Eliot Chang’s list of things Asians hate


Comments (54)
  1. Geoff says:

    Funny how this happens the exact opposite way when someone has an Irish ancestor somewhere within the last n generations:

    "I'm Irish."

    "Oh, which part of Ireland are you from?"

    "No, I'm not actually from there."

    "Oh, your parents are?"

    "Well, no…"

    …and so on for n iterations.

  2. Brian_EE says:

    Of course, if you didn't have the "social skills of a thermonuclear device", I'm sure somewhere you might have asked "Do you mean to ask me what my ancestral heritage is?"

  3. John Bennett says:

    Man, that guy has a lot of different clothes. Is that an Asian thing?

  4. Minos says:

    My sister in law has a blunt but hilarious response to that line of questioning.  "Oh!  You mean, 'Why am I brown?'"

  5. Brian_EE says:

    "Do you only watch YouTube videos made by other Asians?"

  6. John Doe says:

    The "American" term is ambiguous (i.e. context sensitive). In English, we assume it's someone natural from the USA, but there are americans outside the USA.

    Since there are also north-americans outside the USA, a more appropriate term is "US American". I don't like "United Statesian" or "USian" at all, because they sound bad and because there are other countries that are united states.

    In essence, avoid using just "American" in new writings, and "national" too, out of context. For instance, ANSI (abbreviation) fails both of these assertions if you're not from or in the USA.

    [I typically avoid the word "American" for the reasons you gave, but I made an exception in this case. -Raymond]
  7. Rick C says:

    Given that there are perfectly cromulent terms for North Americans who aren't from the US (i.e., Canadian and Mexican) it's always struck me as slightly pretentious to complain about calling people from the US American.  There's no functional ambiguity there.

    [Um, what about Central America and South America? They're Americans too. -Raymond]
  8. dave says:

    Hilarious.

    Though not Asian, I like to think I come from the Far East too:

    en.wikipedia.org/…/File:East_Anglia_UK_Locator_Map.svg

  9. John Doe says:

    @Rick C, I don't follow your thought, so it's fine to call a USA North American simply American? You must have missed "North" in your punch line. As for ambiguity, if you're from or in an English speaking country, I agree. Otherwise, note that there might be ambiguity.

    Nitpicking apart, the USA is not the entire North America, so the slight pretension, even if unconscious, is on the side of who calls a US American a North American.

    For instance, a tornado that affects both Canada and the USA, or both the USA and Mexico, affects north americans outside the USA. If you read the news saying "X north americans died, Y were severely injured", which way do you understand "north americans"? If it's a US American or British news network, I know with 99% certainty it's US Americans they're talking about. If it's a French or Qatari news network, I'm at 50% chance if it's either US Americans or all of Canadians, US Americas and Mexicans, even though the network broadcasts in English.

    But I digress, please excuse me.

  10. Adrian Ratnapala says:

    There "where are you from" stuff is pretty harsh.  People do tend have heritages that they are proud of, and I don't mind if people are inquisitive about mine.  It's a lot more polite than just assuming that I'm Indian.

    [This was not in a "getting to know you" social situation. It was a service droid, who really has no business asking. -Raymond]
  11. JJJ says:

    I'm with @Rick C.  United States of America was shortened to America because it's a mouthful to say, and the the people who live there are thus Americans.  When you say American, you are, whether you like it or not, using the abreviated form that means the people of the United States (of America).  If you want to refer to all people on continents or regions, then it's North American, Central American, or South American.  If you want to be more specific, then you use a country name (i.e., Brazilian, Peruvian, Canadian, etc.), knowing that American is reserved for the USA.

    There's no term that encompases people of both western continents that I know of.  If there is, it's not "American".  If it used to be "American", then it's not anymore.  Deal with it.

  12. Rob says:

    Being biracial (half Thai/half white), I can so relate to this.

  13. Joshua says:

    [This was not in a "getting to know you" social situation. It was a service droid, who really has no business asking. -Raymond]

    Related incident:

    survey droid: What is your race?

    Me: Human.

    survey droid: [gets upset]

    Me: Would you really rather I say elf?

