This week I had to go to the DMV to verify my younger son’s residence so he could get his license. Please, don’t explain to me there should be easier ways to do that. It’s how the DMV does things.
I had to do it, I didn’t have to like it. We got there an hour before it opened, and I got up an hour earlier than that to blog, which meant I was uncaffeinated and already in a mood.
My older son also had business at the DMV, so we made a solid family group.
The reason I explain all this is to let you know I was in a situation I’m not used to: out really early and forced into contact with a lot of strangers. As a professional novelist, I can go entire days without trading a word with a stranger.
The experience wasn’t that bad. Having arrived earlier, it took us only an hour to do what we’d come to do, possibly because there were only sixteen people ahead of us.
While waiting to approach the first counter, I sat down next to a blond woman, about my age or ten years on either side (on the down side of forty it becomes hard to tell), a lab technician my older son had engaged in conversation earlier.
As the boys and I were talking, the usual happened and our “neighbor” asked about my accent. Actually she added a new and odd wrinkle and asked what nationality WE were. (The boys sound so Coloradan they couldn’t be anything else, so this is a little strange.) We answered in unison “American.” This and the fact older son was wearing a stars and stripes tie (yes, he always wears a tie and a button down. He’s rebelling against his boomer professors. Kids these days.) should have given her a clue, but apparently not. So she said “Well, you have an accent,” to me. I stopped fighting it and told her I was born and raised in Portugal.
She said, as people do, that she wished she had an accent. I know this sounds odd but that statement exasperates me, because I can’t answer truthfully “No, you don’t. Total strangers ask personal questions about things like the languages you taught the kids. And they make guesses about you once you reveal your national origin. And they pre-judge your politics. And…” Also “I’ve lived in this country for twenty eight years, longer than I’ve lived anywhere else.”