Tips for Confronting Stereotypes

Though the English name has changed, the Chinese name is still clearly “Black Person” toothpaste. I also found some “White Person” toothpaste in Taiwan recently, which I bought. I also almost bought 4 toothbrushes but my Taiwanese friend asked me, “how many mouths do you have!?”

What I dislike most about stereotypes, is that they are prejudgments. Assumptions about a person’s character based not on factual evidence, but on perceived qualities of certain groups. I’ve noticed 2 levels of stereotyping. First is assuming a person belongs to a certain group, (such as assuming a white person must definitely be an English speaker, an American, a cowboy etc.) and then assuming characteristics about a person based on their perceived or real association with some group. (such as a black person has bright white teeth, or a white guy is a “guardian of tooth.”)

If you genuinely wish to confront the stereotypes in other people, you first should confront them in yourself. At least try. I at least admit most of my stereotyped ideas are generalizations and obviously wouldn’t apply to every person. To me, that is a given that should go without saying. But I constantly need to say it, in fact emphasize it. My perceived generalizations of any group never prevent me from judging people as individuals, not as members of those groups.

To me it’s obvious that I don’t believe all Japanese people are cold and unfriendly if I say that’s my general impression. Most of my closest friends are Japanese. It is a “stereotype” of mine but I don’t let it interfere with my interactions with people in Japan. Except one time, I tried to casually explain that impression to a Japanese girl at my university, and instead of engaging in an interesting conversation about it, she just refused to talk to me again. Yeah, that’s another stereotype of Japanese people. Always avoiding any perception of negativity whether it is based in reality or not. Though I do have some great Japanese friends I can talk about anything with, including my positive and negative perceptions of Japanese culture and behavior.

So how do you judge a person’s behavior without considering how that behavior is motivated by being a member of a particular group? Also, is it acceptable to openly discuss stereotypes? Can’t we generalize without hurting anyone? And leave room for customizing those perceptions and treat each person we meet as an individual?

Should all stereotypical ideas be immediately forbidden so that we can cultivate a human society where we are completely considerate of the fact that each person is an individual? Wouldn’t that be switching from extreme ignorance to extreme hyper-logical consideration? Directly, viciously attacking stereotypes we encounter is also detrimental to our psychological health.

“If you setout every day on a cultural crusade, vowing to confront and destroy the stereotype of a foreigner (gaijin), then your life will soon stop being fun. Either for you or people around you.” – Mario McKenna, Coping with Problems Caused by Stereotypes in Japan

McKenna also says that, “If you try to do it (crusading against stereotypes) all by yourself, the end result will be you standing alone reinforcing more stereotypes than you destroy.”
A more indirect approach or indifferent attitude may thus save your sanity. When confronted with stereotypes, I either ignore them, or playfully make fun of them. Such as asking my Japanese acquaintance if they can use a fork and acting surprised when they confirm they can as a response to asking if I can use chopsticks. I do it playfully, we have a good laugh, and everyone realizes simple assumptions like that are just silly.
Being able to directly confront stereotypes with facts and examples that completely prove them false might logically seem effective, and potentially can be. If someone you care about is being stereotyped then point out their individuality and how they can’t be pigeonholed into that easily accepted idea of whatever prejudice they are the victim of. However, I prefer to show rather than tell. I demonstrate exceptions to stereotypical assumption and hope the stereotyper makes the logical conclusion without me saying, “LOOK! LOOK! You were wrong!”
Though if it is not a situation where you can comfortably ignore or playfully ridicule the stereotype, then distance yourself from the problem as best as you can. Relax, and focus on the positive things in your life. Become the best at something, and become the best version of yourself you can imagine. Be confident in yourself and petty notions like the illogical assumptions of others need never concern you.

