Folks, do people “categorize” you when you visit their country? I think wherever you go people just make assumptions about your origin based on your appearance. Here are my experiences:

USA: Chinese/Korean American

South Korea: Japanese

Japan: Japanese (!)

Indonesia: the arrogant expat Chinese Indonesian who doesn’t speak Indonesian (!!)

Malaysia: Chinese

Singapore: Chinese

Vietnam: Korean/Japanese

France: Chinese French

Germany: Korean/Japanese


American Starbucks: Kate (!!!). Why? Here’s the story:

NYC, 2007

Starbucks guy (with weird moustache): Hi, how may I help ya?

Me: I, uh…will have a caffee latte please. Uh, tall.

Starbucks guy: Sure, what’s your name? (they write the customer’s name on the cup)

Me: Uh…”author’s real name”

Starbucks guy (puzzled): What?

Me (louder): Uh, …”author’s real name”

Starbucks guy (louder): What?

Me: Whatever, just call me uh… Kate. (the name popped into my mind because I just read a review on a film starring Kate Winslet)

Starbucks guy: Uh, okay?!

Folks, that’s the reason why I go by Kate when I’m at an American Starbucks.


20 thoughts on “Masquerade

  1. Usually people think I am German if they have any idea at all. But Starbucks? I don’t even think they notice anything out of the ordinary.

    • Hi there,
      Thanks for your comment. Like I mentioned earlier in my post, people mostly think I’m Korean or Japanese. The experiences that I had so far are all funny though.

  2. People in Europe typically think I’m German (no stretch really, as that’s my ancestry), while in the US (my native land), people thought I was a) Canadian or b) some sort of European (German or Dutch). Rarely did they think I was American…perhaps it’s my strange accent!

    • Hi,
      Thanks for your comment. Do you actually correct them? Sometimes I do but I also go with the flow.

      • I do sometimes…especially when they start speaking German to me (which I can’t really speak). In France, when I was asked where I was from, I usually said “Canada.” I know enough about Canada to go with the flow too! It’s just easier sometimes…and I love Canada too!

  3. I was born in Singapore, lived in Melbourne for nearly 15 years and my grandparents are Chinese immigrants from China. When I travel, I usually say I am from Australia. But when I travelled to Japan, that was the first time I met a Japanese who insisted I cannot be Australian because I am not a Westerner. Then in Bali, I was met with very confused looks and when I say I was born in Singapore, they almost look relieved. And now, in Cambodia, I have had the same experiences. By my 2nd week here though, people have started to assume I am Khmer. And my name is not exactly the easiest to explain to them – particularly when ‘s’ is not in their alphabet. So I am often just Jane here when my name fails to be understood.

    • Hi,
      Thanks for your answer. I actually have different experiences too. Like I mentioned, most of them just assume that I’m Japanese/Korean/Chinese. The rest looks surprised when I say that I’m from Germany. Sometines they are, like you said, relieved too when I say I’m a Vietnam -born German. Sometimes I even joke around, asking them where I might come from when they ask me where I come from.

    • Hi there,
      Thanks for your comment. Despite all the troubles I get because of my name I still love it though. I hope you love yours as well.

      • funnily, I only love it when i pronounced in English, (which just meant that i took the tone away… , my name had such a weird tone that almost nobody including my parents would want to pronounce it)

  4. I guess it would be somewhat awkward to be ‘categorized’ into Chinese for the asians just because that the chinese now appear everywhere. It sometimes even offends my taiwan friends.
    However, they really should be excused. For them, all the asian faces look like, so does the oral language.

    • Yeah, what enjoys me is that some people think that all Asian languages are somewhat alike. Thanks for your answer.

  5. Love this post 🙂 I’m from the Philippines and everywhere I go, people almost always think I am Thai or Chinese but in Thailand since I don’t speak Thai, people think I’m Japanese or Chinese. My first name, though, is French and last name sounds Spanish, so there is more confusion with correspondences 🙂

    Thanks for dropping by my blog. Cheers x

    • Thanks for your answer. I can imagine the confusion. it’s somewhat of a love hate relationship, isn’t it? Enjoy your travel.

  6. Hi T on Air, thanks for coming by my little blog and for your nice words. I love this post… and can totally relate. It’s funny how people want to put you in boxes that they feel comfortable with… I was born in Korea but grew up in the States- more than once people told me I couldn’t be from New York because I was Asian (I got that comment a lot in India). But I think I have one of those faces that could be anything- when I lived in Japan everyone thought I was Japanese, in China everyone thought I was Chinese, in Thailand people thought I was Thai. But in Korea no one thought I was Korean – funny, I thought. In Argentina where I currently live, there are more people who seem to accept that I am American but everywhere I go I am called a “china” or “chinita.” What can I do? I just let it all go… 🙂

    • Thank you very much for your answer and sorry for not replying any earlier. Yeah, people seem to generalize Asians a lot even though I have to say that the same thing also happens to “western” people too. Enjoy your journey.

  7. here are my experience:

    USA: Vietnamese??? Chinese??? Philippines???
    when i was tired of saying no, and told them where i actually come from. they looked more confused 😦 guess they never heard about the country.

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