?

Me: Magdalena.

Other person: That’s beautiful! What language is it?

Me: (A little tripped up by the question, because my name is fairly common in several different languages) Well, it was my great grandmother’s name and she was Hungarian.

Other person: Hungarian! I could tell you weren’t American!

Me: Um, actually I am. My great grandmother’s family came to America before she was born.

 

Or like this:

 

Other person: You have a beautiful accent! What is it? Are you (insert random nationality, usually Russian) ?

Me: No, I’m mostly German.

Other person: Really? Do you speak German at home?

Me: No, we speak English. I don’t know German.

Other person: Do your parents and grandparents speak German a lot?

Me: No, we all speak English.

 

Or occasionally like this:

 

Other person: Do you speak Russian?

Me: No.

Other person: Really? But somebody told me you were from Russia.

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