Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What is the Line Between Curious and Creepy?

Dear Korean,

While reading through several different entries on your blog I noticed that while you seem to have frustration toward non-Asian people who don't know how to interact with Asian Americans, you also seem to have a disdain for people with "yellow fever" or who are caught up in the Korean wave. What do you consider a normal balance between having no clue about Asians and having a creepy obsession with them? Is there some sort of normal or appropriate level of interest in Asian culture?

Joanna C.


Dear Joanna,

The Korean likes your question so much that it jumped the line. The Korean likes it because it really goes to the heart of appreciating different cultures, of what to do and what not to do.

First, you have the Korean exactly pegged. He is very annoyed by people who do not know how to deal with Asian Americans. He also finds blatant yellow fever to be vile. The Korean's stance is not idiosyncratic to himself -- this is generally resonant with prevalent Asian American attitudes. These two stances appear to be opposite of each other, because one appears to be about knowing too little while the other appears to be about knowing too much. So maybe a middle ground is the way to go?

Actually, no. What appears to be two opposite things is actually two different manifestations of the same root cause, and it is that root cause that Asian Americans find annoying. The name of that root cause is "objectification."

Here, the Korean is using the term "objectification" to mean treating a person like a non-person or a half-person. This is the incessantly recurring reality for Asian Americans: instead of being treated as a whole person, they are treated as an abstract representation of their ethnicity. We may breathe, walk and talk like real persons, but we are not quite a real person like white Americans are real.

Let us start with the cluelessness with Asian Americans part. In one of the post popular posts in AAK! history, the Korean wrote:
Do not ask "Where are you from?" to an Asian person unless you are reasonably certain that s/he is outside of his/her American hometown. If the Asian answers, say, "Los Angeles", do not follow up with "where are you originally from?" or "where are your parents from?" Our precise ethnicity is none of your fucking business.
Why is the question annoying? It is annoying because when a clueless person insists on asking "Where are your parents from?" to an Asian American, it becomes clear that the person is fixating on the ethnicity of the Asian American above all else. The many other possible interests -- the human interests -- of that Asian American are ignored and buried under the person's ethnicity. That Asian American might like Tupac, enjoy Russian literature and have a strong opinion on balancing the federal budget. No matter. She will be defined by her parents' country of origin, because the questioner cannot get past her looks. In the eyes of the questioner, she is no longer a person with real experience, real emotions -- she is an object, a representation of her ethnicity, a scale-model of "Asian-ness."

Here is another example that the Korean wrote:
Do not say "gonnichiwa" to an Asian person in America ... On second thought, don't say any Asian phrase to any Asian person, unless you are at least conversational in the language. It's the 21st century, people. We are no longer impressed by your amazing ability to say "hello".
Throwing out one or two pieces of meager Asian language vocabulary to an Asian American is doubly insulting. It signifies not only that the the verbiage-thrower sees the Asian American's ethnicity above and beyond all else, but also that the thrower thinks offering an ethnicity-specific magic word will somehow cause a friendly reaction.

More after the jump.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.



This point dovetails into the yellow fever part. The Korean is on the record saying that he considers the relationship questions to be annoying and stupid. The reason why they are annoying and stupid is because most of them are of the following sort:
Dear Korean,

I am currently dating a 20 year old full Korean born in Korea but living in the United States. I would like to know, what is a word or phrase I could call her that is would have a special meaning to her, something cultural I could say that when she heard it, she would know how much she means to me?

- William C.
(This is a real email that the Korean received.) The Korean's response is:  How the fuck would I know? The Korean and William's girlfriend are total strangers. All we have in common is the fact that we are two people of the same ethnic group that has some 80 million members worldwide. That is enough to have some telephatic mindmeld under which all individual preferences are revealed?

This is the same theme that appears over and over and over and OVER AND OVER again whenever a goddamn relationship question hits the Korean's inbox. The Korean has no way of knowing what your Korean classmate meant when he brushed your hand as he passed by. He doesn't know what that Korean guy would like to receive for his birthday. He does not know if your Korean boyfriend really meant his words when he said, "I want to break up." He does not know if the Korean guy you are interested in likes an innocent-girl-look or a slutty-girl-look. He does not know why your Korean girlfriend would not talk to you anymore.

(The Korean did not come up with these examples of stupidity -- these are all from the real questions that the Korean received.)

Please, stop with these idiotic questions! We are not some anthromorphosized Ali Baba's cave where if you just yell, "Open, Sesame!", we will suddenly fall in love with you. We -- Koreans, Korean Americans, Asian Americans -- are people. The males of our people like the same things that males of all people like -- we like some combination of hot looks, big boobs, nice ass, intelligent mind, vibrant energy, scintillating charm and the like. The females of our people like the same things that females of all people like -- they like some combination of hot looks, ripped muscles, tight ass, sharp wit, sensitive heart, listening ears and the like. We are not some kind of an unholy cross between a jack-in-the-box and a pinata such that if you turn the crank just right, the box pops open and candies fall out.

The annoyance advances to creepiness when the objectification does not merely come from ignorance or poor rhetorical skills, but arises out of a deliberately considered choice expressed in carefully thought-out words. Here is, bar none, the creepiest yellow fever email that the Korean has ever received in the four years of AAK! history.
Hello,

Before I ask my very vague and general question, I thought I may write briefly about myself so as to give you a lit of bit of context.

I am a male in my early 20s living in Vancouver, Canada. I am a second-generation Canadian of Italian/German descent. Yes, my grandparents did some terrible things during WWII. I am currently a student of political science and philosophy. I am soon to begin my graduate studies. My masters thesis is a treatise on how much a liberal democratic society should concede to ethnocultural minority groups. I am a strong supporter of Canada’s official multiculturalism, and a passionate theoretical defender of liberal pluralism. This stuff is my area of expertise. After finishing my MA, I plan on attending law school and enjoying a long and lucrative career as a criminal defense lawyer.

Despite my own liberalism, I am increasingly disillusioned and skeptical with and of Western culture and individualism. I am attracted to a more traditional value system and a more communitarian outlook on life.

This brings me to my other little obsession, besides obscure political philosophy: East Asian culture, particularly Korean culture. I am fascinated by Korean culture and customs. Most of all, I really like Korean women.

At this point, I only date East Asian women. I would rank my national preference in the order of Korean, Japanese and then Chinese.

My ex-girlfriend was a Korean woman who was born in Canada. I would describe her enculturation as torn between Western and Korean. We were together for a long time, but eventually parted ways. I then went on the market for a more “pure” Korean girlfriend experience.

Recently, I have started dating an entirely adorable Korean woman. She is living in Vancouver on a temporary work visa and has only been here four months. Her English is limited – her sentence structure and choice of vocabulary too cute to handle at most times. She is two years my senior. Prior to coming to Canada, she lived in Japan for a year and learned Japanese. She “loves” Japanese culture and considers herself “half Korean, half Japanese" even though she is 100% Korean.

I am constantly trying to learn new Korean phrases, we watch Korean dramas together, I call her “chagiya,” she is impressed at my knowledge of Korean culture and politics, and my parents love her. I constantly stress my profound respect of Korean traditions to her. Perhaps most importantly, I buy her lots of cute presents.

I’ve gone on and on, so what’s the point? My point is that I would sooner rather than later like to settle down with a Korean girl who was not born in Canada. So I would like your input on 1) my chances, 2) general attitudes toward white dude/Korean girls.

My good friend shares my “Yellow Fever,” also has a Korean girlfriend. Him and I regularly bring our girlfriends out to the Korean pubs in downtown Vancouver. We are very well treated in them. ... [TK: Rest of the email is some meaningless additional questions, and is omitted.]

- TF
Ugh. Just copy/pasting that email was retch-inducing.

"TF" holds himself out to be an intelligent person, and his writing and his attitude seem to be carefully considered -- which takes the creepiness quotient through the roof. The vileness of TF's email comes from the way in which he reduces his (ex and current) girlfriends to a series of concepts. To TF, his girlfriends are not humans. They are not wooed for their humanity -- they are pursued for what they represent, the "traditional value system" and "communitarian outlook of life" (which apparently are better representated by Korean women than Chinese and Japanese ones, because hey, all Korean women are exactly the same, right?) If a woman is not a faithful representation of such concepts, she is discarded because of her "impurity." TF's preferred choice of companionship is not a fully grown adult woman, but a doll representing an abstract concept who -- which -- speaks in broken, infantile English that does not allow the full expression of her true intelligence and emotions. And to keep her happy, all it takes is to feed her with occasional chagiya ("honey") and "cute presents."

Needless to say, this is creepy as shit. Having a blow-up doll as a girlfriend would be less creepy. At least boyfriend of a blow-up doll cannot hide from the world the fact that his girlfriend is no more than a latex shell filled with ambient air and wishful projections. But boyfriend of an objectified Asian woman can go around pretending (or worse, like TF seems to be, actually believing,) that he is a champion of racial harmony and cross-cultural understanding.

Having said all this...

What, then, is the appropriate way of dealing with culture? Strenuously avoiding any discussion of culture for fear of offending others is not the answer. Cultural differences are real, and such differences are far too important and far too fascinating not to discuss. In fact, any intellectually curious mind would likely gravitate toward the question of culture in some form or another. Then how should that curious mind approach the question of culture with people of a different culture?

She can do so by keeping this fundamental principle in mind:  Culture is no more than people's responses to the reality, accumulated over time. Culture is not something that fell from the sky. Culture is not something that dictates people's every move. Instead, culture is a dynamic, rational set of reactions to the reality that a group of people has faced and is facing. This necessarily means that at the center of culture, there are people -- humans. And if you are also a human, you can understand the culture of a certain group of people by understanding the reality faced by that group.

Some reality is universal. The sun and the moon rise everywhere in the world, so all human cultures assign a high level of significance to the sun and the moon. A person is born from another person everywhere in the world, so all human cultures assign a high level of significance to the parent-child kinship. But then, some reality is quite particular. In a reality in which starvation has been frequent, people greet each other with "Did you eat?" to mean "Hello" like Koreans do. In a reality in which a diverse group of people cannot agree upon a single code of ethics, people will increasingly rely on a vast, technical set of laws as the exclusive source of right and wrong -- like Americans do. And for those people who do not perceive the particular reality, such cultural difference may appear beyond comprehension.

In this sense, understanding a different culture means understanding a different reality, and understanding how humans -- rational, normal humans just like you and I -- react to that reality. It is an exercise that requires imagination, with which one can step into the middle of a different reality and imagine how you and your family might respond to that reality, how such responses would look like when accumulated over a long period of time. Truly, this is the only way to understand any culture. Any other way can only lead to no more than superficial understanding -- in fact, it only leads to culturalism.

If you wish to know how that kind of deep, internal understanding would look like, the Korean would highly recommend visiting I'm No Picasso, one of the finest expat blogs in Korea. The blog has been gradually gaining recognition, because of (among other reasons) its proprietor's ability to see and describe Koreans as humans, not as human-like phantoms whose actions are dictated by mysterious and incomprehensible culture. (For example, one salient feature of INP is that her students are referred to by their names -- Korean names, not the made-up English ones -- and are painstakingly given individual descriptions.) Instead of stopping at outward looks of Korean men and write them off with the blithe, "Oh that's their culture," INP notes:  "Remember -- I work at an all boys' middle school. My daily life is a veritable meditation in Korean masculinity, in its blossoming (and possibly most potent) stages." That Korean men have the same hormones that makes them masculine just like any other men should not be a huge revelation. But somehow such common-sense idea often gets lost in a discussion about "culture" that does not feature the people underlying the culture, and it takes an insightful and empathetic person like INP to remind people of that.

Let us finally answer the question: Is there a normal level of interest in Asian culture? Hell no! Asian culture is as fascinating as any culture, and you can spend your entire life analyzing it. You just have to remember that the carriers of Asian culture are people also.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

122 comments:

  1. Erm, one objection to your post. I think it important to understand what context someone may ask "Where are you from?" or "What country are you from?"

    If it's an elderly American person asking the question innocently, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and respond that "My parents are from Korea" in addition to saying where I grew up in America.

    On a side note, while its perfectly reasonable to see myself as completely American in terms of the standards of this country, by blood Koreans would also consider me 100% Korean (though "tainted" as a "jaemi gyopo") while only white people would be called "Americans" (Meeguk saram).

    Hrm.. I guess I consider myself 100% American and 100% Korean =)

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  2. I agree with The Korean's assessment and Robert Lim's objection. I've had so many encounters with dimwits but I typically give a "free pass" to the elderly (those 75 years of age or more).

    Personally, I feel extra irritated when a non-White American asks me where or what country I'm from because I feel, as a minority themselves, they should know better.

    Not long ago, a Black man began speaking to me in Mandarin because he assumed I was Chinese. I was born in New Jersey and had no freaking idea what he was talking about. Moreover, my heritage is from the Philippines. He said he just wanted to get to know other cultures and that I should feel "honored" that he's so open minded. I replied, "Well, if I go by your logic....Jambo!" He stared at me blankly. "Don't you know what that means?" I said. "It's Swahili for 'Hello' and you should know that because you're Black."

    There are much more interesting aspects of people other than the country they or their parents were born in. If a person isn't going to take the time to ask basic questions about you as a human being instead of an ethnicity, they're not worth your time.

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  3. I laughed my head off when I saw "how the fuck should I know". I agree with most of your points in this article.
    I too find it annoying when people keep asking me where I am from. I don't go on asking Caucasians where their ancestors are from. If it's a general topic that randomly, fine. Otherwise I don't appreciate being interrogated by people I barely know.

