So even when you’ve figured out how to deal with humans, it still really helps to be able to anticipate that you’re going to have to deal with humans, and there’s still a major pitfall when you’re operating in mixed-species environments where most people are operating as private individuals rather than as representatives of their respective species or planets:
Humans are so good at social modeling, and human naming conventions are such a mess, that it can be really hard to recognize that a person is human until you actually see a visual of them. Some of them include species on their profiles or biographies, but some skip right past species and list location of childhood home or racial/ethnic background or something instead, like everyone else is just supposed to know that the colony on Zendar Three is a human colony or what “latina” means. Some even make a point of not listing their species.
They pick up languages like nobody’s business. It might take an adult years to reach full fluency in a language - or they might pick it up in a matter of months, if they put their mind to it, and the subadults often don’t even require instruction or study. Even the ones who depend on automatic translation technology tend to be fussy about calibration and sounding as much like natural speakers as possible. In general, they put a lot of emphasis on being able to imitate the social manner of the group; many make a study of the social mores of species they intend to interact with, but even if they’re caught unprepared, most will to some extent mimic the attitude and approach of the people they interact with.
And the names. Most people will say that the typical human has a personal name and a family or clan name, and that’s… more or less accurate. Except that sometimes they list them the other way around. And sometimes they only have a personal name. Or they have multiple family names. And a lot of the time they have a kind of secondary personal name that they don’t even use, but not always, and some have as many as three or four of these “middle names.” There are lists of traditional human names that you can learn, but none of them are exhaustive, because almost every human population center and cultural group has its own traditional names and also humans are constantly adapting old names and inventing new ones.
Even if someone has a name that you recognize as being a traditional name of some other species, that isn’t a 100% guarantee that that person isn’t human. Because there’s such a wide variety of human names, there’s some overlap with other species names, to the point that it’s a kind of played out joke that the token human character in popular media has to be specified to be Human Steve. Plus in a lot of human cultures, one of the highest expressions of respect toward a person is to give that person’s name to one’s offspring, so there’s a small but significant number of humans with names that are definitely not human names because their parents chose to honor an alien friend or benefactor with a namesake.
Some humans are amused to be assumed to be another species. Some don’t seem to care, or are apologetic, apparently assuming that the confusion must be embarrassing or upsetting to the other party. A few get offended, but the other humans tend to agree that those ones are jerks and you shouldn’t feel bad about it.
What if aliens have very little genetic diversity and they all look the same and then they meet humans. Where we can look extremely different, have extremely different personalities.
Alien Scientist, S’chern, was quite young for her age; she was barely 21 sols on her marine home planet. But the job was a new position and it came with proper accommodations. S’chern she was among the first Sapienologists in the universe and was tasked with discovering how humans worked.
Humans, as they called themselves, were eyed warily by most of the galaxy. They had all heard the stories about their ferocity and endurance. Unless you were amongst the few exploring the uncolonized space, aliens didn’t interact with humans much.
There were treaties and laws and visas, as the humans called them, allowing interplanetary travel, but very few took up on the offer. Younglings just barely out of their last metamorphosis, sporting shiny black shells, would dare each other to go to Earth. Most would chicken out just as they were about to board the shuttle, refund their ticket, and walk back ashamed. Some, however, were daring enough to go through with it.
Most of the travelers on the shuttle-pod to earth were explorers looking to hire humans for their crew. They were clad in bulky, gleaming red carapaces, indicating their command status. They were usually accompanied by soldiers who never left their side.
The final group on the shuttle were scientists. Eager to study the planet and the humans and all forms of life. Unlike the recruiters, who stared stoically straight ahead, or the dared who whispered with another excitedly, S’chern reviewed her notes on humans.
Reports varied with contradictions that seemed impossible. Captain Kirnik explorer of the frontier reported his humans as determined, capable, and surprisingly ruthless.
Others said their humans were lazy, and bonded with all life forms, refusing to leave crew-mates behind.
S’chern resolved to talk about the inconsistencies between reports to determine who was correct.
After instructions were announced, passengers were placed into cryogenic sleep and were instructed they would be awoken on entry to the human’s solar system.
Upon entering the solar system, S’chern retrieved her recording cube from its storage and examined it to make sure it was in working order. The others were still stirring from sleep.
They arrived on Earth two hours after entry and the passengers were ushered off the shuttle. Despite the promises of a quiet entrance, a veritable sea of humans flooded the exit. They carried devices flashing lights that agitated their eyes and she hissed. Instead of discouraging them, it only seemed to make them want to take more pictures. And Hurried whispers ensued containing fragments of English she couldn’t understand.
The humans wore colors of many types on their hair: Brown, Black, and even Red. S’chern had been told it was a human custom to change their hair color unnaturally. It seemed to be a common thing now. There were the reported pinks and blues, but mostly the aforementioned colors.
They scattered by quickly into a quieter room that was mostly human free. There was a young human there with shiny black hair and her teeth were bared unnaturally the whole time.
“It’s called a smile,” One of the more experienced recruiters whispered to her, seeing S’chern’s horrified look, “It means they’re friendly.” She nodded wondering what creature bared their teeth to show friendliness.
As she was a Sapienologist, S'chern was taken into a chamber where she would meet with a human scientist. There were a few preliminary questions, that she answered in halting English.
“Greetings,” A human spoke in a mutilation of her original language, “I am Bill."
"Hello human-Bill,” S'chern bowed her head in an indication of respect, “ I am S'chern." human Bill’s features were much different than the human with the terrifying ‘smile’ who had welcomed them.
"Have you altered your features,” S'chern asked.
“What?” Human-Bill seemed confused, “No,” “But you look different from the other human,” S'chern said.
“Goodness wait until they see dogs,” he remarked to no one in particular.
“Dogs?” S'chern questioned, “Are these the canine companions you call pets?"
"Yes. And to answer your earlier question, humans can look quite different. Different hair and eye color, as well as many other features, can vary.” He paused, “I take it your…species has little genetic variation."
"No,” S'chern clicked her pincers, “ We shed our shells when we reach maturity and change them once more when we are around fifty Sols."
"Interesting,” The human jotted something down on a device.
“Now, for curiosities sake, let me show you some dogs." After typing something on the device he flipped it around to show an average canine.
"That is a husky, a breed of dog.” He said. He then typed in something and showed another furred mammal significantly smaller.
“That is also a dog,’ He said.
"But they are so different; this has short fur and is much smaller. The other one was huge and had long fur.” S'chern was baffled. How could they both be the same species?
Perhaps the differing opinions were right, the humans could be both. But How could you expect different ones to react in the same situation?
After a few more dog identification games, S'chern just gave up. How could they hope to classify humans if they varied this much? Humans were most definitely weird.
An illustration meant to capture the feelings evoked by cultural erasure and assimilation, drawing on the artist’s personal experiences in childhood. As with most forms of camouflage, they can sometimes be a necessity for survival in harsh conditions, but at the same time a dehumanizing force, wildly destructive to one’s individuality and sense of self.