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  #1  
Old 07-11-2009, 10:03 PM
agentorange4tang agentorange4tang is offline
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How do you tell asian people apart?

Whenever my asian friends are referring to other asian people, they don't refer to them as asian (as us whities tend to), but what kind of asian; it's uncanny. And I'm not talking about their individual cultures, but their physical characteristics.

Somehow they're able to tell the difference between Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese people, etc. just by looking at them.

My question is: HOW?!! What are the particular physical characteristics that differentiate asian ethnicities from each other?
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  #2  
Old 07-11-2009, 10:16 PM
Auntbeast Auntbeast is offline
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Wow. I guess you don't live near any significant populations of particular asians.

Vietnamese are usually much thinner in the face, just not as fleshy as others.

Koreans have much softer and rounder faces.

Japanese...just don't look like the others.

Chinese: Not sure, haven't been exposed to many at all. (All the Chinese restaurants were run by Koreans)

I can toss in a zinger. How can you distinguish Laotians? (I can't tell them apart from Koreans)

Just the ways I can tell them apart. Not at all fail-proof. YMMV. IMHO. TLR
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Old 07-11-2009, 10:19 PM
Animastryfe Animastryfe is offline
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I think we can only answer this using anecdotes, as I doubt there are any big studies done on this.

The asians who I know, myself included, pay attention and probably are more exposed to a larger variety of asians. The differences between a Korean female and a Japanese female usually become quite apparent after 10 years of watching Korean/Japanese dramas and music videos, not to mention actually meeting Korean and Japanese people. It's like how I assume most people can tell if a person is from Eastern Europe or Russia instead of Western Europe, even if they have the same hair colour.
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Old 07-11-2009, 10:20 PM
Hyperelastic Hyperelastic is offline
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I'm a white guy who has spent many years around East Asian people of several nationalities. There is certainly no foolproof way to tell people apart by sight, and I wonder if your friends are really picking out ethnicities by sight alone or if they are basing it on something else, like the part of town you're in, or overheard accents. But here are some guidelines:

Koreans: I personally think Koreans (both male and female) are the most attractive, on average, of the four ethnicities you listed. It's hard to describe; something in the jawline and eyes. Body language is more assertive.

Japanese: There is a lot of variation in appearance, more so than other ethnicities. They're hard to identify. I've known Japanese guys you would swear were a Jewish guy from Brooklyn based on appearance, others who looked like American Indians, and others who looked classically or stereotypically Asian. Less assertive body language especially in a group, where being deferential to one another is a high art.

Chinese: Easy - they don't dress as stylishly or formally as the others, although sometimes the Vietnamese give them a run for it. This is getting less reliable as more and more rich Chinese enter the U.S. as opposed to the past population of poor graduate students. More expressive body language when speaking.

Vietnamese: Tend to be a little darker than the others, and some are sensitive about it. If you see an Asian woman with red lipstick and a layer of pasty makeup, there's your sign. Tend to either dress down, like the Chinese, or overdo the style with lots of flashy jewelry and high heels (for the ladies) or tailored, European-style suits (for the guys).

These are just very rough guidelines I've picked up on over the years. They are certainly not reliable enough for me to go up to some stranger and say, "Hey, you're Korean, aren't you!" In fact, I wouldn't claim to have identified someone's ethnicity to anyone except my wife, who happens to be Vietnamese and has noticed many of the same things I have.
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Old 07-11-2009, 10:29 PM
SmashTheState SmashTheState is offline
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It's been demonstrated that the way the brain recognizes people by their features is by storing essentially a caricature of the person's face. Any trait which differs from the person's "neutral" baseline gets exaggerated. This means that if a person doesn't spend much time around black people, almost all black people will get the same mental caricature of a wide nose and thick lips -- in which case all black people really do look the same to this person. If you want to be able to see the difference between the Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Malaysians, Laotians, and so on, then it's a simple matter of exposing yourself to enough of them that your baseline gets reset and you no longer caricature them all the same way.
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Old 07-11-2009, 10:42 PM
Risha Risha is offline
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Originally Posted by Auntbeast View Post
Koreans have much softer and rounder faces.
Yes, Koreans are the ones I can pick out pretty reliably, and that's mostly by the shape of their faces. Though I never actually say anything until they say so, in case I'm wrong. (I'm white, by the way.) You just need to meet a large number of different asians, and the differences will eventually become apparent. Sort of like being in a small town where half the people are related.
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Old 07-11-2009, 10:45 PM
Der Trihs Der Trihs is offline
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Originally Posted by SmashTheState View Post
It's been demonstrated that the way the brain recognizes people by their features is by storing essentially a caricature of the person's face. Any trait which differs from the person's "neutral" baseline gets exaggerated. This means that if a person doesn't spend much time around black people, almost all black people will get the same mental caricature of a wide nose and thick lips -- in which case all black people really do look the same to this person. If you want to be able to see the difference between the Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Malaysians, Laotians, and so on, then it's a simple matter of exposing yourself to enough of them that your baseline gets reset and you no longer caricature them all the same way.
Pretty much. Or to put it another way, the brain recognizes facial characteristics that vary, and learns to ignore those which don't; which means that when you meet a group of people whose faces are invariant in ways that you are trained to see as variable, and different in ways you are trained not notice at all, they will all "look the same". When in reality, you are just blind to the differences that are quite obvious to them.

