Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ethnicities I have been mistaken for

How can you defeat such a man?
One of the questions that always gets difficult for me when overseas (particularly outside Europe) is "where are you from?" as it always gets really convoluted with explaining that "I come from Japan now, but I'm also kinda Swedish". Over the years, I've been mistaken for a lot of ethnicities and though I should give you a quick roundup here:

1. Hispanic Mexican
In a taxi in Florida.
Taxi Driver: Where ya from bro?
Salaryman: I came from Japan now since I live there, but I'm from Sweden
Taxi Driver: (surprised) No shit? You look Mexican man!
Salaryman: (surprised in turn and not sure on how to take that) Huh? Mexican? Never heard that before, really?
Taxi Driver: (enthusiastic) Yeah, for real, you should go there, you'd fit right in!
Salaryman: Well, maybe I will, maybe I will...
(Note: I've never been to Mexico but if I do, I am curious as to whether I will "fit just in" or not)

2. Arab
In Japan many years ago my Japanese Aunt told me that I should shave the beard of because "It makes you look Turkish and there's been a string of robberies recently by Turks so you should shave it off!". I laughed it off and said that I've never been mistaken for Turkish or Arab ever so I won't.
Two days later at the airport terminal, waiting for the bus back home, in Sweden when I just had returned.
Elderly Arab man looking at me: (...)
Salaryman: (wondering why the man is looking at me but not really caring that much)
Arab Man: (walking towards me and stopping right by me, in broken Swedish) Excuse me young man, do you speak Arabic?
Salaryman: (surprised) Eh... No?
Arab Man: (disappointed, before walking away) I see, sorry.

3. Italian
During a business dinner with an senior Italian colleague in France, discussing people from our Swedish office with a group of people
Italian VP: (loudly) These Swedes are so dull and slow, they never show any emotion!
Salaryman: (focusing on the food)
Italian VP: (pointing at me) But you! Not you! You are like Italian, you look Italian!
Salaryman: (wakes up) Huh? I do?
Italian VP: (excitedly) Yes! You do! And you have body language like Italian (flailing wildly with arms) most Swedes are so dull (mimics someone sitting with the arms tight to the body and laughing heavily at his own imitation of a dull Swede), you are ok!
Salaryman: (having trouble coming to terms with the double insult of insulting Swedes and the labelling of me as "Italian like") Oh, ok, thanks I guess
Italian VP: (throwing arms up in the air) Yes, haha! (feeling like he's given me the best compliment in the world)

4. Chinese
In an otherwise empty beach bar in Khao Lak, Thailand with my brother during a family vacation. Sitting having drinks with big bro, catching up on stuff as we haven't seen each other in a long time. Very bored looking Thai bar girl comes over.
Bar Girl: Hi! Where ya from?
Big Bro: (very casually as to signal that we're not really interested in making conversation) We're from Sweden
Bar Girl: (aggressively sounding) No!
Big Bro&Me: (bemused) No?
Bar Girl: (pointing at me and my brothers face) You look like Chinaman!
Big Bro: (tiredly) Yeah, ok, we're half-Japanese, if you don't mind we'd like to talk alone?
Bar Girl: (looking triumphant as she walks away) Ok! Sure!

5. White
Japanese Colleague: So you're mom is Japanese?
Salaryman: Yep
Japanese Colleague: (confused) That's so strange, I can't see it at all, you look just like a typical Swede to me...
Salaryman: (slightly amused) Really? You think so? You know, most Swedes don't have black hair like me?
Japanese Colleague: (still confused) yeah, I dunno, I just don't see it at all

...this is of course discounting all the guesses me and Mrs. Salaryman has received when we've travelled together. Most common guess we get is Singapore or Hong Kong (probably because our combined Asian looks and our speaking English).

Now, if I just can find a way to be mistaken for Black, Indian and Native American I think I've covered it all!


TheOctopus said...

I am looking forward to the day when you are mistaken for a French person ;).

Eva said...

hahaha, with Singapore's % of foreigners at 20% and expected to increase, we welcome you all! (Especially with baby Sunshine)

fer said...

That is very funny, and I know how it feels. I have been mistaken for italian, philipino, chinese, arab, japanese, thai, white(ish), indian, native american and others. And in japan, only one person has guessed from the start I was Mexican.

Anonymous said...

When I lived in Germany I was often mistaken for a Swede.

On business trips to Sweden I am often mistaken for a German.

And in Japan I am often mistaken for an American.

I'm not sure which of the above is most offensive.

Hanta said...

I was look as Scottish as can be but I'm often asked if I'm half Japanese myself.