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  4. I guess I don't understand why the question of where you are from would be offensive.
    I am Nigerian American (born and raised in Nigeria, now a naturalized American) and I would rather people know where I am from than assuming I am just African or just American, mostly because I many in America think Africa is one big country or think all black people are the same (I had a co-worker once tell me I reminded her of a high school classmate, I jokingly asked if said classmate was the only black girl in her class, she laughed and said yes. Sigh).
    I am proud of where I am from and will gladly share with anyone regardless of age :) Now if someone walked up to me and said jambo or that my friends and I couldn't possibly be from Africa because we don't look gaunt (actually happened, junior year roommate, can we say awkward) then of course I would be offended.

    Though I do like being respected as being an American just like anyone else and not objectified as a race of people, the complete opposite, to blanket all of those who share the same skin tone as mine as being the same culturally, is also a form objectification.

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  5. Hi The Korean,

    Great and hilarious post. Btw, people are offended by the question "where are you really from?" because it discounts our identity. I'm Chinese American, so when people ask where I'm really from (I was born in New York and raised in Hawaii), it's as if they don't acknowledge that I'm American, which is a big part of my identity. It's offensive, actually. And what do people do when they're offended? They get angry.

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  6. Agreed. The emails are certainly bizarre. Creepy qualifies for the last one, if not downright sociopathic.

    But, on the other hand, what's the purpose of this blog? I'm guessing you set yourself up in the vein of "Ask A Mexican," and he's seen as the go-to source by gringos for any question - stupid or enlightening - about Mexicans, Mexican culture, etc.

    If we were all just people living in a vacuum, your blog would have no purpose ... right? Korean men are the same as all men. Korean women all the same. Korean musicians? Same. Presidents? Same.

    But we're not all just people, and by virtue of making a blog like this, you've designated yourself as a source of knowledge about all things Korean. Is it stupid to objectify Koreans?

    Sure, but why then do my co-teachers and fellow staff members objectify themselves, by saying things like, "this is the Korean way to hold chopsticks." "This is what Koreans eat for great stamina." Etc.

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  7. @Abisola,

    The "where are you from?" issue probably resonates more with the members of generations that come after the first-gen immigrants.

    They may not relate in any way with their parents'/grandparents' country of origin, and had they not been a visible minority in their birthplace, strangers aren't likely to ask the question upon the very first meeting.

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  8. @Sean because they are objectifying you and they think you are too dumb to understand, and still consider you part of an outgroup that they need to teach things to.

    No offense to you though, that's just what it means.

    Nice post TK and I think it hits the nail on the head in many ways.

    Try to tell that last poster that he's objectifying Koreans or Korean women, and you'll get in a very very long discussion about his open mind and how he's so accepting of other cultures etc...

    Finally it will result in him calling you a racist in the end for "disapproving of his interracial relationship".

    I'm done talking to these kinds of people, and his Korean woman will be done with him when that cultural newness has worn off and they have nothing left to talk about.

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  9. I wonder if white Americans are offended when I ask where their ancestors are from. It never occur to me that I am objectizing them. I have asked some of my NY colleagues this question because I am curious and I know white Americans are not native American, they must come from somewhere too. I have not experienced unpleasant responses, in fact almost all are proud of their respective ethnic backgrounds, shared enthusiastically about them and hoped to keep some of that identity alive. That question has opened for me windows to other cultures (this is a broad term, perhaps I only mean things like a sense of what values different ethnic groups hold dear, how they relate to their elders, what type of food they absoluetly must have on special occasions, you know daily stuff, nothing esoteric). As I learnt more about others, I am beginning to see similarities, regardless of race/ethnicity. So, yes, there are some things that set us apart, there are some things that are universal.

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  10. Correction: I mean "objectifying" not "objectizing" in my previous comment.

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  11. Well, I personally have something to say about the "where are you from" question.

    I'm passioned about foreign cultures, especially Korean, but basically I think meeting people with different cultures is amazing because you kinda discover a way of life, which is different from yours, and also, because I absolutely love foreign languages, I'm always really pleased to hear the person's monther tongue.

    So, in my mind, when I ask "where are you from" has to be understand as "I'm curious about your culture, and I love foreign culture, so tell me about it"
    If the persons doesn't want to tell me, no prob, but it's definetely not a way for me to "put you in a minority". You're American with Korean's origins, but you're an american citizen, so yes, there's no reason for people to make a difference.


    Honestly, you could come from Korean, Russia, Botwsana, Chile, Alaska or whatever I would still be really interested in your culture.



    For the korean "yellow fever", I kinda agree with this "obsession".
    I'm not korean, but I love South Korea, not for the man, but for the culture, the language, history...but on the other way, there're tons of things that I don't like, for example: abortion is not allowed, adultery is condamned, koreans and "skinship" is taboo, society is pretty "straignt" with bowing and so on...So I would say that I love South Korea, but I'm not blind: there are things I hate, and that I, probably, will always hate.

    But I feel like that most of the non-korean likes South Korea for it's man of woman, or singers....honestly, it kinda pisses me off...You gotta love a country for what it is, and not for what TV shows you...
    I was astonished while reading TF's mail: I personnaly find korean men truly beautiful, but on the other way, I won't resent a black, latino, or white man if I like him because he's not asian? Seriously, I don't really understand people who "swears to only like and date this ethnicity"...



    I apologize to The Korean for the, probable, miserable english, but it's not my mother tongue....

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  12. Here's to everyone out there using Korean names for their Korean students in Korea.You wouldn't think it would be that much of a big deal to use the names their parents gave them, however....

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  13. Amen to everything The Korean wrote!

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  14. ugh that mail from TF really gives me the creeps too

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  15. I prefer "fetishism" over "objectification." It has the right overtones of sexual creepiness that is applicable to TK.

    Just to reiterate the Korean's point. It's one thing to celebrate a person's ethnicity and heritage as an integral part of his/her character, but quite another to celebrate it at the expense of all else.

    It's one thing to love a one-legged woman, and celebrate her one-leggedness. It's quite another to... you know... love the stump.

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  16. Living in an international metropolitan hub city like Los Angeles and, in particular, working in an industry where a large portion of its people actually don't originate from Los Angeles, I've mellowed out a lot to the question "Where are you from?", since it gets asked of everyone. I do imagine native Angelenos might get annoyed by it, since it presumes that they are also not from here. But, it's the occasional follow-up question, "No, where are you really from?" that still bothers me.

    And I sign on to the rest of your assessment, having written such rants myself in the past.

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  17. I have read this blog for a few years now and have typically just been a fly on the way. This post, however, angered me. Let me explain why:

    When meeting someone for the first time, regardless of race/creed/color, I often ask from where they come originally and if they have lived in that spot for their whole lives. I ask these questions not to place them in some category, but rather to find out, along with other questions, more about them personally and to find commonality that I might share with them. I have lived in every corner of the United States and have traveled quite a bit nationally and internationally. Perhaps we’ve gone to the same school, perhaps we both like the same museum at someplace we’ve both been, or perhaps they could give me some tips on particular spots to visit when I travel to their country of origin. If you find yourself angry with my question, you are too sensitive. Get over it.

    I married a Korean woman nearly six years ago. No, I wasn’t some creepy guy who trolled around for Asian women and I had never previously dated an Asian woman. I honestly didn’t care where my wife was from when I met her. She is very smart, has a great individual personality and is quite beautiful.

    Since meeting my wife-to-be, I have made it part of my personal responsibility to better understand her native language and culture so that I can better understand and communicate with her family and so that we can pass these gifts along to our children. That’s what drew me to this blog. I feel I have earned significant respect from my wife’s family and friends because of my willingness and respect for them by learning and engaging in Korean eating/drinking customs, Jesa, Chusok, etc.

    When it comes to the Korean language, I have taken a few classes and I’m trying to work in some Rosetta Stone in my free time. I am nowhere near conversationally fluent, but I try to use the phrases I do know whenever possible and try to do things like order food in Korean. It’s called practice, and if I don’t do it, I won’t get better. I’m not trying to impress you, so get over yourself.

    To TK: I must say that I feel that you have become quite holier-than-thou. I have taught hundreds of people in various subjects and never consider any question to be stupid. To do so is absolutely childish, in my opinion. There are reasons why people come to your blog. Mostly, people just want to clear up misunderstandings that they have. If you want to educate your readers on how things come off to you and probably others as creepy or disrespectful, that’s great. To rip them apart on their less thoughtful questions or their misuse of the English language is just disrespectful. There should be no reason for me to be on MS Word right now to ensure I don’t misspell anything. I have found numerous mistakes with your writing in the past, but I have never pointed them out to you because I consider it to be rude to do so.

    It’s obviously your blog and you can do what you want, but if you continue the way you have, you will lose people who honestly want to better understand Korean culture in the same way that Kobe Bryant’s attitude has turned many away from basketball. Worse, you will get people to incorrectly jump to the conclusion that a majority of Korean-American men are arrogant buttheads. Please remember that some people have clinical social deficiencies and others are not quite as articulate or well-educated as you. Proper social adjustment, a good education, and a free-thinking articulate mind truly are a privileged combination in this world. My recommendation is that you be respectful to that fact. If you don’t like running this blog and are constantly angered by the questions, don’t do it. The Mexican usually tries to use lightheartedness and humor to get across his points. I feel sometimes that you are simply being mean.

    I hope you change your ways. If you don’t, you will lose this reader just like the NBA lost me years ago.

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  18. Robert, the Korean also swallows his tongue when it comes to elders -- but mostly out of Confucian reverence, actually.

    Abisola, you and Asian Americans are in different places.

    Shawn, but we are NOT just people living in a vacuum. We face different realities, and formulate different responses to them. The reason why this humble blog has been successful, in my estimation, is because I always, ALWAYS try to get the question down to the ground level and talk about the facts that led to a particular cultural development. At that level, most people understand why Korean culture is a certain way.

    And you raise a very good point. The Korean is planning to write a post about Koreans' self-stereotyping.

    J., white Americans are also at a different place from Asian Americans.

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  19. Chris,

    If you find yourself angry with my question, you are too sensitive. Get over it.

    Asian Americans constantly face the "No, where are you REALLY from?" question, with the clear implication that we cannot possibly be Americans. After dealing with that all our lives, we feel it is pretty fair to be annoyed and ask people to stop doing that, regardless of intentions.

    I married a Korean woman nearly six years ago. ... I have made it part of my personal responsibility to better understand her native language and culture ...

    The Korean seriously admires what you did. And it should be obvious that this post is not about calling a person like yourself a creep. If you felt that way, well, maybe you should take your own advice and get over yourself.

    It’s called practice, and if I don’t do it, I won’t get better. I’m not trying to impress you, so get over yourself.

    Please practice with someone who is willing to practice with you, not just any stranger whom you think speaks the language based on their skin color.

    I ... never consider any question to be stupid. To do so is absolutely childish, in my opinion.

    We disagree.

    There are reasons why people come to your blog. Mostly, people just want to clear up misunderstandings that they have.

    Right. And mostly, the Korean does not mock his questioners. He only does that for people who ask stupid questions.

    I have found numerous mistakes with your writing in the past, but I have never pointed them out to you because I consider it to be rude to do so.

    You shouldn't consider it that way. The Korean knows he makes mistakes all the time, and gives gushing gratitude every time people send him things to fix. (And that is quite often.) This is a personal thing -- if the Korean can write correctly after learning English at age 16, there is no excuse for a native Anglophone to write anything incorrectly.

    if you continue the way you have, you will lose people ... in the same way that Kobe Bryant’s attitude has turned many away from basketball.

    You mean the same Kobe Bryant who is the most popular athlete in America? The Korean will take that any day.

    Please remember that some people have clinical social deficiencies and others are not quite as articulate or well-educated as you.

    But not much education is needed to spell correctly or write with correct grammar.

    The Mexican usually tries to use lightheartedness and humor to get across his points. I feel sometimes that you are simply being mean.

    That's funny, because the Korean thinks the Mexican is so much meaner. Really, how often do I rip my questioners? Other than this particular post, I literally do it exactly once a year in the Best of the Worst series. I answer questions about toilets and food recipes just as sincerely as questions about racism and war. That's being mean?

    Chris, I like running my blog. I almost never get angry at any question. Even annoyance is relatively rare. It takes a truly creepy email like TF's one to get me going. I appreciate your readership, but I am not doing this for you.

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  20. Dear The Korean,

    In the most heterosexual no homo way possible, I love you. I have never before seen such an insightful and encompassing post about this issue. Likewise, I must tip my hat to Joanna for asking such an insightful and articulate question.

    I tried to think of some more commentary in response to your post, but it is just so utterly right on the money that anything I could possibly contribute to the discussion would be redundant.

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  21. I tutor English/writing at a small college in upstate New York and see a lot of Asian ESL students, many of whom are in their first year abroad. If I'm working with a female ESL student who I can safely guess is Korean (either by her name or if her essay is about Seoul, for example), at the end of the session I sometimes ask, "Do you mind if I ask, are you from Korea?" When she says, yes, I say something like, "I just got into watching Korean dramas and was hoping you could recommend some to me." This inevitably leads to a nice conversation about her favorite dramas and my favorite dramas.

    I may be wrong, but I haven't felt these women were at all offended or creeped out by me (I'm also a woman, btw) asking this. If anything, they seem to get a kick out of the idea that their writing tutor is totally into Korean dramas. I think they can tell that I'm just trying to be friendly and chat. One student said to me, "You're so serious when you're tutoring, but when you talk about Korean dramas your eyes get so bright!"

    I also think that since their spoken English is not yet great, they might be treated like idiots by a lot of the truly moronic population in our small town, so they appreciate when a native just wants to talk to them about "stuff" w/out caring about the language barrier. There hasn't been a single Korean ESL student whom I've asked about K-dramas tell me that she doesn't watch them, or indicate that she's not interested in them. I don't even bother to ask my male Korean students because I just can't see any men anywhere wanting to gab with me about Boys Over Flowers. Maybe that's part of the point--girls generally like to talk about cute guys and romance no matter the culture.

