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The Unusual People One Encounters In Other Countries

When my now-husband and I were both in the army, we both were stationed in South Korea in 2002, although he was based in the northern part of South Korea and I was based in a more central location (we were only dating then). When our days off coincided, we would each catch the correct train and meet in Seoul, which is the capital of South Korea. I would catch the northbound train, he would catch a southbound train, you get the picture.

We used to have the most amazing time in Korea – it’s a beautiful country, Seoul is very modern while also still having a large number of historical things – you’d walk by the most amazing modern architecture, turn the corner and be at a very old Buddhist Temple. Just great! We tried very hard to be polite, understand the culture, and not just do the typical “let’s drink ourselves into stupidity every time we have time off and act like big dumb Cletus The American” soldier thing that a tour of duty in Korea frequently involves. I like to think that we did a good job of being good guests while we were there for the year, at least we certainly tried!

For the most part, the local Korean people were pleasant and very tolerant of our poor attempts to communicate where we could in the local language, would point things out to us as we wandered around, and were very helpful on trains and restaurants when we looked like we were clueless.

One day, we were in a very large park that had a lot of hills. There was this wide, sweeping staircase that went all the way up the hill – at least five or six hundred feet of stairs. There were quite a few people around, and we just got into the shuffle and headed up all these stairs to see the view at the top. We are walking up, and about ten steps “above” us there is a man walking down. We didn’t notice him at all until he starts shouting very loudly, in clear English – “Ha! I bet you thought I was Korean, didn’t you!!! Well guess what, American retards! I’m Chinese and I’m from Canada!”

And….everybody stares. The guy just goes on down the stairs laughing loudly like it was just the funniest thing ever. At the time we were just shocked, but whatever. We still laugh about it now.   0204-13


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  • Bint February 18, 2013, 3:46 am

    That is just so weird! What on earth….?

    My sister and I had a woman come up to us in Edinburgh once and scream, “FILTH!!!! American filth!!!” in our faces. Which was not nice of her at all, but also weird because she could hear us talking as we approached. I said, “English filth, actually,” and we kept on walking. I hope she never got anyone else!

  • Cherry February 18, 2013, 4:55 am

    It’s oddly comforting to realise that every single place in the world has people they’d like to push off the country…

  • Angeldrac February 18, 2013, 5:50 am

    Sounds more like and insane or drugged person than simply a person with poor manners.

  • Allie February 18, 2013, 6:41 am

    I’m not sure if this is ironic or not, but in calling you out on your perceived stereotyped notion that all Asians look alike, he has relied on the stereotype that all Americans are stupid. If it makes you feel any better, I have travelled around various parts of the states over the years (I’m Canadian ) and have not found there is any truth to that stereotype about Americans. For that matter, I live in a part of Canada tbat is home to about just about every type of Asian there is and have not found any truth to that one either.

  • coralreef February 18, 2013, 7:02 am

    It’s people like this “Chinese man from Canada” or “X from Y country” that make traveling abroad sometimes difficult for their compatriots. As a Canadian, I wish to apologize. We’re not all like that. As I know that tourists from the US, Germany or wherever are not all like that.

    I had a personnal experience in Spain that demonstrates what I mean. My daugther and I were waiting in a hostel lobby to find if they had a room available. The hostel owner was arguing with American tourists (the tourists themselves kept reffering to the fact that the US was so much better than Spain) and were screaming and threatening to sue the hostel owner over the fact that they didn’t like the view or the bathroom was not attached to the room. They were finally kicked out. When I approached to ask for a room, I made the mistake of speaking English rather than French or delegating to my daugther who knows some Spanish. I wasn’t able to finish speaking, the owner was pointing to the door and telling us to GET OUT! We did find somewhere to stay but that experience really hammered in that being polite is not just to make it easier for yourself, but for everyone that follows. Oh, and the price of the rooms in the first hostel? 20 to 30 Euros per night.

