As an Asian American in Asia, I’m mistaken for either the local population or a Chinese tourist. This even happened in Ecuador! I was seen as an Asian Latin American, and not even having a fellow gringo as a sidekick changed their perceptions.

But I think this incident best summarizes my experiences (because I’ve had plenty as an English teacher in Cambodia, Ecuador, and Thailand). I was waiting for a friend at popular restaurant when the waitress said something in Thai while placing a menu in Chinese and in Japanese in front of me. She probably felt pretty confident that she had covered her bases, too.

Instead, I asked what I hoped was, “Could I have a menu in English?”

And that’s just the assumptions people make about me on the outside, in passing, during brief encounters. On the inside, say, when I’m starting a new job, or working with a new group of students, I’ve learned that my personality doesn’t jive with people’s first impressions because my husband tells me to “act normal”. [In other words, don’t freak people out because you’re not what you seem.]

I like to make folks laugh, but for some reason, I must not look like the kind of person who says outrageous and off-color remarks. I can see how surprised they are, and then, how they’re not quite sure what to make of me after that — until they get used to me. [I blame my funny family and the copious amounts of stand up comedies I’ve watched throughout my life.]

I’ve also had friends confide in me that they don’t really see me as Asian, just American. It’s a strange thing to say, something that in the past might have lightly offended me, but now I understand I don’t fit this idea, this stereotype, and this is the best way they can communicate this feeling. I’ve already decided that this is part of my journey, to be what folks don’t expect, and to find the heart and humor along the way.

17 replies on “What do people incorrectly assume about you?

    1. I’ve been known to do that too. At the airport, immigration, etc. But after living in touristic places for so long I have a general idea of how to point out most nationalities 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I love this answer! I skipped this one because I don’t know what people assume about me but knowledge is power and it totally sounds like you have a superpower. I think it’s cool that you can totally surprise people by saying things they don’t expect. Also, I think it’s funny your husband tells you to be “normal“ – what’s the fun in being like everyone else anyway?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We’ve worked at enough places together that he knows how folks make big eyes at me 😛

      I’ve toned it down as I’ve aged (like wine!)… I can be horribly immature and obnoxious, and these days we have to be careful not to be TOO outrageous. 😉

      Thanks, Ashley!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s very interesting that your Asian isn’t attached to your physical identity with foreigners. I dislike the notion of having to be less than genuine when meeting people, however, I understand the need to let people know you gradually. Do you have an accent? When I speak “Taiwanese” with people who are Taiwanese and speak the language, they correct me rather than the possibility that I have an accent or because of where my family has been.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We act differently depending on who we are with. I’m not going to behave the same way with my mother and, say, my friends from high school. 😉

      I also consider myself a ‘hard to know’ person (unless you read my blog!) as I like to listen and get to know other people before I share myself. But of course, I’ve been very open first, too, I’m not so formulaic 😛

      Overall though, I enjoy getting to know people and I can pick and chose my moments to be silly as there are many sides to me.

      I don’t speak with an accent when I speak English because it’s my first language. I get corrected but I assumed it’s because I’m saying it wrong! Never thought about having an accent! But you’re right 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m exactly like that too Lani I can relate. I tend to wait for others to open up first however my blog I’d very revealing of my inner self. I can relate to being mislabeled for ethnicity and nationality too, but find it quite enjoyable. In some cases I just go along with it for a laugh that I’m Italian or Greek hehe.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. 😀 Nice to hear. Growing up in Hawaii, it’s all par for the course, “What are you (ethnically)?” is a common question. And since living in Asia, I can see how all kinds of people are curious. xo

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s strange living a life in which people’s initial impressions of you are almost always incorrect. I sometimes have a similar experience to yours, but probably not quite the same. I am obviously always mistaken for a white South African on sight, and sometimes Afrikaans people assume I’m one of them and address me in that language (although that doesn’t happen much in Joburg — more often in rural parts of SA). But of course everyone figures out the truth the moment I open my mouth, and South Africans are generally fascinated by America so they almost always respond well when they figure out I’m American. I don’t know if that’s the case for you in Thailand. And also it’s different here because English is the dominant language. Anyway, thanks for the interesting topic! I think about it often.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I figured you were treated differently as an American in Saffa. And I’m glad to hear that it is generally positive 🙂

      We probably share the same set of ‘getting to know you questions’ from strangers, too.

      Just today, I was speaking to our new Chinese teacher and she said she thought I was from China, but it was a good opportunity to head over to the world map and point out Hawaii.

      I suppose it is strange, but I’m so used to it by now. And these moments continue to give me stories!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow, you are a comedian!

        Oh, you bet they do. It’s a combination of Japanese being “too hard” for non-Japanese to learn (read non-Asian into that) and they have no history of foreign people speaking the language. (English spoken by French, Italians, Germans, Chinese — we’re used to it; but Japanese being spoken by a non-Japanese tends to be an atypical experience).

        It can work in our favor. If I get pulled over for speeding, my Japanese could suddenly vanish and it’d just too much trouble for the police to deal with me — it’s an instant get-out-of-jail free card, but the flip side is people speaking to me in broken English. Or worse:

        People assuming I moved to Japan for them to maintain or practice their English!

        I’m generally pretty chill-lax, but I will instantly dislike someone if their first approach is in English — unless they’re cute. 😁

        What’s it like for non-Asian Thai speakers in South East Asia?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think it greatly depends on the person and where they are at. More touristic places verses countryside, and the context involved. I find culture to play a bigger part in communication than language…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice post! Answer to the question in your title – that I don’t know English as well as a white person. If in some non-English speaking country, people are more likely to ask a French/Polish/Finnish person who might not know English about some grammar/usage point in English than ask me though they know that I am from the US

    Liked by 1 person

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