    Anyway, I think if a person can see that you're just genuinely interested in his or her culture or part of this culture, I don't think he or she will mind being asked about it. I think if I were from Memphis, Tennessee and was studying Korean in Seoul, my Korean tutor might mention Elvis, right? Maybe?

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  22. I love how (some) white people like to take an Asian-American gripe, apply it to their own situation and invoke a double standard. That shows me that they are open minded people who are so understanding. /sarcasm

    This post is probably one of my favorite posts so far...

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  23. Eugene,

    Well said. Let me try and dumb it down for white people who don't get it. Let's take for example "the n-word" used by racists toward black people.

    Now an "enlightened racially harmonious white person" might say "Well, if you call me cracker or white trash it really doesn't bother me that much." That's great, but those words do not have the historical basis and have not been used to brutalize the white race by an larger majority that oppressed them.

    A white person can empathize, but never truly understand what it is like for a black person to be called the "n-word", especially a child. Likewise, a white person can never understand what Asians and especially Asian-Americans experience with the "where are you from?" question.

    Maybe somewhere down the conversational line when talking to an Asian person, you can discuss culture and background. But when you lead with it, even in the most innocuous way, you are being racist. Even if you are trying to relate to them, even if they are appreciative and not offended, when your first topic of conversation to a Korean person is KOREAN dramas, you ARE NOT SEEING THE PERSON. You are seeing a KOREAN person. No matter how liberal and racially harmonious you think you are, even if your intentions are good, and you have no bigotry whatsoever, it doesn't matter. BECAUSE ALL YOU SEE IS THE COLOR OF THEIR SKIN.

    I've met several Korean-born Koreans, and shockingly enough I found plenty in common with them such as: love of soccer, drinking beer, spicy food, US Music artists, and US movies. Note how none of those things are specifically Korean. I know, what a shock! I can actually have a conversation with a Korean person without discussing their culture!

    Until you see them as PEOPLE first and KOREAN second, you will never truly be able to connect with them. That goes for anyone of any background that differs from your own.

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  24. absolutely understandable that repeated (annoying) questions are very irritating..

    But, on your blog header, it does seem to most people that they can ask away ANYTHING at all..so, I guess it's pretty much an open book for you to get repeated (annoying) questions.

    just a thought.

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  25. Michael R., Maybe that's fair, on some level of course I am recognizing that she is a Korean person as much as she's recognizing me as a white American person, as no one lives in a color-blind vacuum. But please don't call me racist--that's total bullshit. People should be allowed to be honestly and respectfully curious about each other without being labeled racist.

    Maybe since I'm an ESL writing tutor, it's more natural that discussions of language and writing lead into discussions of culture, I don't know. Yeah, I guess it would be weird if I were walking up to random Asian strangers in the library and demanding advice on Korean dramas!

    For the record, one of the students wanted to talk to me about American dramas as well. She brought up Prison Break, which she told me was popular in Korea. Then we talked about actors in both America and Korea. She was a school teacher in Korea and had been in plays there, and she had recently been cast in our college's play. The theater department is run by my husband, so we had a lot more to talk about than just Korean drama. But it was a start.

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  26. TK,



    I am with Abisola with this one.





    While I can understand the sensitiveness of being asked, especially for the minorities in the US, of our ethnic origins, I personally dont find it offensive when asked by a stranger or acquaintance of my ethnic background. You had a posted a blog noting that the US is the least racist country in the world, and you may have a valid point, but my friends who’ve traveled quite extensively throughout Europe and South America would disagree with your assertion. They had told me that Europe and South American are much for minority-friendly than the US. For example, my friend who was in Paris met an Ghanian who was born and raised in France, and the African had mentioned that he doesn’t consider himself African or Ghanian, he considers himself to be ‘French’, which is completely different from how the US defines race or ethnicity. Conversely, the US even subdivides Asians to a greater extent, whereby a certain ethnicity in Asia are divided into different categoriesof Asians, i.e. Pacific Islander.



    Back to the issue at hand.



    As heterogeneous as America is its beyond me as to why we cant openly talk about race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc. After all, that’s what makes the US such a great country. In other words, diversity is what makes this country great, not wealth or military. If anyone were to ask me of my ethnic origin I am always proud to say that I am Korean/American. Whether or not that questioner's intent was to “objectify” my race or ethnicity is really irrelevant. I am being asked a question based upon my physical characteristics, which isn't something that cant be ignored, therefore I am going to an ambassador to Korea and educate others whom may not be exposed to the other side of the world, sort of speak. With that said, race or ethnicity is only a sub-component of one-self, not the whole.

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  27. Its still hard for me to understand fully the offensiveness of being asked 'where are you from'. Being of mixed race, I'm usually assumed to be a speaker of Spanish. I've never been offended even though English and Korean are my native languages. I find it funny when asked, and just give them a quick summary of my family background.

    For the most part, I think people that do ask are truly curious about one's background. As Chris noted, "I ask these questions not to place them in some category, but rather to find out, along with other questions, more about them personally..".

    As far as the creepy yellow fever guys, is it just me, or are they really easy to spot in a crowd? ...and I'm not talking about when they're with their asian gf. They all seem to have that 'yellow fever' look to them.

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  28. *Clap Clap Clap* This is a great post AAK and it hits the nail right on the head.

    That letter from TF is really creepy, unfortunately in most situations that I've seen he is more the rule rather than the exception. What I've found has been that people like TF are very insecure, very controlling and usually have some self-loathing (i.e. White women are sluts, etc.). Now everything that you say is definitely true in terms of objectification but I feel that there a bit more. The closest thing that I can think of is a form of cultural imperialism where TF thinks that he is the civilized white man bringing fire (english, cultural harmony, etc.) to the natives. I'm special, I'm different from all the other white guys who have yellow fever. LOL. Rather than actually getting to know her he tries to short-cut his way into her pants by gaining a superficial understanding of Korea and Korean language. I'm sure that when they talk it's in English and that her English is much better than his Korean (a few words). Knowing about Korean culture and politics isn't that impressive either, it's called Google, Wikipedia and the English versions of Korean online newspapers. The unfortunately part about guys like him is that as soon as he feels that he isn't being treated like a white man rock star he'll move on to the next Asian girl because you know they all look the same. In general I think that's why he broke up with his old Korean American girlfriend and is now exclusively dating more "pure" Korean girls. Sickening.

    Finally I don't blame AAK at all for addressing TF's question in the manner that he has, to me the question starts to border on stalking. Rephrased a different way: "I only date Korean girls, me and my friend are infatuated with Korean girls, the less English they speak the better. AAK what can I do to lower their defenses so they don't think I'm a weirdo and I can get them into bed?" I really don't think this type of question is going to clear up misunderstandings about Korean culture.

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  29. Im afraid I must disagree with TK. I agree more with Chris. I don't want to take up too much room here so I made my own post.

    http://kaiwenboke.blogspot.com/2010/12/middle-ground.html

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  30. Blech! That TF guy in that email is a real creeper. Next time some dude tells me that they're a liberal, uber-progressive, multiculturalist with a big smile on his face, I'll have to think twice about what kind of crazy sh*t is really going on in his mind.

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  31. Shawn Hudson,

    Sure, but why then do my co-teachers and fellow staff members objectify themselves, by saying things like, "this is the Korean way to hold chopsticks." "This is what Koreans eat for great stamina." Etc.

    You're misunderstanding what it means to objectify a culture. Koreans do not objectify themselves when they say, "Koreans do this or that." You're looking too much at semantics and not intent. Those Korean teachers are just sharing an aspect of their culture. But people who objectify Koreans zoom in on their "Koreanness" to the exclusion of everything else. They can't see Koreans as just human beings with a Korean identity, but "representatives" of their culture. Just saying "Koreans do this or that" does not make it objectifying. It is the INTENT behind the statement that matters.

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  32. It is not the question "Where are you from?" that is offensive, but the intent behind it that can be. If one is asking it to know where someone can from, where they grew up, that is fine. But if one is asking it to "place" someone's ethnicity so that they can put them in a box, that is wrong and objectification. Just because you haven't experienced it in an offensive way does not mean that it can't be asked offensively. Your experience is not the default human experience and that is what I find so offensive about people who dismiss this concern. If you ask a question, have the tact and consideration to do so diplomatically.

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  33. Chris,

    To TK: I must say that I feel that you have become quite holier-than-thou. I have taught hundreds of people in various subjects and never consider any question to be stupid. To do so is absolutely childish, in my opinion.

    You came off as "holier-than-thou" in your response to TK. I think you would consider certain questions stupid like intrusive questions about your personal life or questions that stereotype your culture like "Why are all Americans fat?" Those questions are INHERENTLY offensive.

    To rip them apart on their less thoughtful questions or their misuse of the English language is just disrespectful.

    I think the TK is understanding of errors here and there. Just put some thought into your writing. Put forth some effort.

    Worse, you will get people to incorrectly jump to the conclusion that a majority of Korean-American men are arrogant buttheads.

    And people can make certain assumptions about white American men based on your reply. That is really unfair of you say that "The Korean" is responsible for any unfair assumptions people may make about Korean American men due to his blog. And really the whole point of his post is to address the unfair generalization that you support through your statement. Koreans are individuals just like everyone else.

    If you don’t like running this blog and are constantly angered by the questions, don’t do it.

    I don't think it's for you to say and he has a right not to get rude questions.

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  34. As for how different people may react to "where are you from?" question (given that there's no agenda involved behind the question), check out this Guardian online editorial piece from few months back, as well as the good, clean discussion in its comment section.

    The piece was actually a response to another authors' online editorial on the same matter. The authors are both Britons of mixed race, with one taking offence while other does not.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/09/race-ethnicity-multicultural-britain?showallcomments=true#comment-fold

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  35. I really liked this post! But reading it got me thinking... Why is it okay for Koreans and Korean-Americans to like or practice Korean culture, but not for the rest of us? If an American-born Korean-American suddenly wants to learn Korean to "get more in touch with their roots", that's not weird at all. But for someone like me... White, born to white parents, all that jazz, whatever... For me, it's considered totally weird. It's like I'm forever an outsider, and won't ever really be accepted in. I get that. I'm okay with it. But I just don't really see the difference! People from other countries come here all the time, asking to be accepted for who they are, not where they're from. Shouldn't it be the same for me? I like Korean culture. Does it really matter that I'm not Korean? I want to go teach English in Korea, I want to live there, learn the language, make friends and just make my life there. So does that mean I automatically have Yellow Fever, or...? I don't really know what I'm trying to say. I guess I just feel that if race and culture really should be two totally separate things (which I think they should), then we should be able to choose our culture, regardless of our race.

    Anyway, great post as always!

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  36. Oh, and that email from TF was absolutely horrifying. UGH.

    I think it's less about Yellow Fever specifically, and more about objectifying people based on race and gender in general. Which I think is what you were saying. Thanks again!

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  37. Is it actually true that you're "very annoyed by people who don't understand how to deal with Asian-Americans"? If so, I'm surprised that you've been able to live happily in the States for 13 years.

    To explain what I wrote above, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I'm an American living in a very small community in Jeollabuk-do (only white person in town). By your standards, people here "objectify" me all the time. Old people stare at me when I walk down the street. Random people approach me in public places, expecting a free English lesson. Little kids use banmal with me, believing that I don't know how rude that is. Some teachers, when talking about me in Korean, refer to me as "woneomin" rather than by my given name. And you know what? None of it really bothers me that much anymore. If I let all those things annoy me, my time in Korea would be very unhappy. Honestly, most Koreans have a lot more important things to worry about that than whether they're being politically correct when they deal with a white guy. I mean, how are they supposed to know that the typical native English teacher in Korea has already had 25 people tell them that they can use chopsticks well? They just think it's a compliment.

    Of course, I realize that my situation is quite a bit different than yours. America is your home. Korea is not mine. If I get too frustrated with it, I can just catch the next flight out of Incheon.

    With that said, you should also remember that a lot of Americans grow up in communities that aren't much more ethnically diverse than the average city in Korea. (My mom is from a ranching town in western Wyoming. Believe me, it makes Jeonju look like Berkeley when it comes to diversity.) Can you really expect someone to know that it's rude to ask an Asian-American "where they're from" if they've never met one?

    If there's a point to this, I guess it's that sometimes you need to give people the benefit of the doubt. That's just my two cents, though. Take it for what it's worth.

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  38. sweetiebird,

    Also a big difference between Asians from Asia, and Asian Americans. For Asian Americans, America is the only home we have ever known. And it is insulting to be insinuated otherwise.

    chonnom,

    But it is annoying to be automatically assumed that we are representatives of the culture that we are perceived to have.

    J.B.

    Of course, I realize that my situation is quite a bit different than yours. America is your home. Korea is not mine.

    You got it exactly right. The Korean thinks that makes all the difference in the world.

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  39. TK -- you said: For Asian Americans, America is the only home we have ever known. And it is insulting to be insinuated otherwise. I totally understand that. We adopted an infant girl from China 7 years ago, and it's akin to her classmates asking her "where are your real parents?" We prepared her from the beginning that she will probably be asked this question by other children (whom we clearly give the benefit of the doubt because they are children and don't know any better). We just told her to say that she has biological parents and foster parents in China, but that we (Mom and Dad) are her "real" parents. She is proud that she has all of these sets of parents, but of course she knows we are her "real" parents.

    When she gets older, the questions will probably change to: "Where are you from?" I hope she will just have a stock answer ready and not let it eat away at her. I think people can tell the difference between a genuine, nice person and an asshole pretty quickly in conversation. I've told her from age 3 that there are nice people and assholes from every culture, in every color, rich and poor, ugly and pretty, and just try not to let the assholes get to you while you seek out the nice people.