  • LeeLee88 February 18, 2013, 8:44 am

    I like to believe people like that were kicked out of their home countries for obnoxiousness, rather than having moved or gone on vacation.

  • feesh February 18, 2013, 9:09 am

    Well, he sure had YOU fooled.

  • Shalamar February 18, 2013, 10:17 am

    Oh dear. We Canadians are supposed to be a bit more polite than that!

  • Green123 February 18, 2013, 10:38 am

    How very…. ‘special’ of him. Are you sure he wasn’t drunk or high?

  • girl_with_all_the_yarn February 18, 2013, 10:39 am

    People are weird…

  • Mamapotamus February 18, 2013, 10:40 am

    There is both entirely too much to say & not much at all in regards to the Canadian man’s boorish behavior.

  • AS February 18, 2013, 10:51 am

    People like these do no favor to their ethnicity. Lot of people, especially locals who do not get a chance to meet others outside their own community too frequently, might get an impression based on the few visitors they meet.

    I believe that when we visit a different country for either short or long term, we are an ambassador to our country. This means that we should treat our hosts with curtsey and respect, like we’d want to be treated by visitors visiting our home country. Every country, even the ones torn apart by war, has a lot of history as well as beauty to offer. We just need to keep our heart and eyes open.

    OP, you and your current husband seem to have done a wonderful job trying to soak yourself in the beauty of Seoul. Hats off to you! I wish more travelers were like you; then the world might be a little better place to be in.

  • Ashley February 18, 2013, 12:11 pm

    I honestly have no clue where to begin on this one. I’m completely mystified. That whole situation is just beyond bizarre…

  • Calli Arcale February 18, 2013, 12:26 pm

    Wow. Well, as an American who is sometimes a foreign tourist, I suppose I can take some small consolation in the fact that Americans aren’t the only ones with ugly tourists among our number. There are evidently Ugly Canadians too. My sympathies to any traveling companions this man had, who were likely mortified.

  • bansidhe February 18, 2013, 12:34 pm

    Sometimes people are so outrageously rude it’s just comical instead of really offensive. This sounds like one of those times.

  • Kovi February 18, 2013, 1:01 pm

    What an…odd fellow! Seems awfully defensive, considering you hadn’t spoken a word to him yet, much less guessed his cultural heritage!

    That’s an awesome story to tell at parties, though.

  • Shea February 18, 2013, 1:02 pm

    That guy…wow. I can’t even guess what prompted him to act like that.

    I’ve traveled a lot and lived in several foreign countries, and I’ve had some pretty interesting run-ins in my time, both with locals and with other visitors. The one that immediately came to mind after reading this story involved a non-local, like myself. I was living in France at the time, in a part of the country where English speakers are few and far between (most people effectively speak only French, and if they have a second language, it’s likely to be German). I speak French well, but my accent makes it clear that my first language is English.

    I was on a train with a friend, chatting in French, when the guy in the seat across the aisle leaned over and asked us in British-accented English if we were English, apparently having heard our accents (friend was also a native English speaker). When we answered that we were American, the guy started going on about how crazy and corrupt the American government was, how awful the President was (this happened around 2004), and how uncultured, fat and slovenly Americans were. He proceeded to magnanimously announce that we were “much prettier than most American girls”. When our only response was to stare at him expressionlessly (however much we might have agreed with him on his opinion of the then-President, randomly insulting some strangers’ home country is no way to make friends), he switched to insulting the local French people and France in general. This did not meet with our approval any more than his America-bashing.

    The weird thing was, we got the distinct impression from his manner that he was trying to flirt with us. Dude really needed to work on his pick-up lines.

  • Lisa February 18, 2013, 1:39 pm

    I’m sure the guy was not mentally stable.

  • StephM February 18, 2013, 1:51 pm

    I bet he probably tells everyone about the time he “totally schooled some dumb Americans.” I would have laughed my butt off if I had been there.

