At Home He's a Tourist

We were having dinner at a Thai restaurant, and got to do some quality evesdropping on the family at the table behind us. It started off badly enough: the dad was telling the little girl that she'd better work really hard on her reading homework this month, because when they moved to Las Vegas after Christmas, she was already going to be the new kid, and if she also couldn't read as well as the rest of them, she'd be really unpopular. And he was doing this in condescending baby-talk. I remember being 7 or 8, and I might not have known the word "condescending", but I sure did know it when I heard it. So I hated him already.

Shortly after that, the waiter came over to take their order. Just before he got to the table, he said something to another waiter in non-English.

    Dad:   What language was that?
    Waiter:   Thai.
    Dad:   Oh, Taiwanese?
    Waiter:   Um... no, Thai.
    Dad:   But Thailand is in Taiwan, right?
    Mom:   They're two different places...
    Dad:   But they're both in China, right? Or Japan?

The waiter made some kind of embarrassed noise, presumably hoping he could just get to the taking of the order. At this point, I think dad might have gotten the slightest inkling that he'd just made an ass of himself, so he switched on the full-bore Marketing Weasel charm and started talking to the waiter like he was glad-handing him at a trade show:

    Dad:   Hey, what was your name again?
    (I loved the "again" -- he'd never been told the guys name and he knew it!)
    Waiter:   Ben.
    Dad:   No no, what's your real name? Your Thai name?
    Waiter:   "Ben."

At this point, we couldn't hold it in any more and burst out laughing.


78 Responses:

  1. brad says:


    What a jackass.

    • jotunheim says:

      Ugh. Those pushy parents!
      I'll bet money that his daughter will have mental problems and will suffer from abusive relationships in her life later on.

      She's going to end up the opposite of what he wants his daughter to be.

  2. ex_sjc says:

    I'm afraid of Americans.

  3. kumimonster says:

    ooh that's a good one

    and everyone knows all them lil orientals all look same!

    • "Where are you from?"
      "No, where are you *really* from?"

      And my gf's Chinese-American classmate got told "Welcome to our country!" when she was walking along the Mall (DC).

      • kumimonster says:

        i get that sometimes
        and then some people tack on an ending like: 'oh, you speak english quite well.'
        then i have to usually say something like, 'dude, wtf! i was born at Stanford' !
        (as in the hospital near the university in Cali)

        • marklyon says:

          You know, that last line has the makings of a great college essay.

        • rosefox says:

          A friend of mine was once told she spoke very good English for a Canadian.

          Of course, I'm starting to occasionally tell people that they speak very good English for Americans.

        • Another good one I've heard was a Chilean coworker who was having tacos with her friends when one said, "I bet these aren't nearly as good as the ones your mom makes."

          Wrong ... fucking ... continent!

      • kingfox says:

        Japanese friend of mine, <lj user="fmrflyboy">, was walking up to a dorm building carrying a generic brown paper bag in a white plastic bag. He had just got off a shift as a waiter, so he was wearing a simple white shirt and black slacks. He was bringing some liquor to party with some of us. A couple of students waiting outside of the dorm tried to take the bag from him and give him money, and were quite insistent that they had, in fact, ordered Chinese.

        I've never heard him curse so much before or since.

      • jwz says:

        "Where are you from?"
        "No, where are you *really* from?"

        But that works for roundeyes too, because so very few people are actually from California.

      • cyeh says:

        I get this question about once a year or so.

        I don't think I can ever leave California. The ethnic diversity here rises the level of racial sensitivity quite a bit.

    • thealien says:

      Well, honestly, they all do look the same. I mean, sure, if someone's in traditional garb, I can probably tell you where they're from... If they start talking, I've got a shot at it.

      But I can't pinpoint the country of origin all the time just from the facial features.

      This is why I avoid guessing. I just know I'll offend someone... "Oh, you must be from Sweden." "No, I am from Finland, you jerk!"

      This is by no means a local thing, either. Someone I know travelled in Afghanistan back in the day. He says people thought he was a Pakistani. He was from England, but had lived in the US for quite some time before that.

      All 'those' people do look the same. Or more correctly, they all look different. People from one part of China don't look like people from another. The same former boss, being quite the world traveller, also related a story about being with a Japanese man in Copenhagen who mistook some Chinese people for Japanese.

