Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Silly comparison

I have a colleague/friend, AH, who originates from Northwest China. She grew up experiencing harsh sub-zero winters and dessert-like hot summers. I have known her for a year, having been introduced by a mutual acquaintance at the acquaintance's home in December 2010.

During spring this year, we were both involved in a theatre project. On the days when her then-boyfriend was not available to drive her home, we often waited together for the bus to the train station after rehearsals. That was when AH started teasing me about my layers of clothes to keep me warm whereas she survived with just a T-shirt, a light hoodie, a mini-skirt and leggings. Initially, I guessed, it was pretty much to break the silence and to keep the conversation going, sometimes between just the 2 of us, sometimes with another friend present. She would repeat the joke almost every time we waited for the bus together. This continued throughout spring into summer when she joined my workplace, repeating the same teasing at our workplace's break-room. By then, the joke was beginning to wear thin and (IMHO) her tone grew less jovial and edged slightly towards denigrating. I got a reprieve from the stale joke when AH returned to China for a few months' break from summer to autumn.

When winter came round, AH re-started her teasing about my layers of clothes. This time round, she almost always ended with a smirk. E.g. One day last week, AH wore culottes, leggings and a long-sleeved sweater at work. [Outside the store, the temperature ranged from 0 to 7 degree Celsius. At that time, my young colleagues were typically wearing sweatshirts, light hoodies and jeans while working in the store. AH had the privilege of being chauffeured door-to-door by her boyfriend, and thus did not have to wait in the cold for public transport unlike many of our colleagues.] By chance, we were both in the breakroom together with a managerial colleague (who is a Vancouverite).
AH having noticed my layers of clothing, asked, "How many layers of clothes are you wearing?"

I replied matter-of-factly, "3 on top and 3 at the bottom."

AH smirked. The managerial colleague followed suit and gave a "this-is-silly" smirk.
Our managerial colleague is in her 20's and this is not an often repeated joke for her, so her response did not surprise me. However, I feel sorry for AH. For someone her age (AH is in her 30's), I had expected more maturity. [Especially after she had shared with me about the challenges she faced as a China Chinese immigrant.] IMHO, there is probably something missing from her life/self-esteem for her be compelled to engage in such a silly comparison repeatedly. Why do I call the repeated comparison silly? Let's look at it from 2 perspective.
Impact on me: Has my many layers of clothing affected my ability to integrate into the Canadian society? Nope. Has it stopped me from making friends? Nope. Has it affected my workplace relations? Nope, going by my rapport with my colleagues (including the teens and the tweens). Will the teasing change me in any way? Nope, I am still going to wear whatever it takes to help me stay warm and healthy.*

Impact on AH: Does the teasing help AH integrate into the Canadian society? I doubt so. The typical Canadian humour is often self-effacing (click here for an example). Has the teasing affected AH's relationship with me? At the moment not significantly, although I will observe a couple of years more to see if she will move on from such silly comparisons after she is more settled down into the Canadian life. Has the teasing affected others' impression of AH? I don't know but it is possible if she keeps repeating the same stale joke in front of the same people (colleagues). [I am sure of this because my young colleagues ever shared with me their observations of other colleagues and what they find irritating/disgusting about them.]
So there. What's with this silly one-sided comparison?

[*Addendum on 03-Feb-2012: Besides, I like co-ordinating the colour and style of my layers of clothes. It is something one cannot do much of in Singapore.]

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That said, I am not adverse to being the butt of jokes. I know a French immigrant couple (i.e. from France, not Quebec. Have to state this because in Canada, "French" = "Quebecois"). The guy is my ex-colleague, and the 3 of us would hang out together at their home every now and then. When I arrive or leave their home, taking-off or putting-on my warm clothing respectively, we often joke about the layers of clothes that I wear. The tone was always jovial, with his girlfriend (if present) piping in about her dislike of the cold too (just like me) and her habits of turning up the heater at home and dressing rather warmly compared to the guy. They would wrap-up their welcome/send-off joke with hugs and well-wishes to keep warm and safe.

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From 2 examples above, one can see that although both sides joked about my layers of clothes, my French friends' responses stand in stark contrast with AH's.

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