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  40. JB,

    I don't think the way that some South Koreans behave towards Americans in Korea justifies the way some Americans treat Asian-Americans.

    But yes, having grown up in Kentucky, the "Where are you from - No, where are you really from - Where's that - Are you Japanese" dialogue gets really, really old, really, really fast. And being adopted, it was usually coupled with "But where are your real parents?"

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  41. So basically, I'm never to ask an Asian American person where they are from?
    Yeah, that's not happening. If I want to know more about a person. I ask them where they are from. they can be from that nearest city, it's okay, whatever. They are trying to find common ground with the person. Finding about what they like or happen to have strong opinions about don't just surface within the first meeting. And besides, you are asking this in US. US is a pretty big country. They could be from anywhere.
    Honestly, I don't think what you hate is the question "Where are you from?" but rather the follow up question many ask "No really, where are you from?"
    Maybe it's just around me but people don't normally ask the follow up question unless a)have a notable accent or b) haven't answered. To which if you don't answer or brush them off, a lot of people won't bother to continue questioning.. well maybe not if they have a case of yellow fever or something.
    In the eyes of the questioner, she is no longer a person with real experience, real emotions -- she is an object, a representation of her ethnicity, a scale-model of "Asian-ness."
    Hmm normally when someone is asked where they're from it's an attempt at getting to know someone. That someone (before being asked) was someone with no real experience or emotion. They simply were a stranger.


    I do agree though that letter is creepy.

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  42. Re: Chris's "holier-than-thou" comment

    The Korean has always been semi-controversial and not worried about offending anyone. See this article in response to his dog-eating post last year:
    http://animalrightskorea.org/member-articles/dont-bother-to-ask-a-korean.html


    I agree that, to me, he comes across as more confrontational as of late because the topics he's been addressing hit closer to home for (what I'd guess are) a significant number of blog readers- i.e. the Korean education system > the American education system, people who are overly interested in Korean culture are creepy.

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  43. TK,

    I've been an avid ready of your fine blog for a number of years, and I've used many of your thoughts and proses noted on the blog to the "lesser knowns".

    I think, however, its time you take an advice from me.

    You should learn to take "things face value". While humans have lived on planet earth for millions of years, there has always been something thats constant throughout civilazation: war. While war has and is one of many darkside of our past and present times, that doesnt mean we cant learn from the past and strive for peace. Its same as racism where prejudism has always been part of human history, yet we can still strive for equality for all.

    Sure, "taking things face value" may insinuate that we should accept status quo, but all I am simply stating is that the world is imperfect, yet we can and should still strive for equality for all.

    Since you're an attorney who attempts to bring justices to the greater evils, you ought to know that sometimes the evil reigns against the innocent; therefore, justice doesnt always prevail. Its just how it is. It will make your life a lot easier if you choose to adopt my philisophy: Taking things "face value".

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  44. namemelydia ,

    I'm pretty sure the Korean has made it clear it's the second question. If you met an Asian American and asked "Where are you from?" and they say Detroit and you go "Oh cool I have an aunt that lives there." I doubt they'll be the least bit offended.

    If you instead go "Haha, no, I mean where are you reaaally from? China? Japan? Oooh Korea? I love SHINee!" Then that's different.

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  45. on the subject of yellow fever, here's a white dude (mike doughty of the band soul coughing,) on his end of it: http://www.mikedoughty.com/blog/archives/000801.html

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  46. Great post.

    As an Asian American, I think people who don't understand the frustration felt from the "Where are you (really) from?" question are fortunate enough to have not had to experience it. By "experience it," I don't mean once or twice, I mean a lifetime of "I'm from the California." not being an adequate enough answer.

    People are more than the place they are (really) from.

    If you meet someone for the first time and your first two questions are "Where are you from? No, where are you really from?" Maybe you need to consider that you see their race/skin color more than you see them as a person.

    And just to clarify, asking an Asian American where they are from is fine. It's the need to associate them with an Asian place that gets annoying.

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  47. Two points:

    1) I often say "Thank you" to people in their own language, regardless of their ethnicity/nationality - German, French, Vietnamese or whatever. This is a genuine attempt to convey the real meaning of the expression. It also works in reverse with me when my wife's family who don't speak my language at all thank me in it. Of course for you and other Americans regardless of ethnicity, English is your own language, so it's not quite the same. I have no intention of ceasing this practice, by the way.

    2) Worth noting is that while "TF" comes across as a yellow fever douche-bag for his part, his K-girl fetish object is equally a douche-baguette. If he likes the fractured English and doe-eyed childlike cuteness, what can she possibly be getting out of the relationship? My guess is: whatever the Asian female inverse of yellow fever is. Some kind of albinism related rash perhaps? Further to this point, she's also actively perpetuating those stereotypes which attract men like "TF". Then again maybe she really is just a naive little girl who needs a big strong white man to feed and clothe her and fight off bears. He may be a douche but he's certainly filling an existing niche, isn't he?

    As a bonus - I'm constantly patronized in the some similar fashion by Koreans for my knowledge of Korea, even though my wife, life partner, future mother of my children and center of my entire world is a Korean Korean. "Yes I can using chopsticks and yes I know the fucking kimchi!". Again I guess it's not really the same ballpark as subconscious ostracization by one's countrymen.

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  48. I think you guys who are complaining about being objectified in Korea are missing an important difference between Korea and America. That is, America is a multicultural nation with a long tradition of immigrantion, while Korea is a monocultural, former hermit kingdom.

    And for this reason, we can have differing expectations on how Koreans view foreign residents, and how Americans view other Americans who just happen to look different.

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  49. @Ryan
    I often say "Thank you" to people in their own language, regardless of their ethnicity/nationality - German, French, Vietnamese or whatever. This is a genuine attempt to convey the real meaning of the expression.


    This, regardless of your intent, is patronizing. Well, I guess that's a little bit too strong, but I guess it depends on where you are when you are doing it. If you meet someone in the U.S. in an English speaking environment, and hear them speaking English, OR you are already having a conversation in English, then to switch into their language for the one or two words you know conveys that you think of them as an "other" who is not normal and not like you. I find this all the time in Korea, where I'll be speaking in Korean to people, and they'll throw in an English "Thank you..." It doesn't make me feel good, but I also can't go apeshit over it, because I realize their intent. Have you ever considered that the people who show a favorable response to it actually might not like it?




    Point 2, I agree totally.


    "Yes I can using chopsticks and yes I know the fucking kimchi!".

    So, you know how it feels then, eh? Why defend a similar practice that other people have clearly expressed that they feel patronized over?

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  50. A lot of good discussion going on here.

    I like how so many contributors are polite and do their best to express balanced comments. I like Kai Wen's appeal for balance. I support Ryan's approach to thanking people in their own languages (as well as his attempt to balance the douche-factor in the discussion). I think Sweetie Bird's questioning of herself is commendable (as is her advice on assholes to her daughter).

    Personally, I think finding fault is easy and not always the best solution to a problem. Empathy is not as easy as understanding. Perhaps human nature is at fault, but I believe it's possible to overcome -- at least to some extent. All we need is awareness, and effort.

    It's certainly annoying to have to answer the same questions repeatedly. But I believe it's an opportunity. Why not enquire as to why they ask the question? Addressing the problem directly could reduce your tension and frustration. Also, the foot-in-mouth questioner could then possibly learn something and avoid chewing on shoe leather again in the future.

    Hopefully, blogs like this (and maybe mainstream media, someday) will help spread a bit of this kind of sensitivity and common sense.

    For example, when you see someone out of the ordinary (someone who appears different from the majority) and you feel a big dumb ASSuption bubbling up, just stop and think about how you'll deal with it. Maybe you could ask: "Are you from around here?" instead. Or, better yet, you could try to be subtle about bringing up the subject of ethnicity. Directing the conversation (and it should be during a conversation, not as an opener) towards culture and roots... and (of course) be ready to share your own.

    But, unfortunately, this kind of thing is going to keep happening as long as there is a majority that is curious about a minority and human nature ensures that people will keep making dumb assumptions and opening their ignorant mouths.

    I recommend looking into the concept of the Believing Game and Doubting Game that you can find in this PDF(which I found while reading the introduction to this book).

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  51. If, on meeting a stranger, I'm given the choice between talking about the weather, the prettiness of my shirt, or talking about being Korean-American, I will gladly choose the last option. With a stranger, the number of potential topics of conversation is extremely limited, so you take what you can get. A question regarding "where are you from" is a perfectly good ice-breaker, in my book.

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  52. Regarding the "Where are you from?" question...

    I guess it depends on what the person is really asking. If they are really asking "Which part of the U.S. are you from?" and this is known from context then by all means it's ok.

    If the context is not clear or the intent is to ask "Which Asian country do you have ancestral connection to?" as an icebreaker, then it's not ok.

    We can't say it's never appropriate to ask the question...

    Like, for example if many different people from around the U.S. are converging on L.A. for some kind of event, and it's clear that a good percentage of the people are not local, then the context dictates that you are asking which part of the U.S. the person came from.

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  53. As far as TF I think it is probably time I should give a defense for him. The letter to me sounded pretty comical, as I thought, this must be what for a philosopher in academia to fall in love. Yes, when it comes to this subject males will be in general males regardless of place or culture, and likewise for females, which is one of the points of the entry. For the one who goes overboard in placing thing in abstract concepts, he does it this way.

    When he comes to the idea of disillusionment with individualism and desire for something with communitarian it sounds like the furthest thing from what any normal person would say. Perhaps if someone told me, "you know sometimes I get that feeling from that Eagles song Desperado," one could feel a little more empathy. But I would probably say, I could relate, as I feel like settling down, I too have probably been a little more selective in girls. I would rather one a little more traditional, isn't so torn as to who she is, and has a high value on family. I could put up with a lot more if it was just going to be me and her, but I'm also looking for a mother for my, our, child.

    Also when it comes to finding someone and falling in love, there will always be objectification to some extent. The beloved will probably always be better than he or she is initially, until the relationship gets a lot more grounding in real life. But I would argue that the hope is the consolation of that time will lead to a strengthening of love and loyalty to get to the point where when you finally do have to deal with the real person and some of the desolation of coming down from that high your loyalty will give you the fortitude to stick to it, and keep the relationship growing.

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  54. Short of a white skinhead klan member asking me "where you from boy?", the vast majority of people that ask where I'm from did not have ill intent.

    When in California Asians ask me where I'm from because they're curious... I seem Asian but not quite. The white people in Kentucky I've met asked because they were curious and just wanted to know more about another culture.

    I really see nothing wrong with using "hello" or "thank you" in a language other then English. People do that to me all the time. At least in their mind they are trying to be sociable with other cultures.

    It all comes down to our perceived view of what their intent is and how we want to look at it.

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  55. If you live around deer, you know that bucks will do some pretty stupid and out of character things when it comes to breeding season. People will seem to do stupid things too when it comes to love.

    Maybe its just me, but if I was a female I don't know if I would really care to here TF's latest ideas of philosophy. Breaking things down into those concepts seems pretty far for what most normal people would do. It may be just as well to break him out from that he may need someone who is initially limited in her language. I would say for him to fall in love the best thing to do is to put the philosophy down. For me hes better off tempering it with some K-dramas.

    If TF has fallen in love with Korea with all the excitement of a child on Christmas excited, wonder, and surprise opening new presents. He can now find a new beloved culture, that one can spend one days comparing and contrasting. Yes, that can be pretty irritating to others, but maybe he found the right person. A person who loves Japan so much she considers herself half Japanese when she is not, can probably understand and deal with his obsession.

    Maybe the relationship for TF has be one akin to the Wizard of Oz. It may be a good thing to break from his old black and white, to enter the new color and wonder of Oz. It seems to me it would probably make him more human to break out of thinking everything in abstract concepts and to see things in a new light.

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  56. If anything once he goes on talking about his ranking order of nationalities, he probably for the first time in his letter makes me think, this is a person I might want to meet at the bar. Personally I find conversations about exactly what said and in what way is a legit to claim offense to be a bore. If you figure it out please send me the memo for me to maybe take a look at. Maybe once you can finish that up, you can move on to finding racism in all things like finding witches in a witch trial.

    I'm sorry if people offend you, but people have said things to offend me too. Frankly if I'm having a bad day, it can make it worse. If I am in a good mood, I blow it off. People are people, when I can I suffer fools gladly, mainly because they have to suffer me.

    Also just because one proposes a thesis such as liking the purity of his gf, does not mean the antithesis has to be true. If he finds impurities, he may still put up with them. If anything he may be far more irrational in his love, since he is overly rational in the rest of his life. That would probably be why I'd rather have a drink with him at the bar now.

    Yes I do question about how he may deal with her, once some of the luster comes off, but again I would say their is the indirect benefit of the communitarian idea he wrote about. He will need someone to tell him she is a person and not an ideal. She may be a doll, but she is still a woman. At least with a small community of people who will put up with him, he can vent his frustrations and someone can remind him, she is another person, and he needs to treat her and lover her as herself as a person.

    He may have some silly sounding ideas, but people do. The situation sounds fitting for a K-drama. One just hopes the hero and the lady develop and grow through their faults into a couple who can end up devoted, in love, and seeing the other as a person. Grandma or grandpa will be happy.

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  57. J Man, that's some spirited defense. It definitely made the Korean listen to Desperado about ten times. Great song.

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  58. This thread just shows that those who are open will listen and those who are close-minded will stick to their beliefs. Of course, our perception affects the way we see things. But some things are inherently offensive and people need to recognize that. Just because it doesn't bother you doesn't mean it can't affect someone else negatively. Not everyone has to think like you.

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  59. Eugene - that's spot on. As with most things, it's a spectrum. When I meet someone I make judgement calls as to how to interact with them, as does everyone. Some people just have poor judgement.

