Asians---telling each other apart??

How do Asians tell themselves apart? What do Asians see in themselves that they can distinquish between Chinese, Japanese, Korean etc.? Any help is greatly appreciated.

You’re kidding right?

Someone from Japan would have no trouble distinguishing someone from China or Korea.

I think you need to gain some perspective here.

I’ve always wondered how those damned WASPs tell themselves apart. Buggers all look alike.


I don’t know, but maybe you can help me, Insider-how do you Idiots tell each other apart?

If an American had a german,french,danish, and spanish person, how would the American tell them apart if they did not speak at all? What are the physical aspects that Asians see in each other that they can tell themselves apart???

Find someone who is Chinese. Look at that person. Find someone who is Japanese. Look at that person. Draw your own conclusions. You can probably do this on the web. I’m sure it’s not hard to find photos.

my mother is from Hawai’i and i spent my childhood with her always trying to identify the specific ethnicity of Asian people.

let’s just say that there is a great deal of variety among even such a relatively small group as “Northeast Asian” (Chinese, Japanese, Korean). enough variation in the shape of eyes, cheekbones, facial structure, even hair (many Korean people have brown hair) to make educated guesses possible, if not necessarily smart, especially out loud. that being said, it would be impossible to explain all these relatively minute criteria to you in this forum.

but Japanese and Korean people have been pretty isolated throughout history and have pretty distinctive features. Chinese people have mixed much more and cover a wide spectrum–there is a huge difference between Northern Chinese and Southern Chinese. and the Chinese have gone to many other countries, so lots of Filipino and Vietnamese people might make it even more confusing.

side note: the stereotype of Chinese being short is aided by the fact that almost all Chinese-Americans arriving before 1965 came from a very small section of Southern China, where people are smaller. Northern China contributes many of the reported 1000 Chinese basketball players that stand over 7 feet tall. in China, if you’re one in a million, there’s at least 999 others just like you…

let’s just say it can be done, pretty accurately even, although i think there is a small segment of the Japanese/Korean population that can pass for either group–frustrates me at times. you just have to meet lots of Asian people and eventually your little library will begin to build up enough examples to let you venture guesses. there’s really no shortcut.

it’s not the best answer, but hopefully better than, “damn, it’s not that hard, we don’t all look alike, you ignorant white person!” :wink:

you’d probably be well advised to duck and cover when the PC folks (who will probably be mostly white) rain abuse on you. but as an Asian person, i can say that it’s not always easy to tell us apart, so i don’t think this is a offensive question…maybe just a little goofy. unless, of course, you’re hoping your ID skills will help you satisfy your fetish for Asian girls…

Point taken, hapa.

Speaking as one of the knee-jerkers, I should probably qualify that the wording of the question is what got to me.

FWIW, I have a Chinese friend who once brought me into a game of “name the ethnicity” at a bus stop. She informed me that her family often tried to figure out what country (or specific area, even) a person was from whenever they heard them speak an Asian language.

I live in San Jose, a community with a HUGE Asian population and for the life of me I can’t figure out how people can tell what someone’s lineage is w/o hearing them speak a different language.

If they are speaking English how can people tell if they’re Chinese, Japanese, Philipino, Thai, etc.?

::BTW, I am NOT saying all Asians look the same, so don’t even think it::

I guess some people think that I am some kind of bigot or something but my question was not intended to insult anyone of any race. I really did not know how it was possible to identify Asians such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean and so on. HapaXL, thank you again for providing the information that I asked for in all innocence. My question was more or less of an anthropological question that trying to size up Asian girls. As a note, I have been eating lunch at the same Chinese resturant for over five years five days a week and they have kind of adopted me as part of their extended family. I have been helping the workers speak better English and they have been helping me learn Chinese. This was the basis of my question. Thanks.

Insider-please accept my appology. I misunderstood.

Well, my friend Nam is kind of short and thin, while his brother is taller. :rolleyes:

Familiarity helps, probably. Having worked at the same place for a few years, I can more or less tell who has a Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese or Chinese face or build, but I’m probably not much more accurate at it than I am about telling German, French or Irish Americans apart by looks alone.