I even recall that happening with me, personally. I grew up with very little exposure to black people, and can remember how they all looked the same to me. Then I saw more of them, and over time it became quite easy to tell them apart.
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Old 07-11-2009, 11:17 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is online now
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I asked the same thing awhile back: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/...d.php?t=416181
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Old 07-11-2009, 11:39 PM
KneadToKnow KneadToKnow is offline
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I ask.
  #10  
Old 07-11-2009, 11:45 PM
Crafter_Man Crafter_Man is offline
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My wife is from Hong Kong. I can tell Asian people apart. But I guess I can't tell you you "how" to do it. It takes experience.
  #11  
Old 07-11-2009, 11:56 PM
Jragon Jragon is offline
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Chinese (at least Han Chinese) tend to have "rounder" and "fuller" faces, it's hard to describe. The skin tone is also slightly different, Koreans and Japanese strike me as... I don't know, usually either tanner or less tinted, but this isn't as surefire.

Japanese - they seem to have a wider range, but there's something distinctive, I can pinpoint it but not explain it really. They also tend to be the shortest of the bunch.

Koreans - How can I say it... softer faces is one. They also seem to have "flatter" faces in general, meaning that their cheeks don't come "out" so much as look completely flat. That last one isn't for ALL Koreans, but if you see someone with that "flat" feature you can usually be pretty sure they're Korean.

Of course, none of this is surefire, even my East Asian Language and Culture teacher, who is from China, admits to sometimes going "is that person from China... or Koreaaaaa oooor... ?"
  #12  
Old 07-12-2009, 12:12 AM
MetroGnome MetroGnome is offline
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I am Asian, and for me, it's kind of like the way all the Kennedy's look alike, or the Baldwins. There's no archetypical Kennedy or Baldwin, but after you see enough of them, you start to recognized the traits commonly expressed in their respective populations.

Another factor that's not being considered is linguistic. I don't speak Korean, but I can definitely recognized it. That goes for Japanese, Cantonese, Taiwanese, and a few other Chinese dialects. Southeast Asian languages sound too similar to me (nasal and very tonal) so I can't distinguish them. Tagalog is very easy to pick out for me. Even when an Asian speaks English, it's pretty easy for me to place the accent if one is present.

I think Hyperelastic's inclusion of cultured cues like dress and body language are important to consider as well because in some cases, culture is the only significant difference. A perfect example would be someone from Taiwan compared to someone from Mainland China or even Hong Kong. "Ethnically" speaking, they can all be the same Han Chinese, but outwardly, they've been keenly stamped by they're respective cultural molds.
  #13  
Old 07-12-2009, 12:25 AM
China Guy China Guy is offline
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It's easier to tell Asian's apart in Asia than in say the US. A lot more cultural clues in this neck of the woods. A non-Han Chinese Asian tends to stick out in China even if dressed the same. An American born and raised of 100% Chinese ethnicity sticks out like a sort thumb (milk fed, the way they move and act, body posture, etc. this holds true for those that speak like a native instead of as a second language).

Heck, even within the Han Chinese, if you live in an area long enough you can often identify a person. For example, Taiwanese/Fujian has a stereotypical type that is pretty recognizeable. Same for the Cantonese or Shanghaiese (for example, actress Joan Chen has a very stereotypical female Shanghaiese face). I'm drawing a blank for a good Cantonese stereotype - can't think of a good "moon face" stereotype I'm thinking of

Names are often a dead giveaway.

All that said, there are plenty of Asians that fall in a middle ground somewhere. Could be Chinese, Korean or Japanese, etc.
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Old 07-12-2009, 02:58 AM
lshaw lshaw is offline
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I don't think you can tell the difference just by looking at them. There aren't any features that are exclusively Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. Sure there are probably some slight regional differences (east asians vs. southeast asians, etc), and you could go on stereotypes. But put it this way. There is a huge difference between the stereotypical Japanese "look" of the 1950's (more refined) vs that of the 2000's (more neonatal, doll like) . Do you really think the gene pool has changed within one or two generations? Also, if you look at Japanese Americans who have been in America for several generations, you will find they don't have the stereotypical Japanese "look" that you would find in Japan. I think the "look" that people use to tell Asian people apart are based on fashion trends, carriage, manners, and certain emulated beauty ideals that are constantly reinterpreted across time and cultures. Since this would vary across the different Asian countries (and Asian diaspora), you could sort of guess by looking at them. But this is not to say that there are straight up ethnic features that differentiate amongst East Asians, Southeast Asians, etc.