  14. David Walker says:

    The comedian Henry Cho has a funny riff on exactly this subject.  He was born in Tennessee, USA, and has a southern accent, and speaks only English (Southern American-style).  http://www.youtube.com/watch

    [And the comments to the video have somehow become an argument about evolution. Welcome to the Internet. -Raymond]
  15. Brian_EE says:

    @JJJ: "There's no term that encompases people of both western continents that I know of."

    I believe that's "Western Hemispherians".

  16. davep says:

    The "American is ambiguous" argument is a "prescriptivist" language-usage one. The problem with the "prescriptivism" is that the "rules" that prescritivists argue are often not real rules don't completely describe how the language is actually used.

    The following is an informative blog about these sorts of things.

    languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll

  17. davep says:

    It's also interesting that people haven't pointed out that "Asian" has the same sort of problems (actually worse) "American" supposedly has.

  18. Jimmy says:

    Why do we need a term "American" for "from north or south america"? Is there a similar term for "Eurasiafrican"? I'm trying to figure out what kind of ambiguity "American = from USA" resolves, other than an insinuation that non-USA is not "true America". Luckily for us, "North American" and "South American" have the appropriate meaning, since we, like most reasonable people, aren't intentionally trying to be misleading.

  19. Eric Hamilton says:

    I, a white blond Caucasian, have a similar problem. When the same type of people that ask where you are from, they do the same with me and I answer the same way that you do "I am an American". They get all weird and say "Where are your parents from?" and other similar questions. I finally shut the up by telling them that "I am Adopted. I AM AN AMERICAN." So far that has always worked.

  20. Rick C says:

    [Um, what about Central America and South America? They're Americans too. -Raymond]

    True.  And yet each of them has a country with an unambiguous name, right?

    "X north americans died, Y were severely injured", which way do you understand "north americans"?

    If you say "North Americans," as opposed to "Americans," in the absence of additional context, I would interpret that to be a group of people that may include people from the US, Canada, and/or Mexico–see my further comment directly below your next quote.

    "the slight pretension, even if unconscious, is on the side of who calls a US American a North American."

    Actually, I've never heard anyone call a person from the US, "North American."  The common term is "American," although yes, I realize that increases the theoretical ambiguity from 3 countries to 20+.

    Honestly, I don't see why people–and generally it's non-Americans in the sense I use the word–make such a big deal about it.  Yes, it's not a perfect term, but it's well-understood in context, and it's not intended to be any kind of slight against people who aren't from the US.  There's no hidden American bigotry against Canadians, for example, by people from the US calling themselves a Americans, not USians or any of the other generally ridiculous terms you hear.

    I'm not sure there are any good parallels, except, perhaps, that we called Russian people Russians during the tenure of the USSR, and not USSRians, because, like USians, it's an unwieldy word.

    "It's also interesting that people haven't pointed out that "Asian" has the same sort of problems (actually worse) "American" supposedly has."

    When I hear that term I try not to assume anything further about which country is being talked about, because never mind the ambiguity of Chinese/Japanese/Koreans/etc, you've also got to fit in Pacific Islanders, Indians, and so on.  If it mattered, I would ask someone what their ethnicity is (which neatly obviates the form of conversation Raymond mentioned that started all this.

  21. Big on top says:

    How dare they call themselves american? It's not even the largest country on the AMERICAN continent.

  22. Zhila says:

    Technically, the name of the country is America (United States being a description of the country named America).  The United States of America is a long name (though not the full name, which, if I'm not mistaken, is The Constitutional Federal Republic of the United States of America).  Just like the long name of Mexico is actually the United States of Mexico (los Estados Unidos de Mexico).  It just so happens that the country America has a similar name to it's containing continent (North America), and the same name as it's containing supercontinent (America).  Thus, the term "American" can correctly be used to either refer to someone from the country of that name, or the supercontinent of that name.  Yet, America seems to be the only one people have problems with.  Nobody seems to have an issue with the country called Australia contained within the continent called Australia, which also contains Tasmania, New Guinea, and Seram.

  23. Moz says:

    Actually Jeff, Hawaii is a conquered territory in a way that Tasmania really isn't – there's no Tasmanian nationalist movement that I'm aware of. The genocide may explain that, for which I suspect the Hawa'iians are appropriately grateful. But yeah, the Torres Strait Islands are only loosely part of Australia, and with places like Christmas Island it depends on who you ask (go on, ask our Immigration Department whether that island is part of Australia).