I went to Toyko once and a bloke in a bar said I looked Hungarian(?). That wasn't so strange I guess but two days later somebody asked if I was a Croatian... I dunno.

Generic Jen B said...

You've basically described my husband's life there; and I recognized myself in the Italian vignette as I'm frequently the covert Brit at an otherwise unsuspecting table of French people. I love listening to them talk rubbish about the English, it's very amusing, especially when I chime in to say "it's true that we do have a tendency to grow muffin tops" and they realize that they have been outed as dicks.

I still love France though.

Corinne said...

Man you're lucky, I've only ever been asked if I'm a Russian hostess. Must be the blond hair and general whorey aura I have...

Chris said...

Italian VP: (excitedly) Yes! You do! And you have body language like Italian (flailing wildly with arms) most Swedes are so dull (mimics someone sitting with the arms tight to the body and laughing heavily at his own imitation of a dull Swede), you are ok!

I would choked to death on a canoli laughing till I passed out. Reminds me of my former Sicilian boss. Most jovial smiley faced racist I ever met. :)

I have never been mistaken for anything except an asshole and that isn't actually wrong.

Anonymous said...

ehm ehm... being labelled as Italian is not an insult... :(

Mr. S. said...

Got a French/Vietnamese friend: mistaken for anything within 500km of the Mediterranean or Black Sea. Somehow never as Asian.

Martin said...

Wow, you might be able to apply for a membership in the Japaneese Arian Brotherhood?

wakanai said...

but Turks don't speak Arabic, do they?

How about age? My wife's family and friends think I'm 10 years younger than her, while in fact she's 10 years younger than me :)

mukuge said...

@David: being mistaken as American in Britain?

I've been mistaken as Spanish, no way on earth that could be with my slanted eyes... whoever said that must had been hallucinating.

Gaijin Wife said...

Wow, that's a real mix there. You must look very 'international'. I only get the standard 'American', although I have pretended to be European just to get someone to leave me alone practicing their English on me. Hub gets Korean a lot. He must look a bit 'ayashii' (not that Koreans are) but traveling one he always gets his suitcases checked over.

aimlesswanderer said...

You are the perfect recruit for the newly reconstituted Japanese spy agency. You could operate nearly anywhere in the world - look "international" speak multiple languages and well traveled...

They're apparently starting up, in response to China and North Korea.

Kaley said...

Hello! I found your blog via the Japan Blog List and I have a question for you.

As I am moving to Japan in the coming months I am making a list of places to go and things to do while in Japan. I would like to make a similar list for my blog featuring other Japan bloggers.

All I ask of you is to send a paragraph (or more if you'd like) explaining your favorite part of Japan and why, maybe include a picture of it if you'd like. Just send me an email at with your reply (or questions) and I'd love to feature you!

Thanks, I look forward to hearing from you!

Magenta Violette said...

Lol This happens to me too```
There was some rumour going around the school when I started classes in Japan that my Mum was Japanese and my Dad was German and that's the first thing I was asked by my classmates```. I've also been asked if I'm South African, have an Indonesian parent, if I come from England, Ireland, France, Russia, Canada, Iran, Italy ect ect.

Sarahf said...

Everyone always thinks I'm English. And I am. How boring. Some old woman told me the other day she could tell I was British and not American, because of the shape of my face.

Mr. Salaryman said...

Octopus and Jen B - Indeed, this is one of the most difficult things about the French. On the outside, they don't look particularly repulsive and could easily masquerade as a normal person from a normal country... If someone would say to me that "you think like a French person" as an intended compliment, I would seriously need to consider what I'm doing...

Eva - Thanks, we might move over there when the economy here crashes then ;)

Fer - Yeah, probably same as me then but a little jealous that you've been mistaken for native american, that's one I'd like to tick off in my book!

David - There you go, seems like us Swedes and the Krauts need to work a bit on our perception of each others...

Hanta - Hey, are scottish people still really cheap or is that an old thing that just refuses to go away? I've seen your picture on your blog and I can see how people could mistake you for eastern european.

Corinee - Oh, love those Russian hostesses and their "great" looks, particularly the fake blond hair. They have this aura of being totally and utterly bored, never quite understood what the appeal for the Japanese is really...

Chris - Yeah, Italians are pretty... ... ... energetic, not afraid to say what they think. This guy actually thought he gave me the greatest compliment ever.

Anonymous - Haha, ok, I don't hate the Italians the way I hate the French, but until you guys finally get rid of Berlusconi you'd better keep a low profile!

Mr. S - That's a bit odd, "Asian" is usually my default one, he must have a bigger body build or something?

Martin - I just did!