Last edited by lshaw; 07-12-2009 at 03:02 AM..
  #15  
Old 07-12-2009, 03:09 AM
Covered_In_Bees! Covered_In_Bees! is offline
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No I disagree with lshaw. Fashion trends have nothing to do at all with the distinct facial features that pretty much everyone else in the thread has brought up.

Personally, I thought the thread was over with Auntbeast's response, as her summary is how I tell Asians apart. She forgot Philippino though, who tend to be darker and can easily be mistaken for Mexican if you only give them a cursory glance.

Also as stated previously, last names make things approximately 1.54 million times easier to tell them apart.
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Old 07-12-2009, 03:32 AM
lshaw lshaw is offline
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I didn't mean fashion trends relating to clothes or whatnot. I mean what is fashionable for the face. For example, people tell me they can tell a Japanese girl from a Korean or Chinese girl. I know the image that they are thinking of. Nowadays, it's the wide eyed, neonatal "youthful" look that is in vogue for the Japanese. All the celebrities and prominent media features have them, and every Japanese women try to emulate that look. They use special tape and glue to give them eye folds, special contacts to give them bigger pupils, specialized surgical methods to alter their facial features, etc. There is also a simple hyaluronic acid injection one can get to reshapen the nose. So yes, you can change/alter your facial features to fit an ideal of the moment.

Last edited by lshaw; 07-12-2009 at 03:34 AM..
  #17  
Old 07-12-2009, 04:41 AM
cckerberos cckerberos is online now
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Originally Posted by Jragon View Post
That last one isn't for ALL Koreans, but if you see someone with that "flat" feature you can usually be pretty sure they're Korean.
Or Mongolian. Even a lot of Koreans mistake Mongolians for Koreans.
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Old 07-12-2009, 05:45 AM
ShibbOleth ShibbOleth is offline
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Why do you need to? I don't care what most "white" people's ethnic background is? And if I note it at all, then it's because of their name.

FWIW, many Vietnamese have Nguyen as a last name. Many Koreans have last names of Park or Lee. Japanese names usually end with a vowel. Chinese last names are often short, single syllable names; Han ad "Lee" are both not uncommon, but the Chinese "Lee" is more often spelled "Li". Indonesians and Malays can quite often have Muslim first names, like Mohammed or Ahmet. Filipinos tend to have modifications of the first names of saints and can, but don't always, have Spanish surnames. Thais often have long, hard to pronounce last names, as do some Indians. Thai first names are often short and playful nicknames, like Nong (little sister or brother), Tukta (doll), Mu (pig, etc, as a way to make up for their long proper names.

In the end, as long as you can tell individuals apart, you really don't need to know if they're Chinese or Japanese.
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Old 07-12-2009, 06:13 AM
sandra_nz sandra_nz is online now
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Do this quiz, and you will see how different various asian people look.

http://alllooksame.com/exam_room.php
  #20  
Old 07-12-2009, 09:19 AM
HazelNutCoffee HazelNutCoffee is offline
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Originally Posted by sandra_nz View Post
Do this quiz, and you will see how different various asian people look.

http://alllooksame.com/exam_room.php
We discussed this quiz in an Asian American studies class - 99% of the students were Asian/Asian American - and most of us sucked at it, oddly enough.

I can tell Korean/Japanese/Chinese people apart if I see them on the street, but only if they're more Asian than American, if that makes sense. For me it's more about their demeanor and how they dress, rather than their faces per se. Second or third-generation Asian Americans are harder to tell apart.
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Old 07-12-2009, 09:21 AM
Risha Risha is offline
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Originally Posted by ShibbOleth View Post
Why do you need to? I don't care what most "white" people's ethnic background is? And if I note it at all, then it's because of their name.
Heh. My first thought when I saw the OP was of Margaret Cho: "I get nervous when people say to me, 'I just can't tell any of you Asians apart!' Um, why do you have to tell us apart? Are we gonna be separated for some reason?"
  #22  
Old 07-12-2009, 09:38 AM
Mangosteen Mangosteen is offline
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Originally Posted by sandra_nz View Post
Do this quiz, and you will see how different various asian people look.

http://alllooksame.com/exam_room.php
This quiz is a joke. They found the least Chinese looking person from China and put them in the quiz. Same for all the other Asians in the quiz. I spent over seven years travelling and living in Asia and I think I'm pretty good at telling the differences between the various groups, but like I said the quiz is a joke and is only meant to show people that "you can't really tell Asian people apart", when in reality often times you can.
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Old 07-12-2009, 09:46 AM
DSYoungEsq DSYoungEsq is offline
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In Bowling Green, Ohio, there is a very good restaurant serving Chinese cuisine. I ate there often. I knew someone, very American WASP background, who was a server there for a while. She said that the owners of the place were often quite upset that the patrons, vendors, etc. couldn't tell that they were NOT Chinese, but Korean. I always found that somewhat amusing.