According to Joseph Devito, of The Communication Blog, “Stereotyping can lead to two major barriers. First, the tendency to respond to a person primarily as a member of a (national, racial, religious) class can lead you to perceive that person as possessing qualities (usually negative) that you believe characterize the group to which he or she belongs. Second, stereotyping can lead you to ignore the unique characteristics of an individual; you therefore may fail to benefit from the special contributions each person can bring to an encounter.
You’re not going to lose your stereotypes. But, you can become mindful of them and, when appropriate, ask yourself if your perceptions of another person are being unduly influenced by your stereotypes.”

I’ve been the victim of both those barriers. Perhaps we all are at times. So how do we convince or motivate people to see each other as individuals and not primarily as a member of an ethnicity or nation?

China Communication

Chinese Prejudice Online?

In China I started using QQ. A Chat messenger software i used to talk with my friends. The same way i use Skype and MSN messenger to keep in touch with everyone else in the world. I can also use Skype and MSN to search for new people to talk to. And i can almost do that with QQ. Except that every time i search for some new friends on QQ , and begin a conversation with them, they assume I am lying about not being Chinese as i am obviously speaking to them in Chinese. This isn’t because my Chinese is unbelievably fluent, I still make plenty of mistakes, they just can’t fathom the possibility of someone who is not Chinese being able to speak Chinese. It happens every time, and I have been using QQ for several years. A Japanese friend of mine who speaks Chinese also told me Chinese people don’t believe she isn’t Chinese when she speaks to them for the first time online.

It’s a very strange way to frame your social interactions. If I speak any language, English, Spanish, Russian, Swedish, or even a language much more obscure online to a person I have never met before, and then I tell this person I am actually from a different country from them and my native language is actually not the language we are speaking, what reason does he have to disbelieve me? I mean people might be dishonest about where they are from occasionally, but what cultural process creates an entire society that believes only people from their country can speak their language at all. The first time i tried to type Chinese in a Chinese chat room, I was first amused by the warning not to say anything that would insult the government, and then I was as offended as I was surprised at the fact that nobody believed i was actually not from China. They believed i was just a kid lying about where I was from for fun. I wouldn’t be so frustrated by this phenomenon, except that it happened every time I tried to talk to new people through QQ’s search function.

It was somewhat entertaining at first though. They always wanted to see me via webcam, to prove i was American. To which i would always explain that a person from any country could have any ethnicity and so it would prove nothing. I could very well be culturally Chinese from living in China my whole life, yet ethnically caucasian. Sometimes I would reply by saying, “fine, I will show you what I really look like, so you can see i really am not Asian, but then it’s impossible for me to be your friend because you only wanted to see me because you didn’t believe me, not because you were genuinely interested in seeing me.” They would act surprised, apologize, and compliment my Chinese, then i’d delete them.

If they didn’t immediately disbelieve me when I would say I am from America. They would ask if i was American-Chinese. Except they wouldn’t use such “politically correct” terminology. They would always ask if i was ?? (huan xie). literaly meaning “mixed blood.” I always respond to this question by saying all people are “mixed blood” as the genetic material from both parents is combined to create each person. People in china are used to using this word in this way without thinking of the literal connotations of its meaning. So maybe i am too sensitive to my preference of trying to describe the world accurately. And maybe I can be more understanding, and considerate of the different ways people communicate depending on their cultural identity, but why is it so impossible for people in China to believe the obvious reality that people who are not from China can learn Chinese?

Communication Japan

Tips for Socializing in Japan

Just a few quick thoughts on socializing in Japan that i have been thinking about lately.

Something i have mentioned previously in this blog is that in Japan people don’t self disclose meaningful personal information so easily or quickly. Initial conversations with a person are in fact very light in terms of content rarely involve really getting to know someone. Some Japanese acquaintances have told me that they need to wait at least year after initially meeting someone to disclose their personal ideas and feelings. I once read a story, somewhere on the interwebs but unfortunately was unable to find to link to, about a French guy who worked at a company in Japan for nearly a decade. During that time he felt he really loved his job, and he felt his co-workers really respected and liked him too. One day, after work a Japanese co-worker told him that actually, “nobody likes you.” He of course felt very upset to be told this, and at the same time deceived because that entire time everyone had treated him so nicely. But those polite niceties we find so easy to endure in Japanese social interactions are a mere facade to hide us from the embarrassment if people knew what we were really thinking. If you feel like you have a great friendship and would like someone to listen to you with genuine interest, you can always try to disclose some personal information or stories and see if they reciprocate as all people are different and not everyone will fit in to every generalization i mention.

