While I was riding the subway home, an African American man hailed me with “Ni hao” and “Anyeong haseo.” After telling him that I speak neither Chinese nor Korean, he asked me what my native language was. I told him “English.”
He laughed, but he didn’t let up. He said that he started out saying both greetings because he thought it would make me “feel closer to him.” He further said that he knew there are people who don’t speak English, and he wanted to “reach out” by speaking another language.
Obviously, the guy was trying to pick me up. But this was the first time I’ve heard the justification of why someone would start out by greeting me in a foreign language. Is it really so different from what I’ve said about wanting to connect with someone– meeting someone halfway?
Aside from wanting to pick me up, the intentions were similar. The delivery was absolutely wrong. Why assume that I can’t speak English? Instead of “feeling closer,” he annoyed me by making an incorrect assumption of my ethnicity, and thus stopped any desire of communicating further on my part.
In response to my previous post, in which a Chinese woman assumed I was Chinese and started speaking to me in Mandarin, Gil had remarked, “That’s interesting that Chinese assume you’re Chinese. To me, the context [of] that interaction is different from a European American person assuming I’m Chinese, or Japanese.” I disagree. In both interactions, there was the desire of establishing a connection. And in both instances, my reaction was the same– I had to define myself to the other person by what I was not. Which I don’t enjoy doing.
The punchline to this story is that after I said goodbye to the guy and stepped out of the subway car, he proceeded to say hello to an African American woman– who gave him the cold shoulder.