Now, here in the suburbs of Charlotte, I go to a dry cleaners that is operated by people who are clearly from Southeast Asia. The only way I can tell that they are likely Korean is that they have Korean writing on the calendar on the wall, some of the signs, etc. Their daughter was also briefly assigned to one of my classes (she moved before actually coming to the class) and her name was Korean. Visually, I would never be able to tell that ethnicity.
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Old 07-12-2009, 09:57 AM
ShibbOleth ShibbOleth is offline
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Now, here in the suburbs of Charlotte, I go to a dry cleaners that is operated by people who are clearly from Southeast Asia. The only way I can tell that they are likely Korean is that they have Korean writing on the calendar on the wall, some of the signs, etc.
Korea's not normally considered to be part of Southeast Asia. ASEAN membership is

Brunei
Burma (Myanmar)
Cambodia
Indonesia
Laos
Malaysia
Philippines
Singapore
Thailand
Vietnam

Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste are candidates for inclusion. China is so big that it spans from north to south.

Not necessarily an all inclusive list, but Japan and the Koreas are more Northeast.

Last edited by ShibbOleth; 07-12-2009 at 10:00 AM.. Reason: eta Vietnam and further references
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Old 07-12-2009, 10:04 AM
arseNal arseNal is offline
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This quiz is a joke. They found the least Chinese looking person from China and put them in the quiz. Same for all the other Asians in the quiz.
I agree. They took several people who are just clearly exceptions to the rules that most of us asians have ingrained in our minds. The fact that they were able to do so, in my opinion, shows that these rules exist and the creators of the test used them to throw us curveballs.
  #26  
Old 07-12-2009, 10:32 AM
guizot guizot is offline
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Originally Posted by ShibbOleth View Post
Why do you need to? I don't care what most "white" people's ethnic background is.
Yes. In casual encounters (such as walking down the street or in the market) it's not really necessary to know someone's exact ethnicity, even though you observe that the person is probably from East Asia. Even then, a person of Chinese ethnicity could be from Thailand or some other Southeast Asian country.

In a social context (a party, etc.) I might be curious just to know "where s/he's coming from." OP doesn't make clear, though, whether this is includes Asian-Americans, something more important if you want to strike up a conversation with someone. Usually it's pretty clear before someone speaks if they were born in the States or abroad. If someone is from East Asia, I usually can tell which country it is, but I can't really say how I know specifically. Of course, once you hear someone speak, or see their first and last names, it's pretty obvious.

And in my work it's of technical interest because I deal with English language instruction, and different native languages cause different kinds of "interference."

I agree with Ishaw that "fashion trends, carriage, [and] manners" can help give one an idea about a person's origin. On the street I can usually tell if a person is a European student or tourist, but it also has to do with context. In Havana, most Cubans think I'm Italian, simply because few people from the States (of non-Cuban origin) go to Cuba.
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Old 07-12-2009, 10:45 AM
HMS Irruncible HMS Irruncible is offline
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Originally Posted by HazelNutCoffee View Post
We discussed this quiz in an Asian American studies class - 99% of the students were Asian/Asian American - and most of us sucked at it, oddly enough.
It isn't odd. There's no reason East Asian people ought to be visibly different any more than French or German people ought to be different. Anyone who says they can distinguish Chinese, Korean, or Japanese based purely on physical appearance* is suffering from availability bias (the van is always by the corner) or just some dented version of nationalist pride. It is possible to tell northeast asian from southeast asian, but there again, good luck telling Vietnamese/Thai/Malay from one another.

* Not counting things like - group of girls all walking pigeon-toed and carrying Louis Vuitton bags, someone currently in the process of eating kimchee... cultural signals can improve the odds, but still aren't foolproof.
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Old 07-12-2009, 10:49 AM
Markxxx Markxxx is offline
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I saw this on All In The Family a few days ago

[Mike is arguing with Archie as usual]

Archie) You mean to tell me, if I put a "Chink" and a "Jap" side by side you could tell them apart

Mike) Yes, because I wouldn't judge them based on looks, I'd talk to them and get to know them as individuals

Archie) Yeah, you'd say 'Which one of you is the "Chink" and which one of you is the "Jap"?
  #29  
Old 07-12-2009, 10:53 AM
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Originally Posted by ShibbOleth View Post
Why do you need to? I don't care what most "white" people's ethnic background is? And if I note it at all, then it's because of their name.

FWIW, many Vietnamese have Nguyen as a last name. Many Koreans have last names of Park or Lee. Japanese names usually end with a vowel. Chinese last names are often short, single syllable names; Han ad "Lee" are both not uncommon, but the Chinese "Lee" is more often spelled "Li". Indonesians and Malays can quite often have Muslim first names, like Mohammed or Ahmet. Filipinos tend to have modifications of the first names of saints and can, but don't always, have Spanish surnames. Thais often have long, hard to pronounce last names, as do some Indians. Thai first names are often short and playful nicknames, like Nong (little sister or brother), Tukta (doll), Mu (pig, etc, as a way to make up for their long proper names.