WHAT?! where is this place? you sure they haven’t been slipping something in the food to get you this addicted? howzabout a burrito once in a while? let me know how their garlic eggplant is, maybe i’ll have to make a pilgramage!

happy to help, good luck with your language lessons…

On the familiarity issue:

A friend of mine who spent 2 tours in Korea (CID staff position) said that at first they all look the same, but after 3 months working with the locals every day, you see just as much variance in looks as you see in white people.

They do it the same way that, say, Europeans distinguish between the French and the Germans. There are some physical characteristics that are more common among certain ethnic groups than others. The shape of the face is one of the most important characteristics used to judge Asian ethnicity. Of course, judging ethnicity by appearance is not a failsafe method – I have one Japanese friend who “looks Chinese” not only to me but to other Asian students, and another who could probably pass for a Latina.

I apologize for being so harsh to Insider at first, but my Asian friends tend to get a bit testy about this question.

However, it’s really not that hard to tell the difference between the major ethnicities of Asia along the Pacific Rim. There isn’t a lot of mixing, so the differences are fairly sharp unlike Europeans who have intermingled to a much greater degree.

BobT wrote:

I was in Japan about a month ago, with a few co-workers, including a Vietnamese and a Korean (they now live in the US, but were born in those countries). Several times while we were there, the Japanese people would talk to those two guys expecting them to speak Japanese.

If you take your median Vietnamese features and compare that to the median Korean or Japanese, I can tell them apart. But there is enough variation in how people look that many could be mistaken to be from a different country.

I’m a white boy living in Korea, and Koreans always claim that they have no problems telling other Asians apart… I belived it until one time my fiancee (who is Korean) and I were eating in a restaurant. Two women came in, and the waitress aproached them and asked (in Korean) what they wanted to eat… the two women didn’t speak Korean; so the waitress went running for another waitress who spoke Japanese! The second waitress asked in Japanese what they wanted… but no luck, the two women didn’t speak Japanese, either!

Turned out they were Chinese, and I ended up taking their order in English, and translating into Korean for the waitress… I got a big laugh out of this!!!

Truthfully, though, there are some typical looks for each of the ethnicities here in Asia, but as with absolutely everything else in life, you should not draw generalizations… my fiancee does not have a typical Korean look, and often when we are together, Koreans see that she’s with a foreigner and assume that she is foreign too! Usually, they try to speak with her in either English or Japanese (she looks kinda Japanese), but not in her native language!

I spent a long time in SE Asia, and I have to admit, initially it was very hard to tell one Chinese from another never mind one Asian race from another.

However, I knew I was cured the day I was up town and came home to excitedly tell all my Chinese friends that I had just seen a man who looked exactly like my brother, except my brother is not Chinese. They laughed their oriental asses off at me.

Truth is that Asians are not much better at guessing ethnicity than we are. They simply have more to go by. Things that you and I miss. How they wear their sarong, how they hold their chopsticks, what they are eating, what they are drinking. Not really give aways, to be sure, but definitely hints that are just way over our heads.

I also had a Kiwi gentleman, in ernest, ask me why we Canadians all sounded like Americans. My reply, “Why do all you Kiwi’s speak like Auzzies?” Of course, that just pissed him off royally, never spoke to me again. But it’s the truth, Auzzies and Kiwi’s only sound alike to the unaccustomed ear. As do Canucks and Amerikans to a Kiwi.


I’m sorry. Really. But I still don’t get it:
Why is it so important to be able to tell the difference? And *is there a surefire way to tell? Is there a surefire way to tell the difference between someone from Norway and someone from Sweden? An Argentinian from a Brazilian? Is there really a valid point?
Personally, being Japanese(-American), I have never run into, say, a Chinese individual, looked at them, and wondered to myself “hmmm…what are they?” or walked up to a Korean and asked them a question in Japanese, assuming they would understand.