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Old 24.05.2008, 01:21
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Racial frustrations

I know there's already a thread on "Are the Swiss racist" -- but I feel that my angst and frustrations take on a slightly different twist so I've started a new thread. My personal nature is to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and my answer to the previous thread would be no, only certain Swiss individuals are racist, just like you will find racist individuals in any other country (though the proportions may differ). However, I feel that the longer that I live here (I've been here for about a year and a half now), the more my good faith is slipping.

I am ethnically Chinese, but grew up in Canada and consider English to be my mother tongue. I, along with my entire family and scores of other Asians in North America have an "English" name. Yet every time I introduce myself to others and am asked about my name or where I come from, I get many surprising reactions. The more vocal ones will comment with "But that's not your *real* name is it?" or "But where are you really from?" or "Oh! You don't look Canadian!". While I'm mildly offended, I usually chalk it up to ignorance and find the situation slightly ironic since the stereotype is that Europeans are much more "worldly" than us North Americans.

I guess my frustrations are being compounded by my recent efforts to find a new room. I'm well aware of the difficult housing situation in Zurich, but yesterday, I went to a 45 minute interview (!!) for a room, during which I felt I had struck a good rapport with the landlady, only to be told at the end that she would have to seriously reconsider her decision to never rent to Chinese again. She currently rents out a room to a girl from China, and told me that she was extremely disappointed with the experience because this girl was very reclusive and made her feel like a stranger in her own home. The more I reflect on this, the more I feel unsettled by her sweeping judgement to reject me because of my ethnicity. I know that it is this woman's perogative to choose whom she wants to share her flat with, but to equate unfriendliness and reclusive personalities with an entire nationality just completely baffles me!!
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Old 24.05.2008, 02:09
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Re: Racial frustrations

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However, I feel that the longer that I live here (I've been here for about a year and a half now), the more my good faith is slipping.
I'm sorry to hear about that. Frankly, perhaps her point was to put you down and watch you squirm. I've seen and heard lots of examples like this, and I hate it. I hope you didn't give her the pleasure.

I can only suggest that you learn from this experience. Use your head and not your emotions.

Be wise. Study the adversary. Learn them really well. I find that the personality of this kind of adversary is passive-aggressive. The only footing they have is what you give them. If you don't give them any footing, then they can't stand.

Learning to deal with this is not too different from kung fu training. Maintain your energy. Know your peace. Stay connected with your friends and loved ones. If you lose your connections, you may start to wonder if there is something wrong with you.

I bet you didn't expect a cryptic response like this.
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Old 24.05.2008, 02:35
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Re: Racial frustrations

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"Oh! You don't look Canadian!"
Of which you could reply: "Donghua Li, the Swiss champion gymnast".

Oh, he doesn't look Swiss...



maybe he comes from the far eastern part of Switzerland..?
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Old 24.05.2008, 11:12
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Re: Racial frustrations

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I am ethnically Chinese, but grew up in Canada and consider English to be my mother tongue.
"But where are you really from?" or "Oh! You don't look Canadian!".
No comfort to you, but there was once a survey which showed that men who were taller were considered more intelligent and goodness knows what else...

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I felt I had struck a good rapport with the landlady, only to be told at the end that she would have to seriously reconsider her decision to never rent to Chinese again.
This sounds to me as if you have 'shaken' the lady's prejudice a little and that the next applicant with Chinese ancestors might be in luck!
Good work and good luck with the room-search.
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Old 24.05.2008, 12:07
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...during which I felt I had struck a good rapport with the landlady, only to be told at the end that she would have to seriously reconsider her decision to never rent to Chinese again.
The flip side of this is that you can be sure she is not the kind of person you want to rent a room from.
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Old 24.05.2008, 12:17
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Re: Racial frustrations

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I am ethnically Chinese, but grew up in Canada and consider English to be my mother tongue. I, along with my entire family and scores of other Asians in North America have an "English" name. Yet every time I introduce myself to others and am asked about my name or where I come from, I get many surprising reactions. The more vocal ones will comment with "But that's not your *real* name is it?" or "But where are you really from?" or "Oh! You don't look Canadian!". While I'm mildly offended, I usually chalk it up to ignorance and find the situation slightly ironic since the stereotype is that Europeans are much more "worldly" than us North Americans.
If I can be honest, if you look Chinese and introduce yourself as Canadian, of course this would raise questions. It is only natural.