  • Anonymous February 18, 2013, 2:12 pm

    Wow. I’m Canadian (by birth, but there are many ways to become a Canadian, and that rude guy in the story is, to be fair, as much of a Canadian as I am), and I just want to assure everyone that not all Canadians are like that. Most of us are polite, friendly, don’t stir up trouble for no reason, and certainly don’t go around calling strangers “mentally handicapped” for not being mind readers. OP, I hope you had a good trip to Korea apart from that incident.

  • kingsrings February 18, 2013, 2:23 pm

    I must admit I’m LOL at this!! Who knows what that guy’s problem was, but he was funny nonetheless. Oh, the things we encounter when we travel overseas. My first trip overseas was to Japan 13 years ago. One thing I was very conscientious of being on my best behavior and was praying that all the other foreigners would as well. I’d heard one too many horror stories of Americans acting like obnoxious, close-minded, arrogant jerks overseas (yes, I know that kind of behavior is not germaine to just Americans). One the flight over, a fellow Westerner (Canadian) got very drunk, loud, and rowdy. She acted like that throughout the whole flight and also afterwards in the airport and on the trams. I was so mortified, and hoping that out host country didn’t lump all of us Westerners in with her behavior. Other than that, on the flip side, we didn’t encounter any real rude behavior from the locals. Some guys would check me out (I’m white, blond hair, blue eyes) and people would approach us and want to know where we’re from, practice their English, or one time a couple guys called out, “Gajians!!’ (caucasians) as we walked by. That was it.

  • Alexis February 18, 2013, 3:39 pm

    I wonder if somebody right next to him had been talking in English and assuming he didn’t understand? I wouldn’t be surprised if other American tourists were right behind him talking about him in Emglish. David Sedaris’ book Me Talk Pretty One Day has a lot of stories about being an American moving to Paris, and there’s a great story about tourists on the train calling him a “stinky frog” and assuming he’s a pickpocket, thinking he’s a French person who doesn’t shower.

  • Erin February 18, 2013, 4:05 pm

    Unless you were in uniform or something clearly identifying you as American, it would have been hilarious to start speaking confusedly to each other in, say, German. Or maybe answer back in an Australian accent. He had some irony coming.

  • Ellen February 18, 2013, 5:09 pm

    Well, he got what he wanted, which was for everyone to stare at him.
    I know that Koreans and Chinese only resemble each other in the most superficial of ways, and the ethnic differences are glaringly obvious to an educated observer. However, in a crowd of strangers it certainly would be difficult to distinguish one person. Perhaps this was an unsettling feeling for him.

    The closest comparison I can make from personal experience was on a trip I took to my family’s country of origin. It was odd to be surrounded by total strangers who looked like they might be related to me. Many features I had thought of as a “family resemblance” turn out to be quite common in that population. I had no idea that my face was so ethnically specific, and it was quite a learning experience.
    That’s not a good reason to shout at strangers, and using the “R-Word” as an insult is really offensive to people in the special-needs community. Very bad form, Mr. Canadian Tourist.

  • Agania February 18, 2013, 6:14 pm

    Hmmmm. I bet the Chinese and Canadians are just so proud!! Two lovely races shamed by one jerk.

  • Drawberry February 18, 2013, 8:28 pm

    Some people just look for confrontation wherever they can get it.

    I bet he tells everyone in ear shot about these two racist American’s from South Korea -eyeroll-

  • joye February 19, 2013, 12:16 am

    Oh man, I know it never occurs to one at the time because one is in such shock, but if you knew another language, it would have been SO awesome if one of you turned to the other and said “Que dit-il?” or “Was sagt er?” or something.

  • Tanz February 19, 2013, 2:25 am

    I don’t think this is about ethnicity or the actions of tourists: it’s about that subset of people who take their ‘issues’ out on others. I’ve had a few instances in my life but two in particular stand out.

    The first occurred in high school. I was a nerd. One day I came across a guy in the form below mine in a hallway and he started ranting at me about “kids who are stuck-up and think they’re wonderful and don’t realize that other people have to *work* for a living” He then went on to tell me that while I obviously didn’t think much of the profession, *he* was going to be a mechanic some day and he was proud of that goal. I just stood there blinking at him, and replied “Well, uh, good for you… my Dad is a tow truck driver…” I’m not sure where this kid got the idea we were rich!

