On Thursday when I was at the PHD school, I went up to the international students office to get my dorm assignment.

“You’ve been moved to another room,” the very cute secretary told me. “This foreigner requested an American roommate.” Arrgh! What a bizarre request, and one that doesn’t reflect well on us Yankees at all. I hadn’t plan to use the room much, but immediately I decided to move in, tack up a poster of Osama, and bow to Mecca five times a day… “You didn’t say no muslim-americans, did you?”…. Apparently it didn’t occur to them to ask whether I’d want to be roomies with someone who requested only Americans for a roomie.

Later that day I found out who the man was. He was N., someone I have known for a couple of years, and whom I know to be humanistic and broadminded. It seemed highly unlikely that he’d make such a request. The clincher was that N. was Canadian, and no self-respecting Canadian would ever ask for a random American roommate. That just wouldn’t happen. So I figured, since N. and I knew each other, that this was his clever plan to get me as his roommate. In a flash I went from cursing his alleged ethnocentricity, to congratulating him for his genius in tweaking the system to get us together, me being the only other American in the program at the moment.

Turns out, when I finally phoned him, that the real story was altogether different. N. had been given a real jerk of a roommate, who happened to be Taiwanese, and he and the other roomie there had pushed and pushed the dorm admins to get the fellow out. Under the Iron Law of Foreigner Behavioral Interpretation, found around the world, Whatever The Foreigner Does is an Absolute of His Behavior. In this case, the dorm admins had read N.’s behavior of This Person is a Jerk Please Relieve Me of Him to be N. Dislikes All Non-Americans. It was they who had actually made that request and defined it that way. And so poor N.’s rep was dissed all over the university….