The Japanese co-worker in that story, after many years of knowing his French co-worker finally felt comfortable enough to reveal a real thought, thus hoping it would have been the beginning of a genuine friendship. So true friendship in Japan is indeed very difficult to achieve.

Another thing about socializing in Japan that differs from my culture based preferences is that people rarely devote time to each other to develop connections and friendships with their fellow human being. Time is usually devoted primarily to school work, or actual work, and any free time is often time devotable to some other group activity. So because of this, cultivating genuine friendships is even more challenging, though of course possible. So be considerate of time constraints and the fact that just because someone says they are busy, they aren’t just blowing you off.

Which brings me to the prevalence of hilariously obvious excuses Japanese people will tell you when they don’t wanna accept your invitation to hang out. I’m ok with tactful honesty if someone doesn’t want to meet me for whatever reason, but there is a vast difference between people i have met who give me an excuse and then never interact with me again, and people who make an effort to spend time with me after they know they have missed a chance to because of some obligation.

Also don’t be negative at all. I think having a fun positive attitude is great for social interaction with anyone, but even casually mentioning you don’t like something that someone else likes can give them a reason to never want to interact with you again. So this might be part of the reason, or at least related to the reason for Japanese not disclosing much of their real identity to one another at first as they are afraid to offend people with their real opinions.

another point is to be excessively grateful when someone does something nice for you and be willing to apologize for anything even if you feel you have done no wrong. Remember apologizing is not necessarily mean you are wrong and the other person in the right. It just means you value human relationships more than your own ego.


Tips for Detecting Lies through Bodylanguage

• A common Technique for detecting lies is watching what direction a person’s eyes shift when they are thinking of the answer to a question. If you are facing the person, and they look to the right, they are remembering something, if they look to the left, they are creating something in their mind.

I’ve used this as a game. Someone would say 3 sentences. Only one would be true. I could tell which was a lie if they looked to the left. I find that for very few people this actually works upwards of 90% of the time, while for a lot of people I met, it doesn’t work at all, especially when they just stare into my eyes when I ask a question. But I do think it’s helpful in lie detection to pay attention to what the potential liar is paying attention to.
• A person who is lying to you will avoid making eye contact. This is only sometimes true. A lot of people lie while maintaining direct eye contact. However I feel this is actually more true in Japan, when someone tells me an obvious lie, often avoid eye contact with me.
Emotional Gestures & Contradiction
• Emotional gestures and words are not coordinated. Such as someone saying “ I love that movie!” / giving a compliment, / saying anything that should have more emotional investment then smiling after making that statement rather then at the same time the statement is made.

• Fake smiles. I really hate fake smiles, and I see them all the time in Japan. A fake smile only uses muscles around the mouth. Whereas a real smile involves movements of the whole face. The jaw/cheek, eyes, forehead are all involved.

• I’ve noticed that people lying often stutter, even a little when they are saying the lie. Also, their grammar may be off and they might speak softly. However this is also a general sign of nervousness characteristic of shy people regardless of if they are lying or not.

Those are just some common body language references. People may also put some sort of barrier between themselves and the person they are lying too, like a book, cup or their hands. But basically, I look for behavior that differs from a person’s normal way of interacting with people. You can also keep in mind what a person values and thus would like to protect by lying. Such as suggested by a university of Massachusetts study that found women are more likely to lie to protect someone’s feelings, while men are more likely to lie to defend or improve their own image.