    Raymond, while having a gaysian housemate I coined the term "fasian", for fake-asians who look asian but are really merkin (or strayn, or whatever). When I read your comments about  from New Jersey I said to my partner "see, other antisocial geeks do that too, it's not just me". When people ask where she's from I say "Cabramatta" (a suburb of Sydney, Australia). Just because she visited Thailand once in her early 20's doesn't make her Thai, any more than visiting Scotland would make me Scottish (or, for that matter, visiting Thailand made me Thai).

  24. davep says:

    Big on top 23 Jan 2013 1:40 PM # "How dare they call themselves american? It's not even the largest country on the AMERICAN continent."

    There is no "American" continent.

  25. davep says:

    Zhila 23 Jan 2013 2:14 PM # "Technically, the name of the country is America (United States being a description of the country named America).  The United States of America is a long name (though not the full name, which, if I'm not mistaken, is The Constitutional Federal Republic of the United States of America)."

    ???

    memory.loc.gov/…/ampage

    "The Style of this Confederacy shall be, 'The United States of America.'"

    Though, "United States" is frequently used "officially".

  26. @rick C

    Spanish speakers in the Americas (particularly Mexico) often use the term "norteamericano" to refer to US Americans.  Which is somewhat amusing because Mexicans themselves are "North Americans"

  27. Falcon says:

    (PROFANITY WARNING)

    @Geoff: Comedian Russell Peters on "Irish" people in the USA:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch

  28. Mike says:

    Not a big deal really but I've had some confusion mild frustration when I was living in Germany (and have a friend that moved to the UK with the same attitude). Sometimes people ask where in the US I'm from and I tell them I'm Canadian an they'd reply "oh, same difference". This was during the Bush years which I definitely didn't want to be associated with the policies of the US.

    My friend in the UK told a lady in a grocery store (very awkward kind of asking like in this video, she pretty much came up to him and said "You aren't from here. Where in the US are you from?". She wasn't even a servant droid she was just some random lady in the grocery store that heard him talk and felt it was her duty to figure out where all foreigners come from. He said he was from Toronto. She said "Oh I have a cousin Tom living in the Cayman Islands". To her all of the Americas was ~= to US. Essentially you are from somewhere west of here with a funny accent, close enough.

  29. Gabe says:

    Moz: Do you actually know what the term "merkin" means? If you don't, I rather suggest not looking it up.

    When I'm in Canada and people ask where I'm from, I try to say "I'm from the States", in an effort to not sound arrogant. Sometimes I slip and say that I'm American, then apologize, but generally people tell me that they understood.

    Is it wrong that I refer to anybody from Asia as Asians? Even Indians, Siberians, and some Caucasians? Also, is it wrong that I refer to anybody from the Caucasus region as Caucasian?

  30. LJ says:

    It is very unusual to hear the term North American being used to describe the people from Mexico, USA and Canada. Mexico is normally grouped with Central and South America and called Latin America. It makes more sense to group countries this way because they are culturally closer.

    So there is no problem with calling citizens of USA ‘Americans’, and people from US and Canada ‘North Americans’. There are not a lot of cases in which you need to refer to all the inhabitants of the supercontinent as Americans, and not a lot of people will take any offence.

  31. Evan says:

    @davep: "It's also interesting that people haven't pointed out that "Asian" has the same sort of problems (actually worse) "American" supposedly has."

    I disagree, because "Asian" doesn't in practice refer to anything close to a single country, as Rick C says. You might have an argument that in practice it often only refers to certain mainland countries (and in particular, excludes India), but to me it very naturally still includes the Koreas, Japan, China, Hong Kong, and the Vietnam peninsula. There's a *ton* of variation between those countries and their peoples; even with as much diversity as the US has, it's still not even close.

    @Big on top: "How dare they call themselves american? It's not even the largest country on the AMERICAN continent."

    It's by far the most *populus*, and since we're talking about people that's what is natural to use instead of land mass. If you exclude Brazil, the US has almost three times the population of any other country in the Americas, and with Brazil has slightly more than 1/3 of the total population of the continent(s) (according to Wikipedia).

