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Pet Sins January 2007

'Polite good listener' stereotypes of Asians attract self-centered talkers

After reading your article Deconstructing 'Asian fetish' - the appeal of physical appearance and/or cultural traits, I would like to add that my real life experiences supports the observations made in that article. I've noticed that some people (who happen to be white) who are self-centered conversationalists (and presumably self-centered in other ways) have a tendency to find the nearest random East Asian/Southeast Asian to latch on to and unload their random problems regardless of whether that person is someone they know, or even interested in what they're saying.

For instance, I was waiting for my vehicle in a car repair shop when another customer waiting for her vehicle approached me and started making conversation. This stranger was an elderly white woman who quickly said, "You Asians are so polite and such good listeners", without even conversing long enough to determine if I was really a polite person and a good listener. She then launched into a garrulous interminable stream of talk that clearly only mattered to her alone and was not intended to stimulate the other party's interests. I was reading a book then, and continued glancing at the book to let her know I wasn't too interested in her topic of conversation, not that she got the hint. She rambled on about some Chinese woman who married into her family who was so good at making her feel culturally open-minded for asking questions about Chinese culture.

Not that the old lady cared enough about who she was speaking with to stop and ask sincere questions about me or my culture. Once or twice, she would stop her focus on herself, turn to me, and ask a token question, as if to superficially fulfil the role of a pleasant, 'give and take' conversation partner (which she sure wasn't). I would answer her, and she would then carry on as if she hadn't heard me at all, spouting stereotypes, talking about her own topics, and later, before she left, she made comments that indicated that indeed she had not heard my answers to her superficial questions.

'A much better talker than a listener' is the best thing I can say about that person. I tolerated her because of her age, but I'm rethinking the policy of automatic respect for elders, based on observations of her and other elders (regardless of ethnic group) who are clearly unworthy to learn from. This experience has tempted me to be really rude the next time someone assumes I have personality traits that can stroke their egos and fulfil their inadequecies just because of my racial appearance ;-)

A gay friend of mine had a similar experience. My friend K , who is of East Asian descent, was at a park with another friend L when they ran into M, an acquaintance of L. This acquaintance, an older white male, immediately started conversing with K, trying to hit on him. K was polite, but after extricating himself from the conversation, he noted that having a conversation with the old white male M was a pointless exercise. According to K, M talked only about himself or topics of his interest, occasionally stopped to ask the other party a question, and then rambled on as if he had not heard the other party's answer at all. K, who had been briefly acquainted with M prior to the meeting in the park, had tried his best to steer clear of M because was "a real whiner."

L later said that M had a tendency to hit on young, handsome East Asian men, without stopping to think if he indeed offered anything interesting to the other party. My friends' observations on M tend to support the idea that some Westerners want to find a convenient someone who would politely (and presumably sympathetically) listen to their rambling without the intention of returning the favor by being as good a listener as they expect their Asian conversation partner to be. This motivation for finding a "friend" or "partner" is clearly a selfish "all about me", and it is regrettable that some people are identified as more convenient and usable tools for stroking other people's egos because of their 'race' or 'culture'.

N.V.
2008