    My wife's grandma goes bananas when I speak Korean to her, she thinks it's hysterical. Do I walk up to an Australian born/bred person of Asian descent and bow deeply and say "Konnichiwaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!"? No. That would be patronising. Nor would I try to call you Yoo-jin if that's not the way you pronounced your name when we met.

    And yeah - it gets old to get the same questions over and over, but my answers are always the same... "Ah yeah... not very well though :)", and "Yeah I love kimchi! :)"

    I don't usually relegate someone to moron status for asking a question that I'm getting tired of hearing, I usually cut them some slack. And yeah, even though I'm being singled out by my physical appearance and asked certain questions... I get that its not the same.

    I always try to be sensitive that I'm a white dude in a predominantly white dude country and I'm not trying to rubbish what TK is saying, but he can sometimes come off as a little intolerant to cultural clumsiness or stupidity. He (and you) have probably copped enough shit to justify that I suppose.

    Rudeness can be relative sometimes and they say discretion is the better part of valour... so why not cut the next fool some slack, or at least educate him/her politely if you're offended?

    Again I realise that it doesn't relate whatsoever to minority equality, but for my part it is cute and cockle-warming, if a little awkward, when my brother-in-law or father-in-law proudly proclaims in English, as are their respective wonts, "Ryan... I miss you. I love you."

    Awwwwww... I love you too, man!

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  60. Sorry if I'm banging on here...

    Not to suggest to anyone how to act [proceeds to suggest how to act], but what about this:

    Whitey: "So where are you from?
    You: "Oh, I'm from LA."
    Whitey: "No, where are you really from?"
    You: "Ummm... my parents are Korean but I've lived in LA most of my life."
    Whitey: "Oh, cool."

    And that's the end of it, isn't it? If they keep on about it then they must be a bit of a social retard anyway, right? Is it out of line to suggest this would be a reasonable sort of conversation?


    I think I might have been harsh on the girl "TF" was dating too... there's probably an element of cultural conditioning in the way she acts too right? I forget the term for it but, feigned-cuteness is prolific in K-pop these days, at least the small amount I'm exposed to. Is it any wonder that the average Korean Korean girl might think it's normal to act in such a fashion? You have girl groups carrying on like a 10 year old might, followed right up by highly provocative booty shakes or pelvic thrusting.

    Also to be fair, my wife displays some degree of neoteny in behaviour and appearance and it does impact on our interactions and our expressions of affection. I wouldn't want her to try to become more western in the way she thinks or acts, because it's who she is and how she's grown up. It's placing the cart before the horse though to go talking about how you like a particular manner of behaviour, and particularly ethnicity, without regard to the individual. It's like saying straight faced to someone who's wife or mother has a large bust "You know, your wife/mum has some big-ass titties. Do you know how I can bag me a woman like that?", only with a racial element added in too!

    Anyway - this is a really interesting read.

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  61. I'm gonna give my point of view on this.

    1. I would really rather be asked than have someone assume "You're Chinese, huh!" That really bothers me, more than the "what are you?" (which is the worst thing to ask someone! Honestly!)

    2. TF = creeptastic

    3. I feel like this post isn't allowing for any curiousity, which just goes against the title of the post. I understand that for people who grew up in the states (myself included) can get annoyed when people are all like "where are you from?... No I mean where are you from originally?". It is rude when people do that. But when people ask the first question, or when they follow with a question more like "what is your heritage?" it should just be pegged as curiosity. Some people are just interested in heritage, especially with race being a big issue in the states. It's not something that is all that easy to overlook.

    Just putting that out there.

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  62. I'm gonna give my point of view on this.

    1. I would really rather be asked than have someone assume "You're Chinese, huh!" That really bothers me, more than the "what are you?" (which is the worst thing to ask someone! Honestly!)

    2. TF = creeptastic

    3. I feel like this post isn't allowing for any curiousity, which just goes against the title of the post. I understand that for people who grew up in the states (myself included) can get annoyed when people are all like "where are you from?... No I mean where are you from originally?". It is rude when people do that. But when people ask the first question, or when they follow with a question more like "what is your heritage?" it should just be pegged as curiosity. Some people are just interested in heritage, especially with race being a big issue in the states. It's not something that is all that easy to overlook.

    Just putting that out there.

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  65. I guess apologies are in order, as I have been humbled thanks to the comments on this blog. Though I don't think I have ever asked anything close to the, "Where are you really from?" questions, I now understand from the majority of non-whites commenting that asking anything related to where someone is from is racist (even if intended as where they currently live, as is sometimes the case). Though I do not personally feel that this qualifies as anything close to racism, but rather a curiosity to find commonality in my case, I have never lived in your shoes. Therefore, I apologize and will change my ways. I will replace my "where are you from" question with "where do you live."

    After reading the original post and all of the responses from American-minority respondents, I have determined that there is no perceived line between curiosity and racism when it comes to asking questions. Please realize this is not understood by the white majority. While TK and I disagree on whether there is such thing as a stupid question, I think we can all agree that there is such thing as a highly emotional and unhelpful answer.

    I understand your feeling of frustration to being asked the same questions over and again. Privately writing the askers off as racist and going underground will not help your cause, however. A couple people have suggested that if you are offended or annoyed with the questions, that you should try to educate those who ask you the questions you don't like. Please do so. Those of us asking the annoying questions do not intend to be racist or aggravating. I should hope this is obvious, but it does not seem so from the comments. Without your help, we will continue to be curious and come off to you as racist.

    TK: Really? Equating yourself and what you do to Kobe? Really? Just kidding.

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  67. A couple people have suggested that if you are offended or annoyed with the questions, that you should try to educate those who ask you the questions you don't like. Please do so.

    Unfortunately, that's a lot easier said than done. As you can see from the responses here, there are so many people who do this who are too set in their beliefs. If one of us were to try to "educate" them, they would become defensive and suddenly an argument would start. This is doubly terrible if you are in a group of people who weren't even in the conversation, but will see the one who was offended as overly sensitive, which could have disadvantages.

    The only people we would be able to "educate" effectively are those we are already close to... and it's kind of hard to get close to someone who originally wasn't educated about this in the first place.

    So simply confronting people on it in the first place isn't really the proper way to deal with it, as the person being educated will simply become more resolute in their will to ask the question and dismiss the educator as being an overly sensitive minority.

    Blog posts like this, however, have done a great amount of educating it seems. Sure TK got attacked left and right for stating his opinion, but this is in a situation of people that don't all know each other personally, and regardless of what we say in our little internet discussion, a seed has at least been planted in the minds of the reader to re-examine the situation. And that's really a lot more effective and less risky than a public showdown.

    If TK or I or anyone else had this discussion with a coworker or friend, then one or two persons would have heard it and it could make the situation very awkward. On this blog, possibly thousands have read about it and don't know TK, thus there's no need to feel awkward around him, because you don't encounter him in your daily life.

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  68. @Eugene (황유진)

    I agree that you should avoid getting into a discussion that would make you, or your working environment, uncomfortable. And, if someone comes out and asks the questions we're all talking about here, then it's quite reasonable to try to bring the issue to a conclusion as quickly and painlessly as possible.

    I am curious though. You say you think an argument would start if you tried to educate someone (about why the questions they ask about your heritage are so irritating). Why do you think this? Have you seen or experienced this? (And I'm genuinely asking here -- not just trying to catch oyu out.)

    Is there no way that you can imagine dealing with this issue directly without the costs outweighing the gains?

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  69. I am curious though. You say you think an argument would start if you tried to educate someone (about why the questions they ask about your heritage are so irritating).

    Maybe argument is a strong word. I should have qualified it with by saying it might lead to a "potential argument". Though I have seen arguments break out over this, usually they don't. Usually the asker and possibly others will feel awkward and defensive in front of the educator. But arguments still happen.


    Why do you think this? Have you seen or experienced this? (And I'm genuinely asking here -- not just trying to catch oyu out.)


    Yes. I've seen and experienced this. Usually when arguments break out, it's because both people have the same level of education, and/or a lot of alcohol is involved.

    Specifically my experience was with a Korean-American girl who made a remark about me being handsome thanks to being bi-racial. When I called her out and said that's akin to saying she was good at Math because she's Asian, she exploded, because I guess she, having been on the receiving end of patronizing questions all the time, couldn't accept that she herself was guilty of the same thing. Also it seemed like she thought I accused her of being racist, when all I did was point out that the way she worded her compliment was less than ideal.

    We didn't talk much after that.

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  70. Thanks for the answer -- I appreciate it.

    I think a lot of interactions benefit when both parties stick to more real, specific questions and comments. Speaking in generalisations and hypotheticals seems to be at the core of this whole issue.

    I understand people often resort to simplistic categorisations in order to cope with the complexity of the world. But when dealing with people, it's not usually the best approach to say things that are in essence: "You are X ethnicity (or some other label), therefore you have this quality." Or: "What ethnicity are you? I'd like to put you in the mental box I have made for people of your type."

    Oh, and alcohol often leads to impaired communication and less well-thought-out answers. I didn't think about situations like that when I asked my question.

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  72. I don't know. The response seemed to have an edge and be confrontational. Why not just say something to the effect that you'd like to be thought of handsome without it being attributed to race or dual race? And do it with a smile? I don't know what can be learned by turning people off.

    I hear you. However, far too many times, I've tried that approach and the people simply don't get it. They'll follow up the calm remark with something like "Oh no, but every halfie I've seen is really handsome, and you must have been a cute baby." or they will attempt to educate me that this particular combination or that particular one makes extra special looking people because celebrity xxx or celebrity yyy looks like this or that.

    You have to hit hard so they know what's going on. If you don't nothing will change. Hitting hard will at least get them to think about it, though it will make things awkward, but I feel like it's a sacrifice that I make so that the next person doesn't have to deal with the patronizing attitude.

    But generally the most intelligent people don't even bring that into the question... and admittedly a lot of "halfies" or whatever you want to call us buy into the idea and actually perpetuate the stereotype or whatever. But that's a post for another day.

    Hint to TK, if you ever want me to run a guest post called ask the half-Korean, I'm down.... but my answers will probably be far from typical. (Not sure if you get any questions pertaining to any mixed issue that you don't feel qualified to answer. If not, then don't worry about it.)

    I also think that Asians born in Korea and Japan are just as insistent in knowing your ethnicity/race just as much as white Americans. And why you don't speak any single Asian language.

    While that may be true, when talking about an Asian-American issue, what Asians in Asia do is irrelevant. That's specifically an expat in Asia issue, which definitely has depth and breadth, but is totally unrelated.

    Even if I concede the point and say it is related (even though it isn't), TK has called out Koreans in Korea as "racist" countless times, so it's not as if they're getting away scott free.

    Should America, which has had a huge head start on multiculturalism be the exception and example, or the status quo for countries first dealing with multiculturalism?

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  73. Thanks, for this. I can think of one time where I (a half black, half mexican college student) asked someone where they were from, in that ethnicity-seeking way... but I didn't think it was that bad at the time. We met at school and I introduced myself. She asked me where my last name came from (most people do. I find this unoffensive, by the way. Possibly one of the best ways of getting at someone's ethnicity), so I replied that I was half Nigerian, on my dad's side. She introduced herself, and I said, "Oh, that sounds Korean, is it?" To which she replied that it was, and asked me how I knew (my standard response for this is that I grew up in an Asian town and all my neighbors are Korean, Filipino, or Indonesian)... but I think I felt okay about it because it was pretty organic, and I didn't think it was creepy, since we had already discussed race (mine, before hers).

    One thing that I do find creepy though, is people's reactions when I tell them I'm learning Korean (all my friends growing up were Korean, and I've always loved the culture, ok. ITS NOT WEIRD.) Mostly, Koreans will ask me if it's hard for me, and non-koreans will throw out random phrases (usually "안녕하세요" or "하나, 둘, 셋, 넷") and then ask me about their pronunciation. Sorry, I'm the last person you want to ask. I'm pretty sure my Korean pronunciation is disgraceful. But I've had one person (a Joanna C, funnily enough) with whom I had the following conversation:

    JC: Wow, that's SO cool. I'm a neuro major so I don't have space to take a language... how is it?
    Me: It's really fun. I like that we learn about language as well as culture (by which I mean traditional dress, history, food/drink customs...)
    JC: Oh, no way! So, could you tell me what it is about Koreans that make all the men so hot?
    Me: Is that... a.. real question?
    JC: Of course! I figured it would have been something you learned. I mean, it's gotta be a genetic thing, right?

    Um.

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  74. Also, would like to clarify that by "Asian town" I meant "predominately Asian town in Southern California" not a town in Asia. Oops.

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  76. A thing that I find funny about all of this is something that I was taught in my level 2 Korean language course at the Korean Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Not that I have ever thought to use it, but they taught a conversational topic that included asking if someone were Korean. The class was taught by a Korean-American and is funded by the Korean government. It appears as if the Korean government doesn't want Korean-Americans to get too comfortable with other Americans.

    In all seriousness, and this particularly goes out to Eugene... please try. I would venture to say that nobody asking any of the hypothetical questions that have been brought up in this topic are trying to be racist, creepy, or mean. Rather, they are intended as curious and friendly questions, albeit misguided from your perspective. You only have a few choices in dealing with it:

    1) Attack them, which will likely have little or no positive impact;
    2) internally write them off as racist, do nothing about it and continue to have resentment toward others;
    3) understand their positive intentions and do nothing; or
    4) understand their positive intentions, get to know the person and improve their context.

    The choice is really yours.

    Thanks!

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  77. Objectification isn't just limited to ignorant Americans... When I worked in Korea quite a few of my native born coworkers would ask me if I'd ever made it with a black woman.

    When I responded in the negative, they'd invariably exclaim, "But it's like doing it with an animal! Don't you want to try it?!" Except "animal" would come out as "Eh-nee-mull" which is strange because we were all speaking Korean and they didn't use the Korean word for "animal".

