One of the most common questions I get asked about being in Germany is if I’ve encountered any more racism than normal. At university, I feel extremely comfortable, considering the environment is extremely international. This past weekend in Berlin, though, I was walking around with one of my friends, who is also an Asian-American, and he was taunted by a group of guys who pulled at their eyelids and chortled together. Pretty standard low-brow stuff, nothing either of us has never seen before.
The incident did get me thinking about how I am approached here outside of university. I would not label a lot of these interactions as explicit racism, but on the other hand, I do often find myself now in situations that make me explicitly more aware of my ethnicity. On the street, cat calls almost invariably include the word “Chinese” or “China girl”. If I am with a friend at a bar, I am referred to as the “Chinese friend” (it’s a lucky coincidence that I am actually ethnically Chinese, and not “another type of Asian”.)
Not to mention the sheer amount of conversations like these:
Taxi driver: So, are you from China?
Me: No, I come from the United States.
Driver: No, no, but where are you really from? Like, your parents…
Me: Well, yes, my parents are from China, but —
At this point, the driver chuckles and pats me on the arm like I’m a little kid, laughing to himself the whole time.
Driver: Oh, well there we go! I see, China, China.
Me: I mean, yes, but I am an American.
Driver: Well, but were you born in the USA?
(If anyone has not seen this video yet, please do watch it.)
It’s highly probable that these kinds of conversations arise out of sheer ignorance, so I don’t really blame the other person per se. But I have to admit that it becomes irritating to have to continually explain myself to people, as if I need to justify how I identify myself (to be fair, as an Asian-American, but Asian out of ethnicity and American out of allegiance to my home country).
But then again, if I’m going to call out random cab drivers in Germany for this kind of thing, I would have to call out the others from the States as well. A teacher freshman year of college who consistently made racist jokes about me during class (the most memorable of which was, at a potluck: “Where’s the dog for Cynthia to eat?”). People who have actually told me, “I mean, yeah, black jokes are offensive. But Asian jokes are just universally funny.” Friends who have said to me, with such genuine sentiment in their eyes and words, “You’re actually so pretty for an Asian.”
So, the answer is: no, I don’t really encounter any more racism here than I do back home. It’s pretty much just about the same.