Sometimes my Thai girlfriend gets all bent out of shape over seemingly innocent things, like people complimenting her. Why?
Say something nice, or don’t say anything at all…
In my opinion, I think we Asians are quite anal about giving and receiving kudos. Take me, for example. I get quite annoyed when I get complimented on how well I speak English.
In response, I would always say, “thank you” to show gratitude like a good Asian would. But in reality I would rather say, “yeah, I suppose my English sounds quite authentic. That’s ‘coz I’ve only been using it for a little more than half my life!”
And honestly, I thought that it was just me… but as I Googled ‘complimenting Asians’ just the other day, I came across tons of similar references. Turns out that a lot of English-speaking Asians get offended and even feel insulted in the same situation. As one person put it, “… complimenting someone's language abilities just reminds them that they're still noticeably non-native.”
So yeah, you could say that us Asians can sometimes be overly sensitive, but that should only make foreigners use precaution when attempting to communicate and to be aware of the dos and don’ts in order to avoid the embarrassment of both parties.
I recall an incident when my dad made a remark to a Japanese lady (who is now a close family friend) about her healthy flushed cheeks, thinking that he was giving her a great compliment.
To my dad’s surprise, she took a great deal of offense to it.
As it turns out, Japanese girls in general don’t like it when someone calls attention to their red cheeks, which appear to them as features of girls working at farms out in the countryside, an image deemed as totally unsophisticated.
Japanese ideal facial features constitute of flawless, white face with no freckles or other apparent marks. These factors are regarded as a height of sophistication and an ideal look for the city girls.
Similarly in China, never ever call attention to a person’s freckles, no matter how cute you think they are. Freckles are viewed as ugly and it would be very inconsiderate to bring the subject up.
This is just one of the many examples where complimenting can go wrong in Asia.
In a future blog I should discuss how to correctly receive compliments from an Asian person.