      Ahem. My point being that it's not necessarily easy to see a random person in jeans and a tshirt and know what country they or their ancestors were from.

      Of course, not knowing that Thailand is a country is pretty bad.

      • kumimonster says:

        so are you saying u took the test and was a bad guesser?


        my mom failed it miserably. she also got irked when it didnt have b-girl/bangkok hooker options.

        • down8 says:

          I'll admit to that.

          I could usually narrow it down, but it does come down to guessing a lot. Now, give me a family name, and I've got a good shot. No guarantees, but a good shot.


      • jette says:

        I was born in Helsinki, and I would be SO pissed off if you thought I was from Sweden.

        • jwz says:

          That's the place with the wooden shoes, right? Do you know any vikings?

        • thealien says:

          I knew someone in Finland. She sent me some candy once and I lost her address and didn't send anything back. Uh, but on topic, she was somewhat venmous towards Sweden, claiming Swedish ISPs deliberately made the Internet connection bad. That's why I picked that as my example.

          • jette says:

            Well, we only became our own country in 1917! So, despite the fact that many Finns have huge chunks of Swedish or Russian heritage, we really don't have a whole lot of love to spare for our neighbors on either side. :-)

            • jwz says:

              It's important that you stay eternally vigilant against the Swedish Menace -- why, I hear that their sneeches have stars.

              It's also always best to use "we" to refer to people you haven't and never will meet -- it will make you feel like you belong! After all, you have that accident of birth and geography in common. Those filthy Swedes can't ever take that away from you.

              • c9 says:

                To this *day*, my father uses Sneeches and Star-Bellied Sneeches as his example populations in any debate or analogy he's making -- everything from my coming out to him, to socialized health care in Canada, to why he votes for the extreme right party in Canada (which, apropos of nothing, would be seen as shockingly leftist in the US).

              • jette says:

                I guess my comment didn't come off as facetious as I meant it to.


                Of course it's ridiculous for me to say "we" about Finland - I am not even a citizen any longer. Still, I am not going to deny that I do feel a certain kinship with people who share certain cultural referents with me. I also say "we" about Californians.

                And it's not exactly pure xenophobia on the Finns's part - more like resentment at having been occupied for so long, and so recently. Of course you could say that is silly, because who can tell who's Swedish or Finnish or Russian or Karelian any longer? Still, I am not going to mock my dad for resenting Russia when the family farm he spent a big chunk of his boyhood on was annexed by the Soviet Union in World War II.

            • thealien says:

              I don't think I'd want to sneer at anyone who I felt was really into vodka and knives!

        • fo0bar says:

          Isn't Helsinki IN Sweden?


  4. Ignorance can be found anywhere.

  5. ydna says:

    Pathetic Americans

  6. tfofurn says:

    When my Thai friend married a Taiwanese woman, I was the only groomsmen not of Asian descent. At the reception, the DJ pulled me aside and asked if he should play "China Doll".

    • rosefox says:

      Did you preemptively veto "Turning Japanese"?

      This is, I believe, reason #217 not to have a wedding reception that includes a DJ. I will mix the CDs my own damn self if I have to.

  7. jette says:

    Oh my. I think a therapy jar for that little girl is in order.

    That's from <lj user=mrmustard>. He wrote once that he has he keeps an old mayonnaise jar in the house, and every time he makes a parenting error (such as swearing or losing his temper) he puts a few bucks in it, in case the kid needs therapy one day.

  8. mykwud says:

    Dad: Ben, the two of us need look no more
    We both found what we were looking for
    With a friend to call my own
    I'll never be alone
    And you my friend will see
    You've got a friend in me

    Ben, you're always running here and there
    You feel you're not wanted anywhere
    If you ever look behind
    And don't like what you find
    There's something you should know
    You've got a place to go

    I used to say
    I and me
    Now it's us
    Now it's we
    I used to say
    I and me
    Now it's us
    Now it's we

    Ben, most people would turn you away
    I don't listen to a word they say
    They don't see you as I do
    I wish they would try to
    I'm sure they'd think again
    If they had a friend like Ben
    Like Ben
    Like Ben

    Waiter: Please stop that.

  9. recursive says:

    And I thought "King of the Hill" was fiction.

  10. baconmonkey says:

    dad should work on his geography and cultural awareness homework, or else when they move to las Vegas, he's going to be really unpopular in the business world.