As you can see from the population in Switzerland, there are not many Asians here. So the Swiss do not normally have very many encounters with Asians. My experience is that they are genuinely interested in the Asian culture, and are perhaps intrigued about Asians living in western countries. Given their limited exposure, they probably expect that all Asians have Asian names. Why not? To me, it seems that it is only the Asians who tend to adopt western names (either from birth or later in life). No other culture really does this. For example, do you know of many Edward's and Barry's from Turkey or Serbia?

In fact, I know of a Swiss guy called Brian. When I first met him, I made a comment that Brian is not a very Swiss name. He explained that he was named after his dad's best mate, who is Irish. So I committed the same faux pas that you have described.

I, too, am of Asian origin but was born and raised in Australia. Unlike you, I have an Asian name which often lends itself to a myriad of comical pronunciations. It's a fact of life that I've had to deal with, and at least it is reciprocated; there are many Germans and eastern Europeans who have to bear my mispronunciation of their names.

Sometimes you just need to take a step back and assess how other people may view you. It sounds like this experience is rather new to you, but you will slowly get used to it. I've dealt with this situation my whole life, which is why it doesn't bother me now. Whether that means I have accepted some forms of racism, is another topic for discussion (i.e. I have had to deal with much more serious racial issues which makes the western vs Asian name thing trivial).

As to the landlady, it's her loss if she misjudges you. Yes, it's not fair that she has generalised Chinese people in general (her current flatmate may just be an introvert, and introverts exist in all cultures), but narrow-minded people like her will realise their own limitations soon enough. Forget about her and hopefully you will find much nicer and open-minded people to share with.
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Old 24.05.2008, 12:53
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Re: Racial frustrations

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Yes, it's not fair that she has generalised Chinese people in general (her current flatmate may just be an introvert, and introverts exist in all cultures), but narrow-minded people like her will realise their own limitations soon enough.
If this was the lady's first, and only, close encounter with a Chinese, perhaps 'narrow-minded' is a little harsh. It is, unfortunately, often so that a single negative experience influences our reactions.
See other Complaint Threads!!
Let's hope the meeting with the OP will help her revise her opinion.
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Old 24.05.2008, 13:02
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Re: Racial frustrations

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If I can be honest, if you look Chinese and introduce yourself as Canadian, of course this would raise questions. It is only natural.
How exactly do Canadians look
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Old 24.05.2008, 13:06
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How exactly do Canadians look
Like Canucks..
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Old 24.05.2008, 13:14
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Re: Racial frustrations

Hi.

I think people do form certain stereotypes about others. It's a natural instinct to put things and people into boxes so that our brains don't have to "think" too much. It's a very normal mental mapping process.

Before anyone stones me, I am ethnically Chinese as well but born in Singapore and English is my first language or though I refuse to call it my mother tongue because it's not my "mother tongue". It's just a working language to me, although my command of English is much better than my Mandarin.

The main reason why Asian people (or Chinese) find it easier to adopt a "foreign" name is because it's easier for non-Mandarin speaking people to remember and to pronounce. It's not that we are ashamed of our culture or language (although a small handful of us are) but for the most part, it's out of convenience. It's honestly much easier to pronounce "Tarik" or "Taufik" than "Zhuang" or "Xuan" correctly. So rather than let our names be verbally mutilated, it's easier to adopt an English name for convenience. For me, "Lee" is easy. So I often introduce myself as "Lee". So I would like to suggest that you consider it from that angle too. With all due respect, I honestly find your comment/question about Asians (about us adopting western names in general) rather distasteful and mildly offensive.

Back to racism. When I moved to Zurich from Lausanne, I have had about 3 racist-leaning comments hurled at me. I don't understand German well, but one old man was clipping his nose and waving his hands to suggest that I stink while hurling (what I reckon to be) verbal abuse at me. I didn't care because firstly I know that I am very very clean and hygienic and secondly, I cannot be bothered to contend with people like that. It's just not worth it. Another case was in church (of all places) where a lady who would give me condescending looks. As far as I am concerned, I have not done anything to offend her. But she chose to alienate and "despise" me for some reason due to racist reasons. And again, I cannot be bothered with people like her. It's just her loss, not mine and I am OK with that.

In every group, there will always be black sheep. Just like some Chinese whose behaviours give the rest of us a bad name, there are Swiss who also do not represent the whole population. Personally, I try not to let a few bad experiences to allow me to extrapolate that to all Swiss in general. I have had very good encounters with other Swiss people who are very genuine and interested in learning more about other parts of the world. They try their best to speak English with me and learn more about my part of the world. It's great getting to know them. One of my friends even married a Swiss! But in general, Swiss people tend to keep to themselves. It's natural and normal for people to keep to their comfort zones. I would too. So as a foreigner living here, it takes extra effort to try to adapt and get to know people. It can be trying at times, but the rewards are generally good. And it has helped me to become stronger and more open-minded about different cultures and people.