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  78. Okay, at a risk of hijacking TK's blog again... (Sorry TK)

    @Audrey
    Who said these were Asians in Asia? I am an Asian American and I feel it is relevant as this happens in my encounters with Asians in the US. They like me are US citizens.

    I see. I guess I assumed that by saying "Asians born in Korea or Japan." that you meant Asians in Asia. You can disregard the rest of the reply that pertained to my incorrect assumption.

    But I wrote it because I incorrectly assumed you were trying to justify a situation in the U.S. by correlating it with a situation in Asia. I'm sorry for assuming.

    Even so, if it is Asians in the U.S. that do that to you, you can just follow up with.. "I'm American" or "I'm nth generation." If they don't get it, then I'm sure there are loads of other problems that they as 1st gens have to go through, so they can be given a pass.

    You trying to 'hit' someone back is a bit of an overreaction and vindictive.

    I said before that it only comes to this after the person doesn't get my more calm hints.

    Actually if I have to think of specific times where this kind of reaction happened, I can think of only two in the past 5 years. (If you remember, what started this conversation was when I talked about a specific example.)

    As a caveat to needing to "hit hard" as I less than eloquently put it, the person you're hitting has to be someone you at least care about a little bit, because if you didn't care, you'd just stop talking to them.

    Does that make sense?

    Better you react calmly and give people time to chew on what you said rather chewing on the fact they only think you're a condescending asshole.

    Jumping the gun a bit much aren't we?

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  79. @Chris

    ...they taught a conversational topic that included asking if someone were Korean. It appears as if the Korean government doesn't want Korean-Americans to get too comfortable with other Americans.


    I see what you're getting at, but perhaps the focus of the lesson was to get you to use vocabulary for countries?

    It also depends on which text you are using, most of the ones the government supports have the student in Korea, in which case it would make sense to ask other students where they are from. But then again, I don't really know.

    I think that expecting something coming from the Korean government to totally apply to Korean Americans is asking for too much at this point.

    I would venture to say that nobody asking any of the hypothetical questions that have been brought up in this topic are trying to be racist, creepy, or mean. Rather, they are intended as curious and friendly questions

    I think everyone participating here realizes that. Only a few of us actually seem to realize that it's patronizing. And we've started to disagree on the appropriate response it seems.

    Of the four you've listed, I like

    4) understand their positive intentions, get to know the person and improve their context.

    the best. But it's not like this is easy. How much time and how close do you have to be before telling someone that what they said when they first met you was patronizing and they should stop talking to people like that? Also, after investing all the time and energy getting to know someone, you could risk the whole relationship by bringing it up if the other person doesn't want to see things from a different perspective.

    So instead, let's go with this reaction..

    Subtly hint that what they said might be patronizing by turning in back on them... this can really be funny... see examples:

    Ask someone who asked where you are really from where they are really from.

    Tell the person who says you use chopsticks so well that they use forks expertly.

    Tell the person who says that your English is good (when it's native) that their English is also good.

    etc. etc.

    If they still don't get it, then up the ante a bit. Ask them to step aside and have a conversation about it calmly. Perhaps you could ask the person to meet you for lunch later if you don't want to deal with the problem immediately. But if you must deal with it immediately...

    Prepare for the defensive reaction, and reiterate that you're not calling the other person a racist... you're only suggesting that they reexamine the situation from something other than their own previous point of view.

    Hold your ground. If you're offended by what someone says, you don't need to apologize for being offended to placate the situation, unless you misunderstood what they said in the first place.

    Anyway, the fact that we've gone on about this for so long clearly proves my original point, which was that it's not easy to educate people that you know about how certain questions can be patronizing.

    The best thing to do is to make a popular blog and discuss it on there with people you have no obligation to, hopefully bringing opinions from all over the spectrum into the discussion.

    I think I've said all I can on the subject without going over the same points again. My replies to this particular discussion will be limited from here on.

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  80. Tell the person who says you use chopsticks so well that they use forks expertly.

    That's the best idea I've ever heard. Wonder why I hadn't thought of it before.

    I'm still going to go with the default though: "Oh... yeah, but not very well :)". Why? Because who really gives a rats arse?

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  82. By the sheer number of responses, this blog should be nominated as post of the year!!

    I was in Korea last month to visit my parents for three weeks. It was a blast walking around Seoul and other cities, especially in a cheap and clean public transportation system. What I remember the most was the people in Korea. This may come as a shock to many of you, but I believe its in due time: everyone had black hair, asian small eyes, and around 5ft 10 in height. In other words, just like success has a "look",so does Asians. Stop going into the BS.

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  83. Eugene, no worries. Civilized discussions are welcome in the comment section. And the Korean does have something relevant to mixed-heritage folks coming up relatively soon -- stay tuned.

    MC, that's an interesting idea for a poll. But for all-time number of pageviews, the post about Korean men on the right sidebar appears to remain as the top post of AAK! until the end of time.

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  84. Re: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Korean Men

    Isn't it noticably less creepy when a girl says she wants to know how to score Korean men than vice versa? Or is it just me?

    I wonder if that highlights some latent male chauvinism on my part.

    That post is interesting because the original post is crystal clear in it's message of Individualism, while the addendum, with the exceptions of points 2 and 5, indicts and summarily executes a massive portion of Korean men based on cultural stereo-types.

    Allow me to cherry pick the juicy bits:
    - Most Koreans are racist.
    - Korean men who marry SE Asian women via a broker do so because NO OTHER WOMAN WOULD MARRY THEM. Harsh not only to these Korean men but moreso to SE Asian women in general!
    - Many such Korean men's hobbies include beating their wives
    - "older Korean men are more likely to be racist, manipulative, and disrespectful to women", and if unmarried possible may have "something wrong with [them]"

    Ouch. That'll leave a mark! The addendum does read like sage advice to me though - interesting given the contrast to the earlier tone.

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  85. This isn't just Whitey Smith from Ameica, though. When I gave a short presentation in Japan about my travels and life in Korea, I immediately had a flood of questions from the Japanese students about Koreans' cosmetics use, how I "procured" a Korean boyfriend, and then a long, long explanation about why Korean boys are hotter than Japanese boys.

    It's a global thing. Everyone's got preconceptions that offend someone else, but it's not always meant maliciously. Like the Korean woman who tried to rub the black off my friend's skin. Not malicious, just... misplaced curiosity.

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  86. I immediately had a flood of questions from the Japanese students about Koreans' cosmetics use, how I "procured" a Korean boyfriend, and then a long, long explanation about why Korean boys are hotter than Japanese boys.

    Ah the beauty of post-Hallyu Japan. (Hanyuu buumu in Japanese).

    Pre 2002 or so, you wouldn't be hearing these types of things. You'd be hearing the exact opposite about Koreans from Japanese. You know, dirty, prone to crime, tiny eyed, dark, sneaky, irrational, greedy, etc.

    I guess having good stereotypes is better than having bad ones, but still...

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  88. Its not a big deal,

    White people who ask where the asian-american in question is from, just are fascinated about a faraway place that they will probably never get to visit.

    Its a complement, not something to get annoyed with

    You sound like the typical Korean who thinks all korean women are his personal property and as result you get annoyed with white men who date them.

    Yellow fever has many different contexts and definitions. How is it vile that a man particularly likes asian women. Its a personal preference.

    your use of the word "objectification" is truly vile and pseudo-intellectual. As I noted above most 'White Americans" are in wonder about Asia. It is the opposite of your so called "half-person' argument. Most white americans think of somebodies asianess as an extra -dimension or extra-person.

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  89. David,

    Its not a big deal,. . . . . . . . Its a complement, not something to get annoyed with

    Yes, because your worldview dictates how everyone should see and feel about things.

    You sound like the typical Korean who thinks all korean women are his personal property and as result you get annoyed with white men who date them.

    And you sound like someone who is taking this too personally. Probably because you yourself have yellow fever.

    Yellow fever has many different contexts and definitions. How is it vile that a man particularly likes asian women. Its a personal preference.

    He never said that liking Asian women was vile, but how one approached it.

    your use of the word "objectification" is truly vile and pseudo-intellectual.

    To you. Because you are offended by it. TheKorean's argument struck a nerve with you because you yourself have an Asian fetish. It is clear in your writing. Not just because you are dating a Korean woman.

    As I noted above most 'White Americans" are in wonder about Asia. It is the opposite of your so called "half-person' argument. Most white americans think of somebodies asianess as an extra -dimension or extra-person.

    Because you can speak for ALL white Americans.

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  90. @itissaid

    yes, because your worldview dictates how everyone should see and feel about things.


    I did not thrust my worldview onto you, You are attacking me because I see this differently from the Korean.

    And you sound like someone who is taking this too personally. Probably because you yourself have yellow fever.


    I am taking it personally, Just like you took my post personally. You didn't address what I said either. Dont reply without something substantial. I said: "You sound like the typical Korean who thinks all korean women are his personal property and as result you get annoyed with white men who date them." It is a personal matter and I suffer racists comments all the time because of it.

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  91. David,

    I said: "You sound like the typical Korean who thinks all korean women are his personal property and as result you get annoyed with white men who date them." It is a personal matter and I suffer racists comments all the time because of it.

    You stereotype all Koreans as one way yet take offense when TheKorean talks about only a segment of non-Korean men who date Korean women. That makes sense. Perfect sense.

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  92. I don't know what itissaid is attempting to accomplish by attacking David's character. That's definitely not the way to approach an serious discussion. It's best to attack the argument itself.

    That said, David's argument is pretty weak.



    Its not a big deal,

    White people who ask where the asian-american in question is from, just are fascinated about a faraway place that they will probably never get to visit.


    Any kind of fascination with East Asia is no excuse for seeing one's fellow citizen as a foreigner. It might not be a big deal to you or to some Asian-Americans, but to others, it is a big deal.


    Its a complement, not something to get annoyed with


    I don't see how asking someone where they are from in order to discern their ancestral origin is a compliment. It screams.. let me classify you, so that I can treat you as I treat all others from where I think you are from... even though that might not actually be the intent, that's what it is.



    You sound like the typical Korean who thinks all korean women are his personal property and as result you get annoyed with white men who date them.


    1. Most of the Asian people who are annoyed at certain aspects of interracial dating don't think of Asian women as personal property, that's a (weak) counter argument that those affected like to use, as it requires no evidence. Instead of trying to find out why some find it annoying, it's much easier to dismiss these people as racist chauvinists.

    2.That's not anywhere near "typical" for Koreans, either American or in Korea.

    3. If you were an avid reader of this blog, you would know that this isn't at all how TK (or at least how he wants to portray himself) feels about interracial dating.


    Yellow fever has many different contexts and definitions. How is it vile that a man particularly likes asian women. Its a personal preference.


    The preference itself isn't much of a problem. The problem is the reasons behind the preference. I don't want to go into detail defending or attacking interracial relationships, but I can see both sides of the argument, and these should be judged on an individual basis.

    But those in them seem to want to justify their relationship to AMs. The risk you take by interracial dating is that some AMs won't like it, and it's something you're just going to have to deal with. Why do you need justification from anyone if you are truly in love?


    your use of the word "objectification" is truly vile and pseudo-intellectual. As I noted above most 'White Americans" are in wonder about Asia.


    Great! Read a book! Travel! How is knowing that someone who was born and raised in Baton Rouge Louisiana has grandparents in Korea going to satiate this wonder?


    It is the opposite of your so called "half-person' argument. Most white americans think of somebodies asianess as an extra -dimension or extra-person.


    Whether it's half person, or extra person doesn't matter. The point is that the Asian person is being treated differently because of his or her race.

    Can't we just be normal?

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  93. Once again, Eugene has some good advice.

    But, I have a response to the last question:

    Normal? Yes, of course people should be treated as normal, regardless of race. But when you (visibly) belong to a minority group, there will always be some who treat you differently, are just more curious about you, or both.

    Some people are inarticulate, insensitive, or just plain rude about it. Others are simply racist. Still others can look beyond race... or at least pretend to because they've been taught good manners (e.g. Mother to child: "Don't stare, Billy. It's rude."). When people are subjected to staring, stupid questions, and gross stereotyping, of course they will feel frustrated. And not all will be able to take the high road every time this happens.

    Some here have mentioned feeling exasperation because they feel this should not be happening in contemporary America. Unforunately, issues of race, I believe, have not been dealt with effectively enough, and there's still some way to go to resolve them. As evidence, I remember reading in the book, Nurture Shock that, too often, simply placing children of different race in the same schools (and disouraging discussion of race) has been seen as the best way to teach them how to get along. The authors suggest that parents and schools need to encourage direct discussion of race.

    This aspect of etiquette (how to talk about race) in multicultural societies isn't dealt with enough. It needs to be brought out into the open, discussed, and taught better in schools.

    If you feel that someone 'should know better' than to ask where you are from, keep in mind that maybe they've never had the race talk. Until multicultural etiquette has been firmly established and adopted by the majority, expect (and prepare yourself for) more stupid questions.

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  94. Sorry, I was using "personal property" as hyperbole.
    The evidence is present in snide remarks, and unhappy mother in laws among many other things. Not all Koreans are like this, my point is it is prevalent and a problem. Not understanding interracial dating is ignorant and close-minded.

    I dont think of someone's national origin as classification. I feel it is part of the person in question.

    In a common conversation, I dont see how it is rude to ask an American Asian where they are from. It is going to come up sometime in the conversation. Though I can see a scenario where some ignoramus consistently asks all asians around him where they are from and tries to impress them with his asian knowledge because he is obsessed and suffers a bad case of yellow fever. I have a clear picture of this in my mind now. That would be annoying, Some may just be genuinely curious.

    In most cases its a non-issue unlike interracial dating.

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  95. *a non issue, except when the case is a completely arrogant person like I mentioned.

