Racist Ignorance Is Bliss

This is a brief anecdote about something that happened when I went out to dinner with my parents a few years ago. My parents came to visit me while I was living in NY and were eating at a restaurant in Little Italy where the tables are about four inches away from each other and everyone can hear everyone else's conversations. My parents are Korean immigrants who have lived in the US for forty years, and we usually converse in a combination of Korean and English. The only other diners at the restaurant were a twenty-thirty something white couple who I presumed from their conversation to be on a blind date or a first date. The girl was trying desperately to impress the guy and appeared to be dominating the conversation while he looked mostly bored. I can only assume the girl had spent some either living in Japan or learning Japanese because she animatedly turned to us (we were conversing privately in Korean and English) and began speaking Japanese. The only part of what she said that we understood was surimasen because we are Korean and do not speak Japanese. My grandparents spoke Japanese due to occupation and the outlawing of Korean language, but my parents do not speak Japanese. So while this girl was trying to impress her date with her cosmopolitanism we were just staring at her blankly as her date looked down at his napkin in mortification because I think he realized from the beginning that we were not Japanese. Eventually, my dad answered her in English, "So you want me to pass you the salt?" After he passed the salt, she cheerfully thanked him in Japanese and went back to chirping away at her date, who looked like he wanted to disappear as we proceeded to discreetly snigger at her in Korean. As we exited the restaurant, I overheard him decline her invitation to grab a dessert and watch a movie at her place. He escaped down Mulberry St. as my parents and I flashed him a smug smile. The girl blithely ordered gelato from a street vendor, exaggerating the Italian pronunciation of every single flavor while the unsmiling vendor drummed his fingers impatiently.
mostlyamused mostlyamused
24 Responses Sep 20, 2011

I loved your story, Sweetie<br />
However, I am always one to give others the benefit of the doubt, and i find it more amusing when peepz try to impress the staff or host at non-American eateries! Most of the staff speak and know ONLY English, unless its a small family run establishment, and they normally do not find it so amusing to decipher your chopped up non English. :) <br />
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I worked on the Navajo reservation for several years and i am far from an expert at Navajo but have enough confidence to try to speak it if the need arises...but i find it quite annoying when tourists try to order a meal in a language they absolutely have NO CLUE of!! Most language dances off the tongue,,,if you know it. If you DONT...believe me, its not a dance!<br />
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Anyhow thanx for the smile!


Upon further thought, and forgive me if this was mentioned already... I am wondering if what you meant to write was "RacIAL ignorance" ... for that is what this is, I believe. Racist ignorance is different, and quite a bit worse.

yes, that would be a much better title - it was a last minute change to see if I could move this story to another board . . .

Well perhaps your family didn't enlighten the girl because of the further embarrassment it would cause. I agree that what your father did was classy. At least you enlightened us, though, in this manner. <br />
I think I have mistaken a Korean person for a Japanese before. It's understandable to be upset about it and yet it's totally not- at the same time. After all... if you saw me you wouldn't call me "German" or "Irish"- you would just call me "white." How much easier that must be. You would pay no attention to my heritage and no one would expect that of you. <br />
It doesn't sound like you or your family actually got upset, though. I just think, if a Korean person DID get upset, they would totally out of line. This isn't Korea, it's nowhere near Korea, and no one even makes an attempt to know what my racial heritage is, nor that of most white people. We can't be expected to all know these things. Then again- I would never butt into your conversation or try to act like I know your language!! That girl did, for certain, make a fool of herself. I do think it's funny, and not racist at all. It's unfortunate that you had these problems getting your post in the correct place... leading to misunderstandings. It's ignorant, yes... but it's SOCIALLY ignorant... because, like I said, you would never even make an attempt to identify my ancestry...it's just assumed that it's "too difficult"... so... calling people ignorant for not identifying yours is somewhat unreasonable. I think that is why some people here are accusing you guys of being rude. It's reasonable, in one sense, as she DID pretend to have knowledge that she clearly didn't, though. That was just plain dumb. But what she did mostly shows a lack of social intelligence and that is probably why she is so very desperate. <br />
I just think that, when the day comes that you can identify where I come from, you can expect the same from me.