  32. Jeff says:

    Um, continental Australia does not contain Tasmania, New Guinea or Seram.

    Tasmania, despite being an island off the coast of the continent, *is* part of the country of Australia in the same manner as Hawaii.

    New Guinea is not any part of Australia.

    Seram (according to Wikipedia) is part of Indonesia.

  33. TC says:

    One more: "Why do you teach Spanish?"

  34. Neil says:

    Presumably the service 'droid gave their ethnicity as "robot".

  35. Priorities says:

    The USA so styled itself while the rest of the American continents was known to European languages by other names. Custom therefore settled the matter long ago.

  36. Also says:

    The "ABC" daughter of a co-worker (from Maryland, and before that Texas) wrote on a college application essay about some some class she'd taken on Asian culture. My marginal note was that Asia is a pretty big continent, and perhaps the expression "Asian culture" could use some clarification.

  37. SMW says:

    Use the word Usonian in place of US-Americans; makes people really confused.  en.wikipedia.org/…/Usonian

  38. RP783 says:

    John Doe's example is interesting, but I think he has it wrong.

    "For instance, a tornado that affects both Canada and the USA, or both the USA and Mexico, affects north americans outside the USA. If you read the news saying "X north americans died, Y were severely injured", which way do you understand "north americans"? If it's a US American or British news network, I know with 99% certainty it's US Americans they're talking about."

    For my part (as a Brit) if I heard a British news network say "American" (without the "north") in this context, I'd be 99% sure it meant US citizens.  But if it said "North Americans" then I would be 99% sure that some of the people included in the figure were non-US.  In the context of a US/Canada tornado, I would be 99% sure that some of them were Canadian, and in the context of a US/Mexico tornado I would be 70% sure that some of them were Mexican.

  39. Rick C says:

    "I disagree, because "Asian" doesn't in practice refer to anything close to a single country, as Rick C says. "

    Normally I try to avoid saying stuff like this, but what you said here is just plain stupid.  Please go back and re-read what I wrote, where I mentioned that Asia is full of different ethnicities.

    "Spanish speakers in the Americas (particularly Mexico) often use the term "norteamericano" to refer to US Americans."

    True, but now we've switched languages, so it's reasonable to assume there'd be different conventions.

  40. Rick C says:

    "[Um, what about Central America and South America? They're Americans too. -Raymond]

    True.  And yet each of them has a country with an unambiguous name, right?"

    More specifically, what I should have said here is that the terms "Central American" and "South American" could be used if you don't which country a person's from, and every country in both of those locales has an unambiguous naming conventin for its people.  You can be from Belize, Colombian, Chilean, etc., if the need for such precision arises.  It may be slightly chauvanistic for US people to call themselves American, but we don't intend it to connote that people from other American countries are lesser Americans than US Americans.

    Are there any Canadians, for example, that go around offended because they can't call themselves Americans without people getting confused as to which country they are from?

  41. Evan says:

    @Rick C "Normally I try to avoid saying stuff like this, but what you said here is just plain stupid.  Please go back and re-read what I wrote, where I mentioned that Asia is full of different ethnicities."

    You misread what I said because I was ambiguous… read my statement as agreeing with you and expanding on that agreement, not disagreeing. ("As Rick C says" is referring to the fact that there are many countries that "Asian" could cover, not saying that you say there is only one.)

  42. AsmGuru62 says:

    So, is it embarassing to say: "I am an American"?

    When did this happen?

  43. finnish says:

    In Finland, the common way in spoken is call members of USA "Jenkki". I believe it comes from the word yankee. US is often referred to by "jenkkilä", which roughly means "the land of yankees". These are not insulting terms, but I feel that they might have connotation of everything being much larger there, or done dfferently than here.

  44. Rick C says:

    "read my statement as agreeing with you and expanding on that agreement, not disagreeing."

    Ah, well, then I apologize.

  45. Rick C says:

    @finnish

    In the southern US, "yankee" refers to a Northerner, and may or may not be derogatory.  South of the US, "yankee" (or more likely, "yanqui", is more likely to refer to Americans in general (maybe it could mean Canadians too, I don't know.)