In the end, as long as you can tell individuals apart, you really don't need to know if they're Chinese or Japanese.
One of my favorite cartoon jokes:

Jon: I wouldn't say you're fat, Garfield, but you have more chins than the Hong Kong phonebook.
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Old 07-12-2009, 01:22 PM
Green Bean Green Bean is online now
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Originally Posted by ShibbOleth View Post
Why do you need to?
Because it's interesting. I'm interested in knowing what anybody and everybody's ethnic and/or regional background it. I'll always take the opportunity to find out if I can. It's yet another way of learning about world cultures and geography.

I'm surprised that anyone has any trouble telling Southeast Asians from the rest of the East Asians. I think they have an unmistakable look. There will be exceptions, of course, but I'd never have any trouble telling Joe Kim from Joe Nguyen.
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Old 07-12-2009, 01:39 PM
ShibbOleth ShibbOleth is offline
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Because it's interesting. I'm interested in knowing what anybody and everybody's ethnic and/or regional background it. I'll always take the opportunity to find out if I can. It's yet another way of learning about world cultures and geography.
If you're getting to know people as people first, and then come to find more about their background and heritage, that's one thing and that's fine. If, as some people do, you first slot them into a category of Chinese, Filipino, Korean, etc., then that's just weird. No white person goes up to every other white person that they meet and insists to know "what they are"? Even if you're curious and interested it's still at least vaguely offensive. Especially if that person is just as American (or English or Australian) as you and just happens to have different facial features. That girl working at the Starbucks is not your geography lesson and you're not going to learn anything about Sri Lankan culture just because she's making your coffee.

Now if these are your friends and colleagues whom you've known for a while and taken some time to get to know them, that's an entirely different issue. But I've seen strangers ask these kind of questions, and it's just wrong and helps to point out to the person being asked that they are somehow different enough to be asked questions about their heritage that others don't have to field.

Don't mean to single you out, Green Bean, because I really don't know your situation. I just want to point out that until you know someone fairly well that this can be a really insensitive question, even when it's not intended as such.
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Old 07-12-2009, 01:51 PM
MLS MLS is online now
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Several years ago I worked in a company that had a fair number of Asian employees, from various countries. One day I asked one of the Asian men to take something to the boss's secretary, Colleen. "Which one is she?" he asked. "The Irish gal," I responded. (She was a stereotypical Irish person - very fair skin, red hair, etc.) He found this to be completely unhelpful. I described her more completely, and told him which desk was hers. "You have to remember," he responded, a bit abashed, "You all look alike to us." Further discussion ensued. He found the Irish redhead to be essentially the same as the brunette Italian; that is, not Asian. On the other had, it was patently obvious to him which of his co-workers were Vietnamese, Chinese, or Korean.

Last edited by MLS; 07-12-2009 at 01:52 PM..
  #33  
Old 07-12-2009, 02:31 PM
Mister Rik Mister Rik is online now
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Originally Posted by ShibbOleth View Post
No white person goes up to every other white person that they meet and insists to know "what they are"?
I would tend to ask, "where are you from?" rather than "what are you?". However, I won't usually ask until I've gotten to know the person to some degree. For example, if I'm a regular enough customer of the person's store that we call each other by name. (And if they're using their "native" name rather than an adopted Americanized name, I don't need to ask, since I know enough to distinguish between a Chinese, Japanese, or Korean name.)

But don't think we white folks don't do this with other white folks. We just don't tend to do it based on appearance; rather, as soon as we hear an accent we want to know "where are you from?" And if they're American, well, white Americans are so mixed anyway that you're going to get an answer like mine: English, Scottish, Irish, Dutch, and French, in order of proportion.
  #34  
Old 07-12-2009, 02:33 PM
DSeid DSeid is offline
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An interesting aside about the brain functions involved:
Quote:
social experience has been demonstrated to mold the way in which individuals recognize familiar faces (Carroo, 1987), as well as own-race vs other-race faces (Walker and Hewstone, 2006a). Behavioral research over the past few decades has suggested that increased experience with faces of one's own-race vs other-races can shape the initial way in which faces are encoded (O'Toole et al., 1991; Walker and Tanaka, 2003).

Face perception is a key example of a well-tuned perceptual system. Individuals are able to recognize and remember countless numbers of faces, subsequently facilitating interpersonal communication. Much attention has been paid to the neural basis of face perception. Intracranial recordings of field potentials from the cortical surface of neurological patients and non-invasive hemodynamic imaging studies with healthy volunteers have suggested the existence of a visual area specialized for processing faces located in the middle section of the fusiform gyrus...