Well, I can speak Japanese fairly well, but I can tell you that if I am at a restaurant and there are people talking. The restaurant usually has all kinds of background noises that mess with your ability to hear well. There have been many times I have been in a restaurant and have "heard" a nearby table talking and have been only able to determine that they are not speaking English, but have not been able to determine if it is an Asian language or other European language. It just seems really presumptuous of you do assume that she should have been able to tell that you were not speaking Japanese. Japanese and Korean do have some very similar sounding words (although the meanings may not be the same) and the grammar is pretty much the same. Your writings also had the undertones of hating Japanese. Is this so. <br />
(I actually am Irish by the way.)

Even though the two languages have some similar sounding words, the pace and rhythm of the spoken languages sound totally different to me. also, we were the only other diners in the restaurant and they were like 2 feet away from us. It would have been no big deal if she asked which language we were speaking instead of just butting in in Japanese. It is too bad you thought I expressed undertones of hating Japanese people, but I guess being mistaken for another heritage is an annoying thing alot of Asian people deal with

Some wrong assumptions are being made by this story. The writer thought that her parents too were irritated by the girl because she was such a brag, the girl thought this family was Japanese, and her date thought the girl had embarrassed him in some ways.<br />
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This is an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved, let's forget it and move on. Don't mistakes like these happen every day????

Well here are my points: 1) The girl was either overexcited because of being way attracted to the man or was just a narcissistic motormouth. 2) The Korean parents and/or their daughter (the author) could've put a little more effort into assuring the girl that they weren't Japanese, but they weren't obligated to. They king of lose points for sniggering and the smug smile, however, though they could also say it was a normal defense mechanism against being harassed when they were minding their own business. 3) I feel sorry ONLY for the guy, he was subjected to a marathon monologue by a bombastic narcissistic motormouth. <br />
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In conclusion, Americans (of which I am one) could perhaps learn not to jump to conclusions about a person's country or origin or ancestry ba<x>sed on a really broad generalization like the girl did. When you consider how many countries an oriental looking person could be from, it's just staggering. So I agree, the girl sort of lives up to the stereotypical "schoooopid american" to use the British term, though "ignorant" is more accurate (we must assume she is capable of learning). However, better listening skills are in order for her and you've got to give her credit for being intellectually curious about languages than her mother tongue.

l wonder if asians mistaking ltalians for french would have gotten such..ridicule.<br />
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lf this is typical cultural behaviour for koreans to sneer, they may need to look at themselves.<br />
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this... story wasn't funny! the "haters" may not be pc, but they are right.

i believe they would be ridiculed for mistaking italian for french, and deservedly so, if they just butted into a private italian conversation in french
i think it's natural to feel a little contempt when someone makes an erroneous assumption about you
in this case, it kind of opened up old, really old wounds from occupation, when the speaking of korean was outlawed, punishable by execution, and my grandparents were forced to speak in japanese and have only japanese spoken to them.
i know this wasn't the girl's intent, but it is why education is important and people should really think before they speak