  46. Alex Cohn says:

    Your dialog reminds me a Soviet (well, anti-Soviet) joke: Ivanov wants to change his name to Petrov. The clerk wants to know why. "You see, I used to apply for job, and they asked my name and I told them Rabinovich and they always found a reason why they could not hire me. Now I tell them I am Ivanov, but they ask if I changed my name, and what my name was before".

  47. j b says:

    AsmGuru62: "So, is it embarassing to say: "I am an American"? When did this happen?"

    My oldest recording of it is dated 1967, from the scene show when Tom Lehrer visited Norway. Lerher himself was joking about it, how random people hit him in the street, and stuff like that. Usually it takes a few years to make people realize it themselves, so you can assume that Europeans were thinking that way about half a century ago.

    In case you don't know who Tom Lerer is… Just forget it. Or look up tunes like "Who's next?" and "Pollution" and "The Vatican Rag" and "Lobachevsky" and "We'll all go together when we go", and not to forget: "I hold your hand in mine" ('Of all the songs I sing, this is the one I have had most requests not to') in you favorite historical archive of political folk singing.

    That might be irrelevant. Nevertheless, since WW2 there has been several periods of significant length when it has been advisable not to bloat your US citizenship in every social setting in Europe. Obviously it depends on how strongly you unquestioningly defend you nation's behaviour in the international society (similar to other nations that once were highly respected and defended in Europe for historical reasons, but today carry on a foreign policy that is not compatible with the European idea of respect for the rights of other peoples).

  48. Jim Howard says:

    I'm a fourth generation Texan, and have lived for several years in England, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines.  I've traveled extensively in Europe and have once or twice have natives kind of turn up their nose.  I never had any problems in the far east, but one Korean colleague told  me 'you're not like what I though Americans were like'.  

    In Europe, especially in England (as opposed to the larger UK), there is deep seated jealousy of the United States.  Americans (i.e. citizens of the USA as the term is universally used abroad) would be astonished at the amount of coverage American gets in British media.   It's almost an obsession.  They are like some little old lady looking out their windows at those irritating young people across the street so she can store up gossip for the bridge club.

    If I asked where I'm from I always correctly refer to myself as a 'Texan'.  The United States of America being a country we annexed in 1845.

  49. In NZ the question "where are you from" is often a short hand for "where did you emigrate from" since we have such a high proportion of immigrants in the population (especially in Auckland).  I am one myself.

    But not always.  So when I am asked the question, I don't try to be a smart ass, I simply cover the bases:

    • I'm from Auckland, but originally from the UK.

    That gives enough information for the other party to the pursue which line of inquiry was actually their intent…  "Ohm where in Auckland?" or "Oh, where in the UK?", and we take our cordial conversation from there.

    Maybe you didn't think that your service droid should be asking those questions or needed to know the answers, but in that case just goddamed well say so: "I'm sorry, I'm not comfortable discussing that with you, if you don't mind.".  On the other hand, whether you thought it was any of their business or not, what possible harm did it do the world for this service droid to attempt to – presumably – make your day a little more human and a little less transactional.

    Being intentionally difficult (I am sure you understood perfectly well what their inquiry was driving at) was not a very mature response.

    As for Eliot Chang…. he calls himself a comedian.  Is he supposed to be funny ?

  50. Neil in Chicago says:

    ((Nearly everyone in the world understands "American" to mean someone from the United States.  end of story))

    Another variant is euphemizing "Are you Jewish?"  Sometimes I'm in the mood to play dumb and give literal answers:

    What's your nationality?

    American

    I mean, where are your people from?

    England, Prussia (probably), Ukraine, Poland, and Persia (probably) . . . Oh, you mean am I Jewish?  yes

  51. JDP says:

    [And the comments to the video have somehow become an argument about evolution. Welcome to the Internet. -Raymond]

    1) don't read youtube comments

    2) that's probably the best possible outcome of a youtube comment argument.

  52. Rick C says:

    " just goddamed well say so," " play dumb and give literal answers" -> more people with the social skills of a thermonuclear device!

    youtube comments suck: http://www.tannr.com/herp-derp-youtube-comments

  53. Brian_EE says:

    @JDP: And this comment thread became an argument on the usage of the term "American".

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