Why Looking Like an American in Asia Can Be a Good Thing
Last week I wrote a post about looking like an American in Europe and the usually negative consequences. Asia, on the other hand, has a few different rules to play by. The information contained within this article is based upon my own personal experience in Korea and anecdotes from friends who have visited China, Japan, and Taiwan.
Unlike your typical Europeans, the average Korean person was very interested in American culture. The same seems to be true for China and Taiwan, and a little less so for Japan. Perhaps I can make the generalization that the information to follow is true for most of Asia. I haven’t been to every place in Asia though, so I don’t know for sure.
Because you (may) want to look American, you need to dress and act the part. Rather than talk about how to look like an American for the rest of this post, I’ll talk about the benefits of being an American in Asia.
- People pay attention to you and will treat you with the utmost respect. We hate to play to stereotypes, but it is true: many Asian cultures regard honor and respect very highly. This includes being nice to foreigners. Never in Korea was I heckled or jeered at, which seems to be a daily occurrence in Germany and the rest of Europe.
- If you are trying to learn the country’s language, you have millions of walking dictionaries around you. This is especially true in Korea. Rather than be annoyed because you are pitiful at speaking their language, an Asian person often finds it very impressive that you would even ask. Since most of them have a limited knowledge of English, they should be able to give you a hand.
- People will pay for your coffee, just to have a conversation with you in English. A dream come true? Perhaps. Because English is (or is becoming?) the language of the “global culture,” learning it is very important in any country. While this linguistic ethnocentricity makes me feel dirty, I was more than happy to entertain any Korean that wished to practice their English.
- You can drink for free if you are a (white) American. A friend of mine studied in China for a semester. A bar offered him 6 frees drinks every night just for showing up, solely because he was white. There’s some mystique surrounding Americans, so club owners are always eager to attract them. Think of it as being [Justin Timberlake/Paris Hilton] and going out for the night, except you aren’t rich.
- You will get the best compliments. For example, someone said I look like Matt Damon. I won’t need an ego boost for awhile.
That wraps it up. Since more of this is based on anecdotal evidence than anything else, we’d love to hear feedback. Leave comments and let us know if we forgot anything.