All in all, my experience here has been very enriching.

Cheerios.


Lee




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If I can be honest, if you look Chinese and introduce yourself as Canadian, of course this would raise questions. It is only natural.

As you can see from the population in Switzerland, there are not many Asians here. So the Swiss do not normally have very many encounters with Asians. My experience is that they are genuinely interested in the Asian culture, and are perhaps intrigued about Asians living in western countries. Given their limited exposure, they probably expect that all Asians have Asian names. Why not? To me, it seems that it is only the Asians who tend to adopt western names (either from birth or later in life). No other culture really does this. For example, do you know of many Edward's and Barry's from Turkey or Serbia?

In fact, I know of a Swiss guy called Brian. When I first met him, I made a comment that Brian is not a very Swiss name. He explained that he was named after his dad's best mate, who is Irish. So I committed the same faux pas that you have described.

I, too, am of Asian origin but was born and raised in Australia. Unlike you, I have an Asian name which often lends itself to a myriad of comical pronunciations. It's a fact of life that I've had to deal with, and at least it is reciprocated; there are many Germans and eastern Europeans who have to bear my mispronunciation of their names.

Sometimes you just need to take a step back and assess how other people may view you. It sounds like this experience is rather new to you, but you will slowly get used to it. I've dealt with this situation my whole life, which is why it doesn't bother me now. Whether that means I have accepted some forms of racism, is another topic for discussion (i.e. I have had to deal with much more serious racial issues which makes the western vs Asian name thing trivial).

As to the landlady, it's her loss if she misjudges you. Yes, it's not fair that she has generalised Chinese people in general (her current flatmate may just be an introvert, and introverts exist in all cultures), but narrow-minded people like her will realise their own limitations soon enough. Forget about her and hopefully you will find much nicer and open-minded people to share with.
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Old 24.05.2008, 13:15
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Re: Racial frustrations

It's "although" not "or though". Haha...
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Old 24.05.2008, 13:29
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Re: Racial frustrations

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To me, it seems that it is only the Asians who tend to adopt western names (either from birth or later in life). No other culture really does this. For example, do you know of many Edward's and Barry's from Turkey or Serbia?
Actually in Ireland we have both English and Gaelic forms of our names, so for instance 'Heidi Mullen' would become something like 'Ailís Ní Maolain'.....
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Old 24.05.2008, 14:04
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Re: Racial frustrations

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If I can be honest, if you look Chinese and introduce yourself as Canadian, of course this would raise questions. It is only natural.
This is exactly my point -- there is this pervasive expectation here that Canadians (or insert any other nationality with a large immigrant community here) must be Caucasian.

You are right though, I've been well-sheltered up to moving Switzerland, and I know that this sort of annoyance is mild in comparison to other more serious cases of racism.
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Old 24.05.2008, 14:10
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Re: Racial frustrations

I have had the same experience as a Canadian of South Asian descent. People are always asking where I am really from and imply I am not truly Canadian. Even though I did immigrate to Canada (from England) I never give in, I just continue to insist I am Canadian.

In a related story, the other day at the bar a guy of Turkish descent who has lived here for 25 years since he was 4 doesn't consider himself truly Swiss, which is bizarre to me as a Canadian.

Things are different around here. It matters what your blood is. Go with it, enjoy Switzerland and Europe, and appreciate how great we have it in Canada.
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Old 24.05.2008, 14:14
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Re: Racial frustrations

My sister have lived in Canada for over 40 years and when she visits with my nieces everyone thinks they are American.
It doesn't bother them but a lots of Canadians do get quite upset.


You must not let your feelings of the actions of others cloud your judgement and upset you. The lady who didn't rent the room to you seems to have issues about certain things. It probably wasn't about you ,she sounds like the sort of person who probably would be like that about a lot of nationalities.

Put it behind you, move on and enjoy life in this beautiful country
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Old 24.05.2008, 14:35
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Re: Racial frustrations

Many landlords would welcome a quiet tennant. Perhaps the current tennant is shy, maybe her command of whatever language the landlady speaks isn't good. I'd question whether or not I'd want to rent from this person. But you're right - no reason to judge an entire group of people from that.