    The second happened one day at work, when a couple of us were sympathizing with another colleague’s very bad sunburn. He had some soothing cream which he asked me to rub into his back. Normally I wouldn’t do that sort of thing because I’m not a touchy-feely kind of person – I only did it this time because I have sensitive skin too and I know how agonizing sunburn can be. I was also trying to be very, very gentle with his skin. Apparently I didn’t rub it in quite to his liking because half way through he suddenly went into a rant about how it was apparently ‘obvious’ that I didn’t want to touch him because he was gay.

    Both of these incidents upset me, but looking back I can see it’s not because I put put out any particular ‘vibes’… it’s simply because these people had issues and they saw the world through that lens.

  • amyasleigh February 19, 2013, 5:23 am

    Might he just possibly have been doing it for a bet with friends or associates who were close by among the crowd?

  • Hel February 19, 2013, 7:53 am

    wow. and I thought being abroad and having people hear my accent and assume it means I’m going to turn into a drunken singing diddley-di brit hater after a glass of wine was bad…..

  • Kendo_Bunny February 19, 2013, 8:06 am

    The mind-blowing thing for me is why he would assume they were noticing him at all. I don’t look at random people in crowds and go “Korean, Chinese, German, Irish, Russian, Namibian, Pakistani…” Unless the OP and her husband were staring directly at him and had been for some time, he had no reason to assume that they were thinking about him any more than they were thinking about what they should have for lunch. If he was just some Asian guy in front of me on the steps in Korea, and I wasn’t looking at him, I would probably assume he was Korean, unless I took a good look at him. It was like I was in Ireland, and I assumed pretty much everyone around me who wasn’t at the various tourist traps was Irish. Sometimes that turned out to not be the case, but if you’re just glancing around at the scenery and not the people, it’s an easy mistake.

  • WildIrishRose February 19, 2013, 10:43 am

    I think it’s comical if a little annoying. Sometimes all you can do is laugh. My SIL is Japanese, and her job requires her to travel to Asia frequently. She told me that people in China often mistake her for Chinese and try to strike up conversations with her in Chinese, which she does not speak. I told her she should start answering in Japanese and see what happens. We just laughed at the whole thing.

  • Calli Arcale February 19, 2013, 12:02 pm

    “I know that Koreans and Chinese only resemble each other in the most superficial of ways, and the ethnic differences are glaringly obvious to an educated observer. However, in a crowd of strangers it certainly would be difficult to distinguish one person. Perhaps this was an unsettling feeling for him.”

    That might explain some of it. Maybe he was reeling from having been mistaken for a local. Doesn’t excuse it, but at least it’s slightly less insane that way. It reminds me of a funny story from when my uncle took his family to Lillehammer, Norway to see the Olympics. While wandering Lillehammer, they were approached by an American TV crew. They were asked if they wanted to be on TV, and said yes. So, with cameras rolling, the interviewer asked my cousin if she was excited to have the Olympics come to her home. With perfect deadpan delivery*, she replied “I wouldn’t know; I’m from Minnesota.” The film crew, nonplused, stopped recording and went looking for an actual Norwegian. 😀

    Punchline? They’re actually mostly Swedish, and were teased by the Norwegian customs officials for the Swedish surname on their passports.

    *Alas I wasn’t there, but I know my cousin — she does deadpan EXTREMELY well, and this is exactly how she would have said it.

  • Hilary February 19, 2013, 12:22 pm

    This reminds me of a conversation I once had with a Spanish couple during a trip to France. My family (Americans) were in line behind them to climb the towers at Notre-Dame cathedral. There were school groups from both Spain and the U.S. horsing around outside and INSIDE the cathedral, generally making fools of themselves and creating a bad impression of their nationality. The Spanish couple turned to us and said, “We’re so embarrassed by the behavior of the Spanish tourists we see here in Paris. They are the worst behaved!” We responded in surprise: “We were just thinking the same thing about the Americans!”