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  96. Not understanding interracial dating is ignorant and close-minded.

    Just because someone isn't supportive of it in every case doesn't mean that person doesn't understand it. In fact, I'd argue that they understand it more than those who are 100% for it or 100% against it.

    I dont think of someone's national origin as classification. I feel it is part of the person in question.

    It doesn't really matter what YOU think or feel about the question. It matters what the person you are asking thinks or feels.

    Anyway, if anyone here is hell bent on knowing the national origin of an Asian American, there are certainly more subtle ways to go about finding out than asking "Where are you from? No where are you REALLY from?"

    You could try:
    1. While getting someone's phone number, asking for their last name. You're really only screwed if they answer "Lee" or some entirely non-Asian name. If you can't discern national origin from family names, then learn.

    2. Carefully observe the person, and over the conversation, you'll be able to get it from context. If they are so much of a twinkie that you can't tell, then it probably wouldn't make much difference if you knew anyway. If they are "FOB" and you don't know, then you're an idiot.

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  97. Eugene

    It is simpler to just ask the person where they are from, as I said in a non-obnoxious way. What you are proposing is ridiculous.

    "Just because someone isn't supportive of it in every case doesn't mean that person doesn't understand it. In fact, I'd argue that they understand it more than those who are 100% for it or 100% against it"

    I said it is close-minded not to understand interracial-dating. I Think you are trying to say that someone who is not supportive of interracial dating may understand it better than, say I who knows it first hand. How can this be the case. I feel from your post that you are somewhat critical of interracial dating, when I voiced a real concern.

    The point of what I was saying is this: Interracial dating, particularly between an American and Korean is generally looked down upon. Thats the real issue. And it is the essence of my post. You havent addressed this and have plagued me with particulars. I know many asian-americans who dont give a dang if you ask them where they are from. That is my experience, and you may have a different one.

    I approached it from the perspective as a compliment and a genuine interest not something to get annoyed with (unless u ask just plain obnoxiously). I find this approach to be true with the many asian-americans that I know. Many of whom enjoy talking about their cultural heritage.

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  98. I am stressing two points and making distinctions

    1. Some people ask the question "where are you from , I means where are you REALLY from to an American-Asian in an obviously obnoxious, and yellow feverish way

    -my response: I would get annoyed too

    2. Some ask in a genuine way because they are interested.

    -this is how I feel.

    Sometimes the level of 'Americanization" dictates how one should ask the question 'where are you from." As this can sometimes be difficult and not so obvious. A simple question should do the trick.

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  99. Schplook, good points. I've got no issue with anything you said, but I'll respond to a few of them.

    Normal? Yes, of course people should be treated as normal, regardless of race. But when you (visibly) belong to a minority group, there will always be some who treat you differently, are just more curious about you, or both.

    Agreed, but we don't have to like it.


    If you feel that someone 'should know better' than to ask where you are from, keep in mind that maybe they've never had the race talk.


    Sure. And that's why we're having it here. Even so, we don't have to like it, and are justified in not wishing to converse with that person..

    In the end though, i guess it depends on how everyone wants to react to the conversation.. and in that regard, some people need to listen more, and others need to be more open to dialogue

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  100. Eugene,


    From your posts I can infer,

    1. Your name is Eugene Kim or Eugene Lee

    2. you are are a Korean American struggling with your identity. And thus you get upset at any questions about your heritage.

    3. you dislike interracial dating and you are totally against it and in some cases you have come to the defense of outright racists:


    "Just because someone isn't supportive of it in every case doesn't mean that person doesn't understand it. In fact, I'd argue that they understand it more than those who are 100% for it or 100% against it"


    By what means do they understand? Eugene really now?

    at one time you displayed your close-minded,racist, anti-liberal views in a particularly clear way:

    "Instead of trying to find out why some find it {interracial dating] annoying, it's much easier to dismiss these people as racist chauvinists."

    here you defend the stark racists that attack interracial daters. You trivialize their hate as mere "annoyances." When the evidence sights clear racism

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  101. David

    It is simpler to just ask the person where they are from, as I said in a non-obnoxious way. What you are proposing is ridiculous.

    No it isn't. I do it all the time. You're welcome to take whatever approach you want to the question, but if you don't get a favorable response, then it's not the other person's fault.

    I Think you are trying to say that someone who is not supportive of interracial dating may understand it better than, say I who knows it first hand. How can this be the case[?]

    That isn't what I said. I said that those who aren't supportive of it in every case probably understand it better than those who are either 100% against it or 100% for it.

    The reason why is because they look at it from an objective standpoint, realizing that in some cases it is totally okay, while in others, there are reasons to be concerned.

    That said, it's really not anyone's business what two consenting adults do other than the two people themselves.

    I feel from your post that you are somewhat critical of interracial dating, when I voiced a real concern. The point of what I was saying is this: Interracial dating, particularly between an American and Korean is generally looked down upon. Thats the real issue. And it is the essence of my post. You havent addressed this...


    What do you want me to address? Some people think it's okay, others don't, and some people think it's okay in some cases and not in others. Nothing I or you say in our internet discussion can change this.

    I'd have to ask you what it is you want. Do you want everyone to fall out of their chair and compliment you in your interracial relationship?

    Probably not... I think you'd rather that they just treat you both normally or leave you alone.

    Which brings us back to the original subject, that people want to just be treated normally, and for some, asking where they are from is patronizing.

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  102. eugene kim



    The reason why is because they look at it from an objective standpoint, realizing that in some cases it is totally okay, while in others, there are reasons to be concerned.


    From this post i also infer you are under the age of twenty. The outside stand point is no more objective than the inside stand point

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  103. David, it seems I've struck a cord.. haha....


    1. Your name is Eugene Kim or Eugene Lee


    Haha, wrong.. scroll up.


    2. you are are a Korean American struggling with your identity.
    Not totally correct, but I don't see what difference this makes. Again, if you must know... scroll up.


    And thus you get upset at any questions about your heritage.


    Not really. It all depends on who's asking and where the conversation up to that point has progressed to get to that point. Let's just say though that if I've met someone for the first time and all they can talk about is how much they like Korea or Korean food or "the culture" that the conversation ends up being pretty short.


    3. you dislike interracial dating and you are totally against it and in some cases you have come to the defense of outright racists:


    No, I'm not totally against it. In fact, you could say that every relationship I've ever been in including my marriage (current) has been somewhat interracial.


    By what means do they understand? Eugene really now?


    By what means? How about that they like to look at each relationship on an individual basis before making a judgement on it one way or another instead of saying that ALL of them are good or ALL of them are bad?


    at one time you displayed your close-minded,racist, anti-liberal views in a particularly clear way:

    "Instead of trying to find out why some find it {interracial dating] annoying, it's much easier to dismiss these people as racist chauvinists."


    You're only proving my point actually. You're not even trying to understand what I am saying, you're simply calling me a racist because you're not comfortable with what I have said.


    here you defend the stark racists that attack interracial daters. You trivialize their hate as mere "annoyances." When the evidence sights clear racism


    No, I am not defending racists. I'm merely suggesting that racism isn't the only reason that anyone wouldn't be overwhelmingly supportive of wm/af interracial dating.

    I am asking the question... why does this topic seem to strike such a nerve among Asian-Americans? Is it because some of them are racist? YES. Is it also because some of them have legitimate concerns? ALSO YES!

    Let me know if you want to have a real discussion on this. I've argued the point with those overwhelmingly for AND those overwhelmingly against. If you'd rather just make wrong assumptions about my character and misrepresent what I've said, then we really don't have much to talk about.

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  104. Interesting discussion. A lot is been discussed, though I'd like to add a few things.

    First of all it is important to understand that people around the world have relatively small perception on the world, simply because they live in a local community. Those asking because your skin color looks 'different' are not evil, they are simply seeing something that is different from what is the standard and ask about it. Ethnocentrism that is called.

    In that perspective I find the United States a place with a fascinating history. I traveled there last year (I'm from the Netherlands, living in Korea now, to clear that up) and I frequently had conversations in which I asked the question to white Americans what their ethnic background is. Most of them didn't even know. You could say it is strange that Americans use the terms African-American (or Afro-American) and Asian-American a lot, but never regard the white population as European-American. But it is understandable. A white majority settled and American immigrants mostly are people who more valued a new future than be loyal to their mother nation and its culture. They now were Americans, and these days most of those white Americans feel American and not something else. The white 'defectors' closed the old historybooks.

    I really believe history and cultural perception is very relevant to put a person in some perspective. That is exactly why a lot of people ask about where they are from as well as what their ethnic background is. Besides carrying your own collection of experience, you carry a lot of history that your parents passed to you unconsciously. In that sense I support everybody to learn more about your own and each others history, for better understanding of each other (peace and stuff..). Somewhat strange thing is that only 'you' Asian-Americans get this question and not the European-Americans.

    As some already said before you can make a difference by confronting them with the same question. Make them feel as much immigrant as you are, and use the term European-American as long as they use terms as Asian- and Afro-Americans.

    Holding up a mirror works well. Somebody mentioned the 'oh you use chopsticks well' example by saying back 'oh you use a fork well', I did that a few times in Korea. Usually they laugh and you need to explain that you are mentioning the same as they did. The same might be necessary for the white Americans. And not because they are fully stupid, they just live in an environment in which they never have been stimulated to think about it. They feel like they are the standard human being (even in the world sometimes...), and the reason is the lack of perception, the lack of historical knowledge which causes ethnocentric behavior, in this case frustrating Asian-Americans by ignorant questions. Don't be angry at the poor souls, but simply confront them clearly by behaving exactly the same and be genuinely interested in their backgrounds. And in their enthusiasm on your Asianness, be especially disappointed if they don't have a clue on their Europeanness.

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  105. Bas:

    Those are some very interesting points. As a "European-American", I would never be offended if someone asked about my family's heritage. I would personally see it as an interesting topic of conversation.

    The fact is, however, that most of us white Americans are "Euromutts." I personally have English, Irish, Scottish, German, French, Scandinavian, and Native American blood. I didn't figure all of that out until I was in my thirties and it took quite a bit of research.

    There is a distinct possibility that for most of us Euromutts, we are simply jealous and/or curious of those who have such a clear and understandable heritage for that one simple fact. I would venture a guess that we would be just as likely to ask the questions of origin to someone with a unique accent (English/Irish/Scottish/Australian/New Zealand, Austrian/German/Dutch, etc.) as those with a unique skin color.

    Bas - I'm sure you were asked of your origin when you traveled here. Were you offended or annoyed with it? If you became an American citizen, do you think it would change your view of the question?

    Thanks for your perspective!

    -Chris

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  106. Bas -- some interesting points. Especially, that we "carry a lot of history that [our] parents passed to [us] unconsciously."

    I started thinking about this more while reading Justice: What's the Right Thing to do? by Michael Sandel. Before that, I tended to dismiss the idea that people are responsible for the actions of their ancestors. Now, I'm inclined to believe it, but to what extent depends on the circumstances.

    What I feel more sure of now, is this: if we benefit from our ancestry, then we are responsible for the darker side of it, too. I believe it goes both ways (and in the present as well as the past) -- it's fair to criticise another's ancestors for the wrongs the committed, but you also have to admit the good. I don't think you can take one without the other.

    And Chris -- as a colonial myself, I feel much the same. Although, nowadays very few people can pick my accent except to say that it's not North American.

    As a New Zealander in Korea, I'm often asked questions about the Netherlands (after I've shared my nationality). There are some amusing mix ups, like at a bar just down the road called, "New Zealand's BBQ and Hof" which has a picture outside of a Dutch girl serving beer (much like this one). The Australians are occasionally met with similar confusion (like this one from the G20 [from here]).

    I'm also happy to discuss my mutty ancestry... I usually end up saying Western European, but my family name is a mix of southern Scottish/northern English.

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  107. Living in Korea, it's almost a daily thing to answer the question where I'm from. Understandable, as explained earlier, so not necessarily annoying. Not only here, but also when i was in multiculti New York it seemed a very common questions between Americans too. The tiring aspect here is that for Koreans they start mentioning some prejudices and clichés. In my case Americans especially like to reply with 'ohhh Amsterdam! Marijuana! So you smoke everyday! Red light district!' And then the stunned reaction if you tell them I never consumed any drugs... Also in Korea I don't like the overenthusiastic 'you're so handsome' odes from especially guys. But it's part of the deal. With my accent and non-American look I'd get the question in the States a lot too. Drawing all those stupid conclusions in the next reply can be tiring, if it's a decent conversation it can be good, even educative. And hey, some clichés are just true til some level. I am sure I have characteristics that are matching the profile of a Dutchman. Especially in a homogenic country as Korea, if someones Korean-Korean you can fill in that this person eats Kimchi and studies or works around 60 hours a week, because more than 90 percent does that. But not 90 percent of Dutch people smoke marijuana and lives next a tulip field with windmills in it. I'd be more impressed if somebody brings up a Dutch characteristic that applies to me.

    I think the main point in this topic is a racial issue; that white (and black, I read in the comments) Americans approach their fellow countrymen on skin color. The kimchi-guessing just doesn't apply in an immigrant society as the US - where most people are (racial) immigrant-Americans. Assuming a Korean-American eats Kimchi is as rude and stupid assuming a Afro-American run around in banana skirts in their free time. They (white Americans) don't see their own race as one of the races, but the main, the standard race and THAT is the problem. It's just a lack of self reflection an historical awareness. Being a relative minority that expanded later than the other racial groups, the Asian-Americans are the last one in the row of experiencing this problem the most, I don't think Afro-Americans are questioned that much in the same way as Asian-Americans are questioned.

    I really liked the comment on saying something in Swahili back to an Afro-American. In the same fashion, the Asian-Americans could do the same with using some German or Irish to a Euro-American (which is as absurd).