Well, Holy God!! What a strange place to have a discussion like this! Seeing as how I am most definitely Irish (100%, born and bred, and living in the arsehole of Ireland) I think I might be entitled to jump in here with a couple of observations.<br />
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@ mostlyamused: (1) do you not think that the fact that you posted the story here in 'I am Irish' has distinct similarities to the manner in which the poor girl in the story addressed your family in the first place? I'm not criticizing you, it was an honest mistake, yes? Just as she made an honest mistake, which she probably realized at the outset of her discourse with your family, but to save face in front of her date (who was the reason she was there in the first place) she thought she had to see it through. Am I making sense?... (2) 'Koreans hate being mistaken for Japanese' Now there's a little nugget. I can speak authoritively on this little gem! 'Coz we Irish detest being mistaken for English!! I have nothing against English people, I lived in London for a few years and I really enjoyed my time there. But don't you dare refer to me as English, or British, 'coz if you do I'll beat the living crap outta you!....Ohh...ahem...did I really say that? Ooops!...sorry...er, strike that from the record. See where I'm coming from??<br />
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@ everyone in general: The story is about a poor girl who made an honest mistake, funny in it's own way. Yet it sparked a discussion on racism, even prompting some people to start namecalling. Where was the racist content in the story? I saw a bit of pride in one's national identity maybe. Absolutely nothing wrong in that.<br />
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@angrymakesperfect: Battle of the sexes? I think maybe you are reading way too deeply into it. Who knows?<br />
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But...back @ everyone in general; Yes, you must all belong here in 'I am Irish' Many times I have seen it in an Irish pub just before closing time, when everyone has had more than enough to drink. and a seemingly innocent remark like 'I think it will rain tomorrow' can spark the most vociferous discussion on the state of the current climates, both meteorological and economical, culminating with guys squaring up to each other like stags in the rutting season. So. lighten up guys. If you are going to comment on something here in 'I am Irish' then beat the crap out of each other if you must, but remember you have to stagger home with your arms around each other afterwards! There's none of us can throw stones.

i have no idea why this story was posted here - i posted a similar comment in the beginning - i tried re-titling it but haven't been able to move it

What is the point of all this? I think is it nice to address people in their own language or their presumed language. Most people would welcome the effort. The sense of your story may be puzzling, but I wouldn't call it funny. I would really enjoy a date with the girl you describe.

I really should be getting ready for my builder to come round but I had to contribute to this thread.<br />
The girl was showing off and in so doing made 'an assumption'. Her boyfriend could see how hard she was trying to impress him. She behaved like that because it went to her head that she was on a date with someone who she could perhaps take home to meet her parents. However, instead of building on that, her first thought was in continuing the battle of the sexes, rather than finding a way try and get along with her new date. They probably never saw each other again because she was damn overbearing. This story only highlights the main problem out there and that is that there is a great shortage of suitable males. I mean males that are solvent, that have a job, that have a good job, that have ambition, that are not drug addicts or **** addicts or live with their mothers (or are just plain perverts). Men are in crisis, that is for sure. Heavy industry is either outsourced or automated, they have all this strength and sex-drive and all they end up doing in sitting in offices all day with linguistically superior women who ***** all day. Males are unfortunately are becoming redundant. You can shout me down all you like, but instead, why don't you go and look at the statistics for suicide? More young males kill themselves today than ever before and far, far more than females.<br />
Sorry, but facts are facts!

These people commenting need to loosen up. A girl assumed that the family was Japanese when they're speaking Korean (I'm no expert but I can tell when it's Korean vs Japanese; totally different). Family answered in English (omigawd that's so wrong!). Girl makes fool of herself. This is funny, people. You can't tell me that you don't laugh at the stupid white girl who thinks she knows everything. Jeez. If you can't laugh at something, you're not living. <br />
*waits for someone to have a problem with this* bring it.

Holy ****, I just found the most uptight group around. For god sake, why does everything have to be seen as racist or smug or anything. You watch Americas Funniest Home Videos and laugh at people doing stupid ****, you watch Jackass and laugh at more people doing stupid ****, you watch 1000 ways to die and laugh at people doing stupid ****. For christ sake, why is it such a sin to find it funny when someone makes a mistake when dealing with people from other cultures? Is it not better to laugh about a mistake and learn from it rather than to be chastised? There is not a single person in here that has not at one point or another in their life thought less of someone else for a blatant mistake so enough with the holier that though attitudes. *takes a breath* Now could you please pass the salt? :D

Absolutely the best response I have seen on this story. Thanks for the great comment. John

I'm sorry that so many of the comment s have been so insensitive, ignorant and racist. Yes, situations such as these can be comical, but I think the other posters are missing the main point.

