Have people called you Oriental before?

S and I had an interesting conversation while waiting for the shuttle bus at the Henry Ford Museum.

S: Have people called you Oriental before?
Me: Oh yeah, it happened to me a few times. Has that happened to you?
S: Yeah, even in San Diego.

When I was at a seminar two months ago, I talked to a guy during a break. And guess what he said to me.

He said, "I've never met an Oriental person before!"
Then I said, "FYI, the political correct term for people from Asia is Asian. Oriental is used to described rugs and exotic spices from the far east."

I know this was not the most polished way to explain the difference of calling people Oriental or Asian. But I thought I really had to make a statement at that moment.

Interestingly, he said, "My father also called people like you Oriental too, so I thought that's the way it is."

In my mind, I thought, "Never mind. Another example of cultural ignorance." Lacking of time and patience to explain why calling Asian as Oriental was impolite, I excused myself.

When I grew up, I learned that if people are from Japan, they are Japanese. And if they are from Korea, they are Koreans. Then when I came to the States, I learned that I am identified as Asian.

It's okay to be called Asian as Asia is the continent where I'm from. It would be nicer if people take the time to know which country I'm from even though I am generally categorized as Asian. Seriously, Asia is a vast continent with 37 countries and almost 4 billion people. And definitely, definitely, don't tell me the joke that all Asians look alike. ;)

But still, I felt uncomfortable when that guy called me oriental. You don't use the n word to address an African American nowadays, do you?


triple-u said...

refering asian people as "oriental", probably is american term? i've never heard of the word thosed that way in australia..

"asians all look the same" is an old joke between me and my good friend.. he say that to me sometimes (while his wife is japanese), and i say to him "all jewish look the same with the big nose" (he is jew).. obviously, we know each other well enough to have recial jokes between us.. or else, yes, maybe rude and annoying..

but the guy you were talking to, sound like the term "oriental" is just a term he grew up with, he didn't mean anything by that.. but yes, you are right, it's time for him to get educated.. that we don't look all the same! ;-) after all, isreal is consider part of asia continent!!

Christen said...

you need to tell this guy to watch or listen to the soundtrack of Avenue Q!!

Everyone's a little bit racist-good song.

Anonymous said...

LOL, I have a friend who says "I saw the cutest Oriental girl yesterday, she was just adorable, like a China Doll". I've corrected her once and she looked confused.
What? You don't all look alike???? This is news to me! -S