Posted by: Chris Brew | April 11, 2011

“You can observe a lot by just watching” Yogi Berra

While it isn’t always easy, I can usually tell where people were raised as well as where they were born. Koreans raised in Los Angeles have a style completely different from those born in Seoul; the English, en masse, look different from the Scots, and it just takes one look at those wacky triangular eyeglasses for me to know that a young lady is either French or getting that way. In the same way, just by looking, I can pretty much diagnose the families waiting for the Newark to Gatwick flight. Here’s one, prematurely greying father with John Lennon glasses, slightly older  mother with shoulder length hair, three blond boys with backpacks and crew cuts. I’m like, O.K. , he’s British, she’s American, all three boys born in the USA. Or, Asian looking father, fiftyish, no mother in the party, two young teen daughters, one classically Eurasian looking, the other blonder. Sure, I can do that: he’s born in Hong Kong, but doesn’t speak Cantonese well, one kid born in Shanghai, the other in canoe transit up the Amazon. Same father, I think, but the first girl’s mother is definitely working as a dogcatcher in Evansville, Indiana, and the second one’s mother once had that unfortunate accident with a hairnet and an avocado. Could these be the same person? Very likely, but I’m not infallible, while I know for sure that the father is part-time seal tamer and computer science professor, I can’t be be sure whether he’s a bigamist. It’s just a matter of assessing the evidence.

I can also tell what language people speak, because the patterns of vowels and consonants shape the face. Turkish oral surgeons spend 47% of their time unsticking the tongue tip from the roof of the mouth. “Who put the gluten in this agglutinative language?”, they cry. And did you know that Mick Jagger was raised Basque? His English accent is a fake: he stole it from a classmate at LSE, using 1960s recording technology and a hypnopaedic pillow. You don’t get those lips from an Indo-European language, let me tell ya! Angela Lansbury is Swedish, and Dick van Dyke really is a cockney. As a young man Rex Harrison sang Wagner’s Parsifal with Maria Callas in the Italian premiere at La Scala: the My Fair Lady thing is a front. Not many know that, but you can see all this in their faces.

Just by looking, I can tell whether your dog will develop cataracts (and whether your cat will develop doggeracts, should you care). Show me your friend’s wardrobe, and I can predict the mean rainfall over the Andes for the next two weeks. Two glances inside your purse and I can diagnose your psychological problems to eight decimal places AND predict your fashion preferences. Just from your diet, I can tell you not only your height, weight and hat size but your views on a wide range of social issues and the three last digits of your social security number. If you were raised by wolves, I can tell. If you were kept locked in a cupboard by your neglectful parents, I will spot it, and be able to offer career advice, speech therapy and a range of inexpensive  after-care options. If your father married his half sister and you were raised by a vengeful dwarf in the forest, I will know, and be the first to offer you a place to lay your sword. And advise you on whether the local fire brigade is any use for your unknowingly genetically suspect purpose. But I’m not special, I think most people could do that, just by looking.


  1. Hilarious. Loved every minute of it, particularly the ‘genetically suspect purpose’.

    • This is brilliant! Gave me such a belly laugh!

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