    • rasp_utin says:

      Actually, the throbbing Vegas megacorporations [or at least the one that owned me for 2 years] make these same assumptions and grand displays of ignorance, despite the fact that they have extremely ethnically diverse office populations.


    • lars_larsen says:

      I looked into the idea of moving to vegas. They are severely lacking in desk jobs. When I looked in the paper for desk jobs, I found 4. When I looked for "exotic dancer" jobs, there were 250.

      • dbaker says:

        There's the banking industry in LV.

        • lars_larsen says:

          Thats true, if Vegas has anything, its MONEY :)

          • bellacrow says:

            and the convention/event planner industry

            • lars_larsen says:

              I thought maybe I could get a programming job writing code for slot machines. Or maybe even a job catching cheats in the casinos (I used to be a magic geek)

              But seriously, if there are any desk jobs there, they're already filled. Because they sure as hell aren't advertised.

              The number of people who move to vegas every year is staggering. Its the number one "random place to move for no reason".

              • bellacrow says:

                From what I hear (from friends who moved there and then moved back to the SF Bay Area) it's a miserable place to live.

              • roninspoon says:

                A tremendous percentage of the people that move to Vegas are coming from California and attempting to escape the high cost of living. The cost of living in Vegas is so low compared to that of many places in California that I know several people who own more than one property here and still rent in CA. Vegas really doesn't have much in the way of jobs though, unless you work in the service industry or you're in real estate, so I'm not terribly sure what they do when they get here, except clutter my streets with their SUVs.

  11. jiritsu says:

    stupid americans

  12. greyface says:

    I think it's time for JWZ to drop the other shoe, and inform all of you that he was from somewhere else (say: Italy, Spain, Russia, Tadjikstan, Indonesia, whatever). It's odd that so many people are being condescending about Americans, when as far as I can tell they're just assuming that the dullard was one. (I guess the "Tourist at home" subject is moderately telling. Oh well)

  13. gordonzola says:

    "Ok Ben, then let me ask you a question. . . Have you ever thought about life insurance."

  14. lars_larsen says:

    Every time I meet someone, this happens:

    idiot: "What is your name?"
    me: "Lars"
    idiot: "No, what is your REAL name?"
    me: "Lars"
    idiot: "Lawrence?"
    me: "No, my name is L_A_R_S"
    idiot: "Is that short for something?"
    me: "No, my name is Lars, thats it, just Lars"
    idiot: "Ohh, I'm sorry. Well nice to meet you Lawrence."

    I really need to make a tape recording of my responses to those questions, and just pull it out and pause it during their questions.

    • fo0bar says:

      jwz already had the same idea

      There should be a site to download common responses to stupid questions. Something like

      I want one of those little keychain devices, but instead of insults ("bite me", "go to hell", etc), it should have useful phrases like "meh", "I decline to join your intellectual hallucination", and "no, I will not fix your outlook".

  15. Just a couple of weeks ago <lj user="alostrael"> and I were dining at a Thai restaurant and I had eavesdropped on a nuclear soccer family debating on how to use chopsticks and the father told the family that you were supposed to band them together at the end with rubberbands...

    I told Alos I thought we should follow him to a steakhouse or something and eat with our forks like two year-olds and let them know that this is how you're supposed to do it...

  16. stonemonkey says:

    ...this made me think of a recollection by Jackie Chan doing Cannonball run:

    "I remember that Sammy Davis, Jr. came up to me and said "Gozaimas!" every day. Which I later learned that he thought meant "good morning" in Japanese. "You're a famous cat in Japan , right, man?" he'd say. And i'd tell him, "No I'm not Japanese. I'm Chinese." And then he would say, "Right, Chinese. Sayonara!""

  17. I was visiting a friend in Yakima, Washington, a tiny town out in the middle of nowhere. We found a decent restaurant and while we were eating, I listened to a young lady complain about her date to the school dance. It seems that he was only interested in the other boys who showed up at the dance.

    At this point, an elderly gentleman who appeared to be her grandfather said in a somber voice 'my dear. The polite term is "limp wristed"'.

  18. chromal says:

    Wow, what an ass! Like, a cliche of an ass.

    I don't care for his bullying style of parenting, but that aside, anyone who generalizes a people and then attempts to push that generalization onto them... well, deep ass suckage. Which made me wonder about those "stupid american" comments which are... just... as... bad... A little ironic.