WOW! I didn't even think of racism until I read the comments! <br />
I think the girl is just in love with languages & wants to try to use what she can or learn more. <br />
Admittedly the speaking of Japanese to Korean folk would have been embarrassing, but the guy probably had no idea. <br />
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It's just a funny story - laugh & move on to the next one.

Sorry, guys, I only edited the title to include racist to see if I could move the this to another board. originally it was just ignorance is bliss. i actually think it is more about ignorance

Great story! However, it does not smack of racism to me... rather... something more akin to a scene from a sit-com.<br />
She was trying extra, Extra, EXTRA! hard to impress the guy - and failed utterly due to an unfortunate assumption on her part. (I wish I had date who was even half eager to get into my pants!)<br />
I think you could (or perhaps, should) have saved her some embarrassment while shortening her date's evening of 'torture' by politely letting her know of her error.<br />
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These types of misunderstandings happen in life. I do not think this episode says much about race relations per-sey...

sorry my fam gives humanity a bad name, lol. we weren't really trying to make fun of her, she could have just left us alone but she proceeded to make an idiot out of herself and our first reaction was to find it silly and absurd as well as being offended (koreans hate being mistaken for japanese). the thing we found funny was, if her Japanese was so good, why did she not pick up on the fact that the asian language we were speaking was not Japanese? another funny thing was that she was so clueless she was not at all uncomfortable with her cultural insensitivity. perhaps it was mean to laugh at her for being ignorant but i would rather laugh than get angry

I think you are the biggest Arsehole around . Your attitude stinks and you think you are so superior to that poor girl. Thank your lucky stars I was not there because I would have kicked your arse for you!!

@Yerxexslave Judging from your attitude I'd say if anyone is the arsehole it's you. Calling someone names doesn't put you on any moral high ground. Cut @mostlyamused a break. From the story the family didn't do anything to make the situation worse, so I don't know what you guys mean by them being rude. They didn't necessarily help, and sure they could have been more understanding, but you guys seem to be overreacting.

Did you let her know that you did not speak Japanese? If not then you were not being nice. A genuine mistake can be forgiven, ignorance is far more difficult to forgive.....

Flagged. That is disgustingly racist.

we thought that replying to her in English was the most subtle and tactful way of letting her know we did not speak Japanese, but apparently she did not get it because she replied back to our English in Japanese. We figured it wasn't worth the awkwardness to correct her after that

I think you handled this situation as well as could be expected. She shouldn't have gotten you and your family involved in her failed attempts to impress this guy in the first place. I really don't understand what is up with some of these commenters. "Proud Americanism" run amok. It hadn't really made that much of an impact on me when I first read it, but when you repeated here that even AFTER your father spoke to her in English, she proceeded to continue speaking to you guys in Japanese, shows just how utterly clueless she was being. And then the parting shot of her "exaggerating the Italian pronunciation of every single flavor" at the gelato stand really seals it. I have met people like this...they are so wrapped up in appearing knowledgeable about foreign language that they are oblivious to the fact that they are making an a$$ of themselves. I don't have much patience with people like this. Had it been me, I would have probably bluntly said to the girl "We don't speak Japanese, ma'am!" or "Do we look Japanese to you?" I have several Korean friends from college, and they were all very proud of that--I could easily see any one of them being far more harsh to this woman's idiocy. So those of you jumping on this woman for the way her family handled the situation need to back off, because it could have been FAR WORSE.

I have flagged your comment, Ticia, for being ridiculously dramatic. There was nothing racist in this story. The poster was simply relating a story that involved race. I challenge you to point out a single thing she said which was racist.