... the own-race effect: individuals demonstrate greater difficulty in recognizing other-race faces than own-race faces. This social-cognitive phenomenon has been noted as an impediment in interracial social communication and eye-witness identification (Sporer, 2001; Wright et al., 2003). The neural circuitry involved in the categorization by race-of-face has been examined by fMRI studies (for a review see Eberhardt, 2005). Activation in the middle fusiform gyrus is modulated by race, being larger for own-race faces (Golby et al., 2001; Golarai et al., 2004); and activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, involved in executive control, is modulated by racial bias in response to other-race faces (Richeson et al., 2003). Activation in the amygdala, a limbic structure implicated in processing emotional and motivationally salient stimuli, is also modulated by race-of-face (Cunningham et al., 2003; Hart, et al., 2000; Lieberman et al., 2005), habituating faster to own-race vs other-race faces (Hart et al., 2000). Greater activation in the amygdala has been observed to other-race faces during social-categorization tasks (Wheeler and Fiske, 2005) or when presented subliminally (Cunningham et al., 2004). Moreover, amygdala activation to other-race faces correlates with measures of implicit social bias (Phelps et al., 2000) supporting the involvement of the amygdala in explicit and implicit race evaluation. ...

... In sum, the present experiment demonstrates that effects of race occur relatively early, during perceptual analysis of faces (N170), and percolate through multiple stages of face processing. Differences in own-race vs other-race face processing at the neural level substantiate previous behavioral research on the own-race effect, while results from correlational analyses reveal that race effects may be related to the degree of experience an individual has with different races. Indeed, individuals with more other-race experience show more similarity in the processing of own and other-race faces, whilst those with less experience show greater disparity and disruption in the processing of other- vs own-race faces. Ultimately, these findings have important implications for future research exploring the influence of social factors on neural stimulus processing.
In short this is not a conscious rules-based executive decision process going on. No one actually says to themselves that this face is rounder so the person is of this ethnicity or that one. We literally perceive, in a very real sense see, faces of familiar racial groups differently than we see those that are out of our in-group based on experience - in way very similar to how some Asians can really not hear the difference between "r" and "l" as it is out of their experience to be salient.

So how do you learn to tell them apart? Get a critical mass of dealing with a variety of members of each group as individuals, preferably as early in life in possible.

Last edited by DSeid; 07-12-2009 at 02:35 PM..
  #35  
Old 07-12-2009, 03:36 PM
hibernicus hibernicus is offline
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A lot of people in this thread believe that they can tell East Asians apart, by their facial features, with some degree of reliability. When faced with an online test that seems to show otherwise, they conclude that the test must be flawed.

It may be true that you can actually do this. But it's also true that it's really easy to kid yourself into thinking that you're good at making such distinctions, by a process of unverified self-confirmation ("I can always tell if someone is wearing a wig. Look: that guy over there, he's wearing a wig. You see, I can always tell.") In Northern Ireland a lot of people sincerely believe that they can tell the difference between Catholics and Protestants by facial features alone. Without good evidence (such as a test that unambiguously measures your ability) how can you be sure?
  #36  
Old 07-12-2009, 04:51 PM
lshaw lshaw is offline
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Originally Posted by ShibbOleth View Post
If you're getting to know people as people first, and then come to find more about their background and heritage, that's one thing and that's fine. If, as some people do, you first slot them into a category of Chinese, Filipino, Korean, etc., then that's just weird. No white person goes up to every other white person that they meet and insists to know "what they are"? Even if you're curious and interested it's still at least vaguely offensive. Especially if that person is just as American (or English or Australian) as you and just happens to have different facial features. That girl working at the Starbucks is not your geography lesson and you're not going to learn anything about Sri Lankan culture just because she's making your coffee.

Now if these are your friends and colleagues whom you've known for a while and taken some time to get to know them, that's an entirely different issue. But I've seen strangers ask these kind of questions, and it's just wrong and helps to point out to the person being asked that they are somehow different enough to be asked questions about their heritage that others don't have to field.

Don't mean to single you out, Green Bean, because I really don't know your situation. I just want to point out that until you know someone fairly well that this can be a really insensitive question, even when it's not intended as such.
It's funny you mention this, because this happens to me all the time. And usually, the people who do it to me are Asian. They always ask me "What are you"? My first response would be to say that I am human. Then, they'll say, "No, where are you from?" To which, I'd reply that I'm from America. This would be followed by a "No, I meant where are your ancestors from". A lot of non-Asians, especially those from not very diverse areas, just assume that I'm "from China". I once flew to Texas with my sister, and two minutes after getting off the plane, we encountered a white guy who spoke slow, enunciated English to us (as if we couldn't understand) and asked if we were from China. A few moments after this (I kid you not), we passed a white couple who muttered that they thought they were in America and not China. Wow.

Last edited by lshaw; 07-12-2009 at 04:55 PM..
  #37  
Old 07-12-2009, 04:58 PM
arseNal arseNal is offline
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Originally Posted by hibernicus View Post
A lot of people in this thread believe that they can tell East Asians apart, by their facial features, with some degree of reliability. When faced with an online test that seems to show otherwise, they conclude that the test must be flawed.
To be fair, I still scored something like 60-65% the few times I tried it way back when, which is admittedly less than I thought I would do, but still probably better than pure chance. Of course we can't ever be totally sure, but I'm convinced the ability is not completely fabricated. Like I said, I feel that they purposely threw in some faces that they knew would look very much like a particular ethnicity but were actually not that ethnicity. That the makers of the test were able to do this, to me, indicates that they were using the same ability we all believe we have.