  19. cetan says:

    "If it weren't for my horse, I wouldn't have spent that year in college."

  20. jwz says:

    I'm apalled that so many of the responses to this story -- an anecdote about a small-minded prejudicial dumbass -- are small-mindedly prejudicial in exactly the same way.

    I guess I have to spell it out: there is absolutely no difference between saying "all look same" and saying "stupid americans." Anyone who would say either is a bigot. Yes, you.

    What the hell is wrong with you people!

    • Can I just say that I love the song? And it fits so well with the dad and his daughter...

      He! fills! his! head! with! cul! ture!

      He! gives! him! self! an! ul! cer!

      She! said! she! was! am! bi! tious!

      So! she! ac! cepts! the! pro! cess!

  21. vsync says:

    Hmm, this seems more like a gruntle than anything... I was surprised to see it posted here instead. Are you changing your writing habits, being assimilated by the "blogosphere"? Or were you just hoping for the responses you got, enabling you to shake your head sadly and explain how your cynicism has been deepened?

    • jwz says:

      I often post things here first, then move them to gruntle later (sometimes with slight changes after I've realized how much people have managed to completely miss my point.)

      My continuing surprise at the responses I get just proves that I'm an eternal fucking optimist.

      Every time I delete a comment, I think of <lj user=mistersleepless>'s phrase, "Retard Farming." Snip. Snip. Snip. Bonsai!

      • so it's ignorant and insensitive for people to make small-minded generalizations, but it's okay for you to call them "retards" and to laugh at them in public.

        see how this never ends? you don't fight insensitive behavior with more insensitive behavior. not if you're serious about wanting to end it, rather than merely enjoying your righteous indignation.

        • jwz says:

          What makes you think I give a shit about "insensitive"? I used the word "prejudiced."

          There is nothing prejudiced about saying to someone, "wow, what you just said was totally fucking stupid."

          • why are you upset about people being prejudiced? i would hope that it is because it makes the people in the discriminated-against group feel bad, lose job opportunities, get passed over for things, and so on. that seems to me like the "right" reason. if so, you'd want to educate the offenders, give them some idea why they've screwed up, try to get them to stop doing that so much.

            your actual responses, however, make it look like you get off on being smarter and more aware than everybody else, and rubbing their noses in it. you phrase almost everything in the most confrontational, argumentative way possible. it automatically gets the other guy's back up and starts a fight.

            my guess about people acting prejudiced is it's mostly learned behavior and ignorance. my guess about people acting argumentative for no reason is they've got a big chip on their shoulder over something they never quite got over. which of those crimes is worse? i'd have a hard time deciding, personally. both make the world a worse place to live.

            i've been reading stuff you put on the web, usenet, and blogs for years. since at least 1995 or so, when i discovered the internet. i'm sure you wouldn't remember it, but we've exchanged e-mail two or three times. once was when i read a book about netscape that had you in it, for instance. i used your threading algorithm to help me with a newsreader i wrote. your tech credentials are impeccable, and i respect you for that. putting your own money into a club to help keep the sf scene from dying was also very admirable. but man, you are really not helping your case by being so touchy all the time.

            • jwz says:

              It's like this:

              When someone flames someone else's spelling, and makes a spelling error in the process, that's comedy gold. And that's exactly the kind of thing that each of those people saying "stupid americans" were doing: being hypocrites.

              I find it eminently worthy of ridicule.

              I'm sorry if you think I ought to be spending my time acting all touchy-feely and trying to educate them and make them better people, but you know, I'm not really interested in doing that. I post things here on my LJ and on my web site, and some people are amused by them, and that's great. Some people comment on them, and that's fine too. Some people miss the point entirely, and sometimes I try to edit my writing to make myself better understood. But then some people just say completely stupid things, and those people, I pick on.

              Maybe you think I do this whole thing just because of that last group: that I post here solely so that I'll have someone to pick on. You're welcome to think that, but frankly, I'd be perfectly happy if that whole pick-on-me group didn't give me a reason.

      • dzm6 says:
        My continuing surprise at the responses I get just proves that I'm an eternal fucking optimist.

        Whenever I think of jwz the first thing to cross my mind is "Damn - That guy is such an optimist. You've got to admire his steadfast ability to remain an optimist despite all the numerous ways the world has proven his outlook to be flawed."

        Yep. That's what I ponder. Yupperdo.

  22. ... "How well did he tip?"