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Life is difficult at one time or another for everyone. Are you the type that will always laugh at people's discomfort or misfortune as though you are above mistakes and better than others? <br />
Your father playing it off like she asked for the salt was actually quite classy.<br />
To demean her afterwards isn't cool. I hope you weren't thinking it was. And I bet in general your parents' take on the whole situation is different from yours. I assume they've been on the other side of that coin plenty and gained wisdom because of it. Sounds like some good dinner conversation for next time instead of sitting there feeling smug.

i think you and your parents were rude. you could have been more polite and not so smug in your attitudes. you have no idea or knowledge about that poor girl.there could have been many reasons for her behaviour,you just assumed she was trying to bignote herself when she could have been just very nervous and over compensating for it.maybe she has a disorder or aspergers. its people like you and your parents that give humanity a bad rep. give others the benefit of the doubt and try to be nicer people.be ashamed of yourselves.

OMG!! Come on, this story is soooo funny. The problem with racism is people like you fetbesh. If everyone loosened up a little and admitted all races and religions are human, we all make mistakes and let's laugh and move on!

Flomama, I understand racism and as far as I am concerned this is not it. In fact I would liken it more to those school days, when the popular kids would laugh and make fun of the less popular. So the real definition of this story is of the bully mentality. Obviously the person and their parents have some ignorances to work through; and perhaps have suffered the same treatment. The story is not really that funny, unless you are infact an small minded ignoramous. From your response Flomama I would call you the racist. As it is usually the first thing out of a racist's mouth.
Live long and prosper

What the eff? Why should her family be ashamed? An ignorant American ASSUMED the family was Japanese and treated them as such-- which was silly, erroneous, racist, and insulting--especially considering the history between the two countries, which ain't pretty. Korea and Japan are very different countries with very different languages (the two languages sound nothing alike! If the girl actually had any fluency in Japanese, she would have recognized that right away). The white girl SHOULD have at least asked what tongue they were speaking before interjecting herself and embarrassing all parties involved. Her mistake is a very common one among Americans, sadly--and it's often not taken lightly.

thank you! someone actually got it!

Yes, that is ignorance, and it was not the responsibility of this Korean family to try to protect this woman in her ignorance. She really had no business trying to use these people as a way to impress her date. That was unfair to them. And I don't understand what the person who said this family should be ashamed of themselves for "moving their attention to her" is talking about. That woman pulled them into the situation! As one of the other posters said, if she really knew Japanese, she wouldn't have confused Korean for Japanese. The two languages DO NOT sound alike. Koreans and Japanese don't even look alike, other than clearly looking Asian. Yeah, you should draw fire for trying to use that fact that a fair number of Americans can't tell the difference between Asian races--that's not a valid excuse for anything. Is the idea that since a large number of Americans are clueless about Asian races, it's OK to make social blunders as a result, and everyone else should just suck it up and make sure to protect your ego? How many of those same Americans would go out of their way to offer assistance to someone who didn't speak English, but was clearly in trouble? You have various places in parts of the country instituting these ridiculous "English spoken only" policies, but God forbid if some American gets embarrassed by her own hand because she can't tell the difference between Japanese and Korean while trying to make someone believe she is "worldly."

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I work from home and i watch a lot of Korean soap operas on dramafever..When ever i get the chance to talk to Korean im overly excited to see if they know anything about the soap operas.If they are extra nice i'll ask indept questions about Korea and are some of the issues i see on the soap operas really real.I listen to Korean talk so much on tv and here living in L.A i guess i get so overly excited myself when i get the chance..I guess in her situation she must talk to alot of Japanese people and watch Anime or whatever..lol.

I am an Indian and racial slur in any form is not part of My jargon. I believe that the girl was impatient in her overtures towards her friend and the friend was awfully rude. It would have been good social etiquette if your group would not moved your attention to them as according to me, it was like demeaning the poor girl's intention.

Kinda hard if the tables are four inches from each other and everyone can hear everyone's conversations.

Still a funny story, thank you for sharing.

sorry, don't know how it wound up here or how to move it

Okay, but what does that have to do with being Irish??