About the Author: Our final “Man Week” guest blogger is NOT Don Draper (see left), but like the Mad Men character he loves to watch Jay prefers to maintain a mysterious air (hence the picture is not of him). Also, unlike Don Draper, Jay is obviously Korean (see above) and has some very interesting stories that only a jet-setting Asian American postgrad could tell. You can read more about Jay here.
Each year after commencement ceremonies around our great nation, recent graduates leave “the best four years of their lives” to make it in the real world. Out of our comfort zones, creating a new path in life, each and every one of us seeks change.
Change is good, but dollars are better and euros are best – especially in the recent years as the USD:EUR rate has dropped significantly. So what’s a recent college grad to do? Make Euros! Luckily, I just happened to get a job permitting me to do so.
When people ask me where I work, I normally say Europe because it’s easier. Let me explain with an example:
Now, while I can’t say every week is like this (Air France normally has at least one leg of each flight significantly late… I was trapped in Berlin for three days!), I’m at least in a different country once a week, and up in the air for at least 3 hrs a week. This example week did actually happen. Gotta love frequent flyer miles!*
I do try to travel for pleasure and not just work, but the label I’m writing about today isn’t “jet setter”; instead, my post is about a common problem I face no matter what time zone I’m struggling to fall asleep in. You see, being of Korean decent, others have quite a difficult time determining what my origins are. Let me give you some examples.
In Rio de Janeiro this past winter, the first phrase I learned was “não só japa!” (Translation: I’m not [diminutive term for Japanese person].) But when our server would bring out dishes or ask who the freshly squeezed cantaloupe juice with ice and the hamburger was for, the Brazilian response was “Japa.” We all knew to whom that one word referred…
In France, the Chinese are the immigrants like the Japanese are in Brazil, but there are many more. Any Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, or Japanese restaurant in France is more than likely run by people of Chinese descent. The French version of the diminutive is “le chinois.” One time, for business, I was sitting in the airport waiting for my flight to Nice to run an errand. As I sat there reading my magazine, a little girl playing with her friends stops in front of me only to scream back to her mother:
“MAMAN… pourquoi les chinois ont-ils des yeux si petits?” (Mommy, why are the Chinese’s eyes so small?)
And in fact, also at the airport, when I set off the metal detector (I know, you’d think that a jet setter would learn not to do that…rookie mistake), the female security person told the male:
C’est le petit chinois là (It’s the little China man there.)
My friends here in Paris know that I hate being called a Chinese to the point where I will fight a stranger. On the night of Nuit Blanche, a night where the metro runs all night, encouraging you to stay out all night, I sat at a bar with some friends and some newly made acquaintances. Sitting at the end of the table, I was closest to the bathroom and anyone needing to break the seal would pass me. Since it was 4am in the morning after everyone had been drinking heavily, there were plenty of people frequenting les toilettes. One man, while waiting, came up to me and struck up an interesting conversation:
J’aime bien ta culture // Et c’est quelle culture ça? // La culture chinoise (I really like your culture // And what culture is that? // The Chinese culture)
I saw my friends’ eyes double in size (in non-Asian eye size) and another dropped her head into her arms. Let’s just say that he got to skip the line to use the bathroom for the evening and keep it at that. (Now I’m not one for physical violence, but it’s quite easy when dealing with flaccid drunks.)
Even though I’ve been mistaken for Chinese throughout France (where I have spent at least a year of my life), I’m not even Chinese enough for the Chinese! One of my favorite things to do when in Shanghai is to bargain in markets, and that involves chatting up the young saleswomen. With my accent, they deduce I’m not Chinese… but what are their responses when I have them guess?
你皮肤那么黑，你不是柬埔寨的人吗? (You’re skin is so dark, you must be Cambodian, right?)
In Russia, due to the Soviet Union’s involvement with the East, I know there are много корейцев (Translation: many Koreans) but just because I look like them…Wait. Wait. Wait. “But Jay, you are Korean…you can’t say you’re being mislabeled!”
Let’s get some things straight:
- I eat les hamburgers et les hot dogs when I want. Also I like my beverages chilled, with ice.
- When that little girl made that comment in her anything-but-dastardly fashion, I was reading an American GQ article on Favre, who plays the greatest sport ever. Football. American football. Not soccer, you, rest of the world, you.
- The reason I’m so dark is because Americans love tanning. They love tanning so much that “Obama put a 10 percent tax on tanning.” – Nicole Polizzi.
- I was born and raised in the great commonwealth of Virginia, member of the United States, a country that is definitely not communist.
Now these may be some facetious responses to some lilliputian remarks, but the truth of the matter is that, for a lot of the rest of the world, the view of an American is over generalized. You may respond with “well yeah, but the Americans over generalize everyone else as well!” Google it. I’m not going to sit here and argue why America is the most diverse, but I’ll give you the main reason why:
Freedom. Our freedoms guaranteed by the government already knock many other countries out from any sort of diversification contest. It is freedom that separates us from the rest of the world, the very foundation on which our country was built. And it is this idea of freedom, which we grow up in, live in, breathe and eat every day (Including freedom fries… Americans eat a lot of fried foods and I am no exception to the rule…but my relationship with fried chicken is a whole other story.) and our understanding of it, that defines us and myself as an American.** That intangible quality is what makes it hard for non-Americans to view anyone as an American, regardless of race, religion, size, food choices or sports played. You can’t see or hear upfront how a person understands freedom.
And so I leave you with this, citizens of the greatest country…
“America! F*** yeah!”
*I have had a tough week and am finally coming home to the states after multiple flight changes this week. There is nothing that could make me happier at this moment. Except maybe a Guinness…
**Although some of my close friends would say that I am the opposite of free, the very job that reminds me every day of being free, because my boss is quite the snollygoster when it comes to being an employer.