In short, if the faces were randomly picked, I think the results would be different. But hey, I've never really read hard facts on the subject except for what's been posted in this thread, so I could be wrong.
  #38  
Old 07-12-2009, 05:04 PM
Myglaren Myglaren is offline
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My wife is from Hong Kong. I can tell Asian people apart. But I guess I can't tell you you "how" to do it. It takes experience.
My wife isn't. There aren't many orientals around here (Asians I define as being from the Indian sub continent) but I can usually define Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai from their appearance. Don't ask me how though.

I have had a few of Chinese friends and acquaintances. My second daughter's best friend is Chinese. There are a few Japanese live near me that are attached to the local Nissan plant, there is a Chinese community about ten miles away, around the University, and I'm often in that area, otherwise I have practically zero contact with them. There are very few Koreans or Thai in this locality.

I do however have an interest in Oriental culture and particularly music. Whether this has any influence or not I cannot say. If it is it is entirely subliminal.

Last edited by Myglaren; 07-12-2009 at 05:07 PM.. Reason: Stupid spelling mistake.
  #39  
Old 07-12-2009, 05:43 PM
CairoCarol CairoCarol is offline
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originally posted by ShibbOleth:
Indonesians <snip> can quite often have Muslim first names, like Mohammed or Ahmet.
Not to nitpick (okay, I *am* nitpicking, and my only excuse is my love of Indonesia and the distress I feel when foreigners oversimplify its complexities or dismiss the nation as a bunch of Moslem extremists, or think that everyone who follows Islam is named "Mohammed") but in 8 years of living in Indonesia I have yet to meet an "Ahmet," although there is an occasional "Ahmad" so that's not completely wrong.

But here are the first (or only, since not all Indonesians have two names) names of every Indonesian I currently know in a work-related capacity:

Yanto
Udin
Mulyono
Iis
Eti
Harun
Widodo
Edward (I work with 2 people named Edward)
Sutrisno
Aris (I work with 2 people named Aris)
Farid
Wawan
Januar
Satia
Endah (2 of those, too)
Parno
Wakidi
Deborah
Ari

The three front-running teams in the just-held Indonesian elections had these first/only names:

Susilo
Budiono
Megawati
Prabowo
Yusuf
Wiranto


Now, you will note that some of these names - like Farid and Yusuf - are indeed Arabic in origin. But Indonesians with Arabic names are at least as likely to be named Aburizal or Walid as they are worn-out American stereotypes like Mohammad and Ahmad.

Sorry, ShibbOleth. I don't mean to pick on you, just on the tendency of Americans to reduce everything Islamic to names like Mohammed. I'm sure you personally are not guilty of that.

Last edited by CairoCarol; 07-12-2009 at 05:44 PM..
  #40  
Old 07-12-2009, 05:51 PM
CairoCarol CairoCarol is offline
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Missed the edit window: on rereading, I'm guilty of stereotyping too: I should have said "worn-out stereotypes" rather than worn-out American stereotypes" and referred to the tendency of some Americans. Mea culpa.
  #41  
Old 07-12-2009, 07:31 PM
China Guy China Guy is offline
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Sheesh, that on line test is a test to identify Asian 20 somethings in America. I believe that they did that the least stereotypical faces (or deliberately took a person from one ethnicity that easily looks like another eg, Chinese that looks Japanese) to help "prove" all Asians look alike.

As I said above, most Asians have a stereotypical look - and I have no idea if that's 10%, 30% or 60% of the population - but if they fall into that "look" I probably have a 99% hit rate of correctly picking Chinese, Japanese, Korean and usually ballpark on the rest. I'm not sure if I can really differentiate between Thai, Khmer, Loatian and Burmese, but I can probably tell you they are from that region and not the Philippine Islands. Split that further and I can probably recognize the stereotypical Taiwanese, Tibetan, Shanghaiese, Cantonese.

Having lived in N. Asia for about 25 years, there are a lot of physical, mannerisms, dress and cultural markers. Transplant these people as 3rd generation milk fed Americans, an awful lot of these clues disappear.

For me, it's not irrelevant what someone's cultural background is. I mean this in a good way. More than half of my life and virtually all of my adult life has been spent in those cultures and trying to learn from them. It's an additional connection. Especially if we share a language in addition to English.
  #42  
Old 07-12-2009, 07:44 PM
HazelNutCoffee HazelNutCoffee is offline
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I will say this - as an Asian American it irks me when someone asks me, "Where are you from?" and I say I'm from Chicago or the US and then they insist, "No, where are you REALLY from?" or some variant, like I'm trying to falsely pass myself off as American. Yes, I'm REALLY from the US. Go away.