    I'm actually never offended because as I said, I don't believe those people try to do something bad to you, can you blame them for their narrow view? No, but you can help widening it up...

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  108. Holy crap, I typed quite a long post and I see it disappeared now..

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  109. It doesn't really matter what YOU think or feel about the question. It matters what the person you are asking thinks or feels.

    This is the chewy nougat center of the issue. Let's say I think my workmate would be pleasantly surprised if I told her that I think her breasts are a lovely shape and I'd like to slap them around my face for a while. After all, I'd be pleasantly surprised if she said the same thing about my hairy, hairy balls.

    Well, so is it my fault that she doesn't feel my comment is pleasing or appropriate? Yes. Yes it is.

    Swearing, much like sexual suggestion, is not offensive to me but potentially offensive to others.

    It's important to make a distinction between Korean Koreans (or other born and raised Asians) and Asian Americans who identify as American. They (the later) have the same right as every other American to be treated as an equal and not some kind of curiosity.

    On the flip side, Asian Americans: you do look different to whitey, so get used to the clumsy probing because it will never cease until the day you die. It's clearly human nature and white America would surely be one of the most tolerant groups of it on the planet. Disagree? Name somewhere more tolerant of foreigners than America.

    I'm Australian and believe me, my fellow Australian is on par with the middle class educated white American. I imagine Canadians and Brits to be likewise (who cares about New Zealanders).

    My (albeit limited) knowledge of other non-Anglo predominantly Caucasian countries is that the situation is similar. From my personal experiences, I'd be truly shocked to find a race more tolerant to other races than Caucasians. Feel free to rubbish this statement.

    So in summary:
    Whitey needs to learn not to probe too clumsily non-white Americans as to their ethnic heritage.
    Asian Americans need to get used to whitey doing exactly that.

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  110. As a counterpoint to the "supreme-cultural-sensitivity" issue, if I pay out on someone for something and they can't handle it, they are sometimes relegated to whiney-bitch status. For example, Schplook is a kiwi and hence nobody cares what he thinks, although through sheer coincidence most likely, he does have some good points.

    His two possible reactions to my statement of reality are to a) be offended (whiney-bitch option), and b) call me a dingo raping Kangaroo-fucker and get on with it.

    Some people should know better than to ask dumb questions and should get some cultural sensitivity. Some others should learn to get over themselves and their insecurities and have some tolerance for stupidity.

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  111. Ah, Ryan... the typical Australian. You didn't need to elaborate on "who cares about New Zealanders," I knew where you were coming from. ;)

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  112. @Chris

    As a "European-American", I would never be offended if someone asked about my family's heritage. I would personally see it as an interesting topic of conversation.

    That's because people already think of you as a "real American", and you know for sure that discussion of your family's heritage doesn't come from some strange fascination with Asia and doesn't make you feel like people are treating you like a foreigner in your own land.

    And like I might have mentioned before, you can't really take an Asian-American issue, apply it to a non-Asian-American population, and call it day.

    @Ryan

    Good posts!

    Whitey needs to learn not to probe too clumsily non-white Americans as to their ethnic heritage.


    No, Whitey needs to think about Asian heritage it in the same way he thinks of his white or black friends and their heritage... meaning thinking they are American before anything else unless otherwise specified.

    Asian Americans need to get used to whitey doing exactly that.


    We have. Whitey doesn't get the right to bitch about our reaction though. Haha.

    Wow, this thread is long.

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  113. Thank you for this post. The very worst example I've experienced is when I walked into a web design meeting with new clients, and the first five minutes revolved around a discussion about my facial features and where they originated :P My white bf (not a yellow fever creeper) still doesn't understand why I found that incredibly offensive. I might forward him this post, but judging from the reactions of people in the comments, he probably still won't understand.

    As far as the "where are you from" question, nowadays I tell people I'm from Kansas and then immediately tell them that my parents are from Vietnam, just to speed up the conversation.

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  114. Hey The Korean, I just wanted to say that I really appreciate this post and your entire blog in general! I came across it quite randomly a few days ago and I think the topics you address (are asked about) are very interesting!

    And regarding this post, I could not agree more, as I have been asked the same questions "what are you?" "where are you really from" time and time again. When I was in elementary and junior high school, it was mostly the racist ignorant white kids that would come up to me and pull back their eyes while asking me if I was Chinese or Japanese. They didn't know Korea even existed. Or they would seriously refer to me as "that Oriental girl". I remember I would be SO furious, but I was young, timid, outnumbered and didn't quite know how to retaliate.

    However the most recent episode I had with these dumb questions was actually about a week ago, when my 60+ year old supervisor at work (he was newly transferred, our old supervisor was moved to another section of the agency) asked me why my name was *****, because it was obviously an American/European name, and I am obviously of Asian descent. He asked me really nicely and then went on to tell me about an old coworker of his who was also Korean American, but was named Sasha. I couldn't believe what he'd just asked me, but I politely laughed it off and attempted to leave his office, when he also praised me for not having an "accent"......

    I then proceeded to tell him I was raised in the greater Seattle area my whole life and that although I am bilingual in both Korean and English, English was pretty much my first language, and that I had been an English Lit major while in university....and that's when he calmed the fuck down and attempted to explain to me that his great great grandfather was actually an immigrant from Sweden....although I couldn't give less of a fuck by that point.

    But there you have it. Many non-Asian Americans may try to justify that they are just trying to be friendly, but it really is annoying as fuck when they ask me where I'm reaaaally from. Why does it really matter? Obviously, if we were friends, or if you were someone that mattered or had a relationship of some kind with me, you would over time naturally come to know what I am...but to just ask a stranger, who you don't know or met for the first time, really isn't the smartest thing to do...

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  115. White folks: IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU. Seriously. I don't get the comment after comment after comment on this thread trying to justify your own actions and defending your right to sound annoying by asking folks where they are from. How about you learn from this post that a lot of second+gen Asian-Ams don't like being asked that and move the fuck on?

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  116. I can totally respect where the frustration is coming from, BUT I felt a little uneasy reading this post.

    I am a foreigner living/ teaching in Korea and I ALWAYS get asked: “Where are you from?” Also, while walking on the street Children shout “hi” or “hello” to me and then giggle and walk away. I COULD be frustrated/ angry about this (as “the Korean” seems to be in America), but I have accepted that it’s not disrespectful; people are simply curious/ interested.

    I understand that I was on born in Korea or that I have not been living here my entire life, so I am not “Korean”, but I think it is very similar. Koreans seem to be “obsessed’’ with Westerners; much more so than any of the “white Canadians” or “white Americans” who seem to be “obsessed” with Koreans.

    See, the thing is that North Americans are “obsessed” with other cultures because, well, we don’t have much of our own. Unless you are Native American, your ancestors (at some point) have immigrated to North America. So, in my opinion, we are not “obsessed”/ “creepy” about Asian cultures, we are simply interested…

    I admit that “the Korean” should not be receiving e-mails asking what one should say to his Korean girlfriend, and so on, BUT at the same time I just wanted to say that there is not just an “Asian fever” in North America… people (in general) want to learn about cultures other than their own.

    This post made me feel uneasy because people are always going to ask you silly/stupid questions (as a Canadian travelling in the USA, I got asked ridiculous questions or have had absurd statements directed towards me). Asking “where are you from” or asking what someone from you country would like is not something that is directed specifically towards Asians in North America; it is simply the *individual* asking the question. There is no anger necessary… one must accept that that is simply human nature (attraction to something/someone which if different than the individual in question).

    I don’t want to be offensive or anything of the sort (I hated reading some of the other comments from self entitled North Americans on this post). I just wanted to point out that it is not only Koreans who feel this way in North America…

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  117. Do I really want to open this up when the comment thread went for so long? I'd like to add a small blip although my experience is a minority of a minority opinion.

    I've gotten the question a lot. In the states, in Korea, anywhere I've happened to travel. I am pretty used to it and I don't think it will ever change. This is my reality.

    But I hope that some of you can at least see why I personally find it to be annoying.

    A: Where are you from?
    B: NY
    A: No where are you're parents from/ really from?
    B: My great-grandparents were from Lithuania. My birth parents are Korean.

    Is this all that bad? No...but we just met and the person has forced me to admit that my unknown parents were unable or unwilling to care for me.

    I imagine the annoyance factor would be similar to asking a person with divorced parents where said parents live. Well...my Mom lives in Texas and my Dad lives in Oklahoma. Now you know everything about me...do you feel enlightened? Are we going to be fast friends by knowing that my hypothetical parents divorced as the second thing you know after my name?

    Now repeat forever for, oh I don't know, at least 20-30% (maybe I'm lucky) of people you meet from kindergarten on through business meetings.

    Because of the nature of my answer not "simply" being an Asian country, most people are immediately uncomfortable/awkward or apologetic/intrigued. In either case, I didn't really want to tell the pretty woman or the new business contact that bit of information quite so quickly. It's hardly the most traumatic thing in my life, but I don't enjoy it.

    More annoying by far are accusations that I have "yellow fever" for spurning non-Korean girls. Because I'd like my children to be globally minded, but as much as possible have a single base race/ethnicity after all of the crap I've experienced directly due to a multi-racial family. But I digress...

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  118. I've been thinking about this article for months now, and it occurs to me that growing up in America, I was often asked what my ethnic background is (Italian on my Dad's side, French and Polish on my mother's side), especially as a kid. I was most recently asked this a few years ago by a co-worker. Since all of us Americans (minus Native Americans) came from other countries in the not-so-distant past, it is the kind of question many of us have heard or asked of each other in the past, so it doesn't feel like a "big deal." It's natural to be curious of how each other's families ended up in different parts of the U.S. It's definitely common dinner conversation. My Dad was just telling me the story of how his dad came to New York through Ellis Island (from southern Italy) when he was a ten-year-old boy. My husband's family first came here after escaping Nazi Germany.

    That said, I am understanding through this discussion that these (however innocently motivated) inquiries may hurt feelings or ruffle feathers, and that makes sense, too. Just trying to add to the discussion in order to understand the issue more fully.

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  119. "Here is another example that the Korean wrote:

    Do not say "gonnichiwa" to an Asian person in America ... On second thought, don't say any Asian phrase to any Asian person, unless you are at least conversational in the language. It's the 21st century, people. We are no longer impressed by your amazing ability to say "hello"."

    Well, in Korea they do. Anytime I say just "안녕하세요", they look really impressed and say "Oh, you speak Korean very well!!!" Doesn't only happen to me, though. That might be a different issue, but I had to mention it when I read what I quoted above.

    And well, sometimes the Koreans too seem to make too quick conclusions about us "whites" as well. (I don't like the term "white" though, we're all shades of brown.) But well, it all depends from person to person.

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  120. It all comes down to RESPECT. Yellow Fever occurs because of a lack of respect (to treat others as something less than, or not fully human). Misunderstandings and differences are inevitable. Just put forth the effort to understand different perspectives and not insist that you're always right. Be willing to listen instead of simply stating what you think.

    @Dac X Lee

    No, Koreans are not truly impressed. They're just being nice. A lot of Koreans simply like it when people who aren't Korean say Korean words. Would you truly be impressed when someone from Africa said "hello?". Most likely not. It's incredibly easy to greet someone in almost any language. As for why Asian Americans are not impressed, it's because White Americans have said it a bunch of times, so it gets old really quick. Saying "you guys do it too" avoids the point of this topic. The history of the US and Korea are completely different. Korea does not have a long history of objectifying white women. Nor has White Americans ever been systematically disadvantaged in Korean society due to their race as Asians have in the US. To compare the two as if they're the same is both inaccurate and dishonest.

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  121. Suhn, that's like saying that obsession with coffee comes from a lack of respect for tea. We all have favorite colors, accents, scents, tastes, and styles. There are real creepo people who will only date Asians or Asian-Americans, and then there are those who simply like certain aspects of them to the extent that people of other ethnic groups are unable to keep their romantic attention to the same degree. I don't think that second group should be labeled disrespectful just because they prefer Asians. I know people who have all kinds of racial preferences that are fairly rigid, but it doesn't keep them from being respectful and still individually evaluating people for who they are within the ethnic group of their choice.

    Speaking to the "hello in native language" conversation... I was stationed in Japan for two years, and people enjoyed the fact that I wanted to be able to converse in their language. I got compliments on my pronunciation from many people, and we ended up being acquaintances for my 2.5 years there. One invited to the bar that he owned, and I skateboarded with several others. The coffee house girls would come over and talk when the shop was empty, and it wasn't like I was sitting right in front of them asking for conversation. All of this started with "Ohayo gozaimasu," or "Konban wa," etc.

    So, I think the context of how you USE the "language introduction" is important. People aren't complete idiots... they figure out whether you're just looking for a reaction or whether you are actually trying to respect and learn their culture, and they really DO appreciate that latter bit. Japan's not Korea, but when I went to Pusan one of the girls selling grilled meat sticks ended up calling two of her friends, and those friends took my liberty buddy and I around the city all day long. They showed us so much cool stuff, had tons of fun (Especially at the garguantuan mall and Hollywood Stars) and it all started with saying hello. Of course the conversation went all over the place from there, and after 30 minutes of the three of us getting to know one another a little bit, she asked us what we were going to do for the day, at which point she called her friends.

    My point is this: I think that the emphasis here should be on developing true human interests, not necessarily on avoiding certain conversation openers. This has gone well for me in every country I have been to, on three continents, and I know that this is what both you and The Korean are saying, but perhaps adding that small clarification would help round out the issue.

    The Korean: Absolutely fantastic blog you have going here. It's both hilarious, informative, and (I think) represents you as a good critical thinker who is at least as connected to the human side of life as to the academic side. It is nice to read the words of someone who is passionate about people treating other people like PEOPLE, and not just these walking dolls that pass through their life. I hope your blog continues to grow in popularity!

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