Wakanai - Ok, for the record, I am aware that Turkish people do get angry if you call them arabs (and they speak turkish and not arabic of course), but I gave the short version here. I was not mistaken for Turkish, but Arab

Gaijin Wife - Well, I don't look as much "international" as "vaguely dark-ish"... I also get checked to death when I'm stupid enough to use an american airline company...

Aimless - Sounds like a good idea, being undercover in North Korea sounds like a blast!

Kaley - Hey, thanks for the invitation, but don't really have the time at the moment. Maybe next time!

Magenta - Yep, sounds quite a bit like my situation, but hey, it just adds more interesting situations to life so I'm not complaining!

Sarafh - Interesting, I'd like to know more about the difference in facial shape between white brits and white americans... That lady must have some serious knowledge on the subject ;)

Generic Jen B said...

Mon Cher Salaryman, Je vous declare un des nôtres. Bienvenu! :-D

Mr. Salaryman said...

Jen B - I did google translate that, but since you are not genetically French I take it as a compliment ;)

TheGhost said...

Well, at least you could fit in, looks wise, in almost any country. Just learn a bit of the local language and Bam! No will know you are a gaijin.

big bro said...

One thing you forgot: you didn't mention all the times that we have been assumed to be adopted korean when we were kids. I always got insulted when I heard that - I saw us as one step above that!

Rydangel said...

I have been mistaken for being mulatto(half black/half white),chinese,korean by actual koreans,puerto rican and mexican. I've even been mistaken for white????????. everytime I meet someone and even complete strangers will ask me what race I am,and when i tell them i am black,they don't believe me."you can't be all black.which one of your parents is (insert race)".even other blacks assume i'm mixed.How rude is that? Can't a sister be high yellow with naturally curly brown hair,freckles,slighty slanted hazel eyes? I can't help it if both my parents are yellow. black is black whether red,yellow, or brown. Truthfully, I had a native american great-grandather and a jewish great-great-grandfather.but I was raised black and I have always considered myself black.

Mr. Salaryman said...

Ghost - Yeah, I do fit in most of Asia without too much trouble, the problem is that people often see what you're not, not what you are so usually I end up as an outsider, as always ;)

Big Bro - Yeah, we're a step above those guys/gals! We had roots at least (somewhere, not sure where though)

Rydangel - Does it really matter that much? You are who you are anyway, skin pigmentation isn't important. No offense but "high yellow" sounds like something a KKK redneck would say about someone they suspected to be "racially suspicious" ;) I guess it's us "half" people who always end up as something in-between though, neither white nor Asian :)

Rydangel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rydangel said...

@ salaryman, It shouldn't matter but unfortunatly,americans like to know at first glance exactly who or what they are dealing with and that is usually determined by race. Even now there was/is such a big debate over whether or not Pres. Obama is white or black(he is both),american or african(technically he is a true african-american as his mom is american and his dad is african )a citizen or foreignor(children born to U.S. citizens automatically have U.S. citizenship no matter where they are born and yes he really was born in hawaii).but his political detractors used race to undermine every aspect of his presidancy. It's a shame that people judge and are judged by their apperance in 2011.I've been accused of getting preferential treatment at work and school because i'm light-skinned and never because of my own hard work. Guys only like me because i'm light-skinned(I was very shocked to find out that 2 guys had dated me for that very reason),have "good hair"(soft and so fine I cut it short which apparently makes me look like a butch lesbian),my big boobs(sorry for having DD's) and long legs(sorry for being tall 5'8) and not because I'm smart,cute,funny and a nice person. unfortunately, I take more crap from other blacks about the way I look.Strangers think it's ok to touch my hair,pull my eyes wide to see the color(brown with green flecks) or touch the freckles underneath them. It's the same for my sisters. When we were born, I looked chinese(my family also wonders why some of us have "asian" eyes),my sister looked white,and my youngest sister looked like a little native american baby.Recessive genes are a powerful thing. I admit to being a bit sensitive, but I get tired of the rude behavior. I don' t mind polite and honest curiosity, but why touch me and call me out my name?
It is very amusing when people make derogatory remarks about black people in front of me and they suddently remember I'm black. The looks on their faces is priceless. XD

Mr. Salaryman said...

Rydangel - Yeah, I understand that the US is very focused on race for some reason... I do find it sad though that ppl still feel the need to know the race before personality as it should't really matter.

But hey, isn't it good that those guys appreciate your looks? But yeah, I can understand the feeling, but as a guy, I really can't blame a guy for appreciating a DD cup ;) Of course though I can understand that you'd like to be appreciated for the whole package!

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