    Just goes to show you that rudeness and poor behavior crosses all cultural and national boundaries. 🙂

  • michellep February 19, 2013, 1:01 pm

    Just awful. I lived in Germany for years, and I was ashamed of the way some Americans acted when I was there. We were guests in their country. All I could do was be on my best behavior.

    Can’t say I’ve ever had a confrontation with Chinese or Canadian tourists. This is priceless.

  • AS February 19, 2013, 2:05 pm

    @ Ellen and Calli Arcale: your discussion about people resembling other ethnicities reminds me of something. My husband is a Caucasian American of European origin, but has dark hair, dark brown eyes and he tans more easily than average Caucasians. I am from India. We have often had people mistake him to be an Indian when he is with us, because with the extra tan while visiting India and roaming around in excess sun, he can tan to look like a very fair complexioned Indian. In fact, he has had people just start talking to him in Hindi and change to English when they realize he does not understand Hindi!

    My point is that it is sometimes not that easy to place people at the correct nationality, just based on their looks. If you look remotely like a person in the country you are in, people might just assume that you are a native, because not everyone has the time to analyze every single person they see. And for most of us, it is not a big deal! Obviously, it seems like a big deal for some, like the boor in the story.

  • Angie February 19, 2013, 3:03 pm

    Well so much for everyone telling us Canadians that we have a reputation for politeness… believe me, not all of us are boorish like this fellow! The only thing I can think of is that maybe he was tired of being mistaken for a Korean, but that doesn’t excuse being rude to someone who hadn’t even spoken to him yet.

  • Tracy February 19, 2013, 3:07 pm

    I can’t help but laugh at the Canadians here who want us all to know they’re not like that, and who are apologizing for their countryman. Believe me, no one thinks all Canadians are like that. But worrying that we do, and apologizing for something you haven’t done, DOES seem stereotypically Canadian. 😉

  • amyasleigh February 19, 2013, 7:14 pm

    Hilary’s post 34 — alternative evil rejoinder, is irresistible to think of — “We can out-misbehave you lot any day. Remember the ‘Maine’ !”

  • Mariposa February 21, 2013, 10:35 pm

    @Kingsrings Gaijin means foreigner in a general sense, not caucasian. Though it is usually used as an insult. Hakujin I think is caucasian.

  • Ruby February 22, 2013, 7:10 am

    I was living in Japan and was grocery shopping. I happened to see another foreigner. She smiled and nodded. In Japanese, I asked her if she was American. I know, I was presumptuous. Anyway, she glared at me and said, “Nyet!” Lol. We actually had a conversation in the end, in Japanese, with our respective American and Russian accents.

    A New Zealander living there hated Americans. Why? Because the locals constantly mistook her for one. I don’t see how that was our nation’s fault.

    While there, I went to immigration to procure a visitors visa for my husband who was finishing up work in the US before joining me. He is Latino and looks it. The immigration official looked at his picture and asked increduously in Japanese if my husband was American.

  • Michele Burington March 2, 2013, 2:44 pm

    I’ve been all over the world, but the best tourist story I ever had happened to me in America (my home country) I drove truck for 20 years, and went all over the country. This happened when I owned my own truck. It was a very large black Kenworth with a long hood, and I had it lighted and chromed out to a fare thee well. I also took my dogs with me, and had their portraits painted on my truck. I stopped at a rest area in Idaho to walk my dogs, and pulled in several spaces away from a tour bus. I came back to my truck to find it surrounded by Japanese tourists taking pictures! Well, I was a little bemused, but the tour director, who spoke very good English, explained that they had never seen a truck like that and thought it was awesome. I got it, started it up for them, blew the horns (very loud train horns) and turned the lights on for them. They were so happy about this, I don’t know if they paid attention to the beautiful scenery! As for me, it just made my day!!