Am hoping you find a good situation for yourself.
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Old 24.05.2008, 14:35
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Re: Racial frustrations

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The main reason why Asian people (or Chinese) find it easier to adopt a "foreign" name is because it's easier for non-Mandarin speaking people to remember and to pronounce. It's not that we are ashamed of our culture or language (although a small handful of us are) but for the most part, it's out of convenience. It's honestly much easier to pronounce "Tarik" or "Taufik" than "Zhuang" or "Xuan" correctly. So rather than let our names be verbally mutilated, it's easier to adopt an English name for convenience. For me, "Lee" is easy. So I often introduce myself as "Lee". So I would like to suggest that you consider it from that angle too. With all due respect, I honestly find your comment/question about Asians (about us adopting western names in general) rather distasteful and mildly offensive.
Well, no offence was intended on my part. I'm not sure which part of my comment was offensive, but I apologise if I offended anyone.

My comment was that, Asians tend to adopt English names, and I think it is ok for non-Asians to be curious about that fact. But the curiousity should not be confused with racism.

The topic you have raised is why Asians tend to adopt English names.

I think these are two different issues.

The issue of Asians adopting English names has nothing to do with racism; it has to do with what one culture is doing in order to assimilate into another culture. And my general observation is that it is more common for Asians to adopt an English name than it is for any other culture. Hence, I can understand why a Swiss would ask an Asian person why they have an English name because it is not common in other cultures.

But to answer your request to consider things from your angle (and to look at why some people adopt English names), I think this is a personal choice.

Perhaps you didn't read all of my post, because I, too, am Asian and I have an Asian name. As you have put it (but not in such strong words), my name is often "verbally mutilated". Though, I don't feel the need to adopt an English name "for convenience". For who's convenience?

Perhaps this comes down to what experiences we have had with people mispronouncing our names and how we have reacted in such instances. If you feel more comfortable with a western name, then that is a personal choice.

For me, if one has to learn how to pronounce a Swiss name, a Swiss should not feel put out if they have to learn how to pronounce a Chinese name. The world would be a boring place if everyone had an English/western/anglo name.
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Old 24.05.2008, 14:43
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Re: Racial frustrations

I get the same stupidity when I tell people I'm American. We see it on this forum as well. Some people have it stuck in their heads Americans are Hawaiian Shirt wearing tourists in shorts and cameras yelling out their conversations. They don't fully realize or choose to ignore the concept of the "New World". They sure sounds like they just recently crawled out from under a rock.

But we know better, don't we? Just let it pass as a nuisance. They'll catch up in another 10 years, hopefully.
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Old 24.05.2008, 14:52
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Re: Racial frustrations

I must plead guilty on this one. Being hopeless at small talk, being fascinated by obscure languages, and often finding myself at a loss to find something interesting to talk about with people from the anglosphere, I will often ask about people's origins, in the hope that I will meet a stray Armenian-American, Greek-Australian or Albanian-South-African and actually have something more interesting to ask than the usual "Do you play hockey?" or whatever.

By being a cheeky sod like this, I have learnt all kinds of interesting stuff about the Iranian-born Armenian chippy in Loughborough; the Syriac Jacobite fellow from Istanbul who recently sold me a very nice shirt; French Ontarians, Polish Brits, Ugandan and Zimbabwean Gujaratis at work; and so on.

Some people like to chat about football with people they meet. Others will discuss their favourite bar or their shoes. I'm fascinated by language and culture, and am far more interested in the possibility that someone might speak Aramaic, Urdu or Siswati, know a good recipe for Fli or Murgi Jeera, or remember the student uprisings in Athens, than the fact that they might follow the Maple Leafs or prefer vodka to gin.

If this is offensive, then I apologise.

I guess I'll just have to learn to talk about soccer and that...

Last edited by Dougal's Breakfast; 24.05.2008 at 15:02. Reason: Lazy writing, as usual
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Old 24.05.2008, 15:17
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Re: Racial frustrations

When we were looking for a house over here we were told countless times that "we don't let to aliens". We eventually found a lovely house with a very nice landlord, but..... the previous Tenants were German and goodness me, I have never come across such a dirty house. So we are definatley a better Tenant. (And I mean dirty unhygenic.) So maybe the Swiss are a bit racist but only a few. In 6 months I have met 3, the family opposite won't even acknowledge us since my partner who has a large tattoo on one arm and a few others sat in the garden without his shirt, the lady in my local Post Office hates me and the old Gent next door (but his wife is lovely.) It would be a very strange place if everyone was nice!
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