This isn't directed at any one person in the thread, but it's a common complaint of a lot of Asian Americans, so I thought I'd just throw it out there.
  #43  
Old 07-12-2009, 08:30 PM
lshaw lshaw is offline
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I don’t think anyone is suggesting that Asians all look the same. No, there are real differences amongst people. However, I find it irksome and erroneous to say that these physical differences correspond neatly with national categories. For example, you have Japanese nationals who are descended from the Jomon and those who are descended from the Yayoi. The latter supposedly have more mongloid features, while the Jomon - which included Ainu people - have stronger Ainu features. China itself is a large country with many various groups, some of which may have features that make them physically more similar to the Jomon Japanese than with another group in China. Some groups in Korea look much more similar to the Yayoi Japanese than the Yayoi with the Jomon! Borders do not neatly correspond with phenotypic groupings; That is why I don’t think one should say that there is a “Chinese” look or a “Japanese look” or a “Korean look”, as it marginalizes very diverse groups of people. Instead, I think you may be able to say that you can distinguish between, say, the Jomon people and the Yayoi people.
  #44  
Old 07-12-2009, 09:49 PM
Sleel Sleel is offline
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"How do you tell Asian people apart?" Short answer: the same way you can usually tell at a glance if someone is from Wisconsin or a German tourist. It's probably not based on bloodlines because there's a huge Germanic population in that area. Most of the differences are subtle cultural cues like posture, interpersonal distance, other body language, or more overt stuff like fashion and grooming.

When I was in Spain a few years back, I could often pick out tourists from different parts of Europe at a glance (later confirmed by listening for what language they spoke) while my Japanese girlfriend usually had no idea until she heard them speak. Even she could spot most of the American tourists a mile away, though

On the other hand, it's not easy for people with similar descent to tell groups apart sometimes. I was out drinking with a group of Japanese guys one night and we eventually ended up in a Korean hostess bar. One of the girls was offended at being told that her Japanese was quite good…because she was native Japanese. Another of the 4 or 5 girls there was Korean, but looked like a stereotypically cute Japanese girl and passed without notice until this incident. Up to that point they'd assumed she was Japanese.

Maybe the guys I was with just suck at telling Koreans and Japanese apart, but on the surface it seems like it's hard even for Japanese to tell the difference without listening closely for accent cues. It would probably be close to impossible with native Koreans who grew up in Japan and are therefore culturally Japanese. Doesn't stop them from discriminating against them though.
  #45  
Old 07-13-2009, 10:23 AM
BellRungBookShut-CandleSnuffed BellRungBookShut-CandleSnuffed is offline
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IME most Japanese people suck at noticing when someone is Asian and not Japanese. This might be more of a product of an insular society than something like not recognizing facial features or something. A friend of mine here is as Chinese as can be, but any native who hasn't met him before begins speaking to him in Japanese.
  #46  
Old 07-13-2009, 10:33 AM
An Gadaí An Gadaí is offline
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Originally Posted by hibernicus View Post
In Northern Ireland a lot of people sincerely believe that they can tell the difference between Catholics and Protestants by facial features alone. Without good evidence (such as a test that unambiguously measures your ability) how can you be sure?
My otherwise fairly sane father swore by this. Granted if you know someone's name you've a fair chance.

Reminds me of a joke. How do you know ET was a Catholic?

SPOILER:
Because he looked like a Catholic.
  #47  
Old 07-13-2009, 10:35 AM
Really Not All That Bright Really Not All That Bright is offline
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FWIW, I can spot Britons (including black and South Asian people) at Disney World at a hundred paces, even if they're not sunburned or wearing anything that says Umbro on it. My ability to do this is uncanny. How do I tell them apart from Americans or other foreigners? Only my subconscious knows!
  #48  
Old 07-13-2009, 10:50 AM
ChrisBooth12 ChrisBooth12 is offline
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I live in what would be considered an asian community. We have a high population of asians here. Mostly Japanesse. It is not that hard to tell them apart. Facial features, clothing, teeth, yes there are some that you can't tell or that are to close to call but it is not as hard as some of you are making it sound.
  #49  
Old 07-13-2009, 01:54 PM
Mr. Slant Mr.  Slant is offline
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Originally Posted by China Guy View Post
It's easier to tell Asian's apart in Asia than in say the US. A lot more cultural clues in this neck of the woods. A non-Han Chinese Asian tends to stick out in China even if dressed the same. An American born and raised of 100% Chinese ethnicity sticks out like a sort thumb (milk fed, the way they move and act, body posture, etc. this holds true for those that speak like a native instead of as a second language).
SNIP
Milk fed? Huh?
  #50  
Old 07-13-2009, 02:00 PM
Really Not All That Bright Really Not All That Bright is offline
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Domesticating cattle for milk is relatively new to most of Southeast Asia (though not South Asia), and still mostly unknown in some parts. Thai people have something like a 95% chance of lactose intolerance, for example.
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