I had an interesting thread of conversation the other day on Facebook, after someone sent me a friend request that ended with the person (he’s Caucasian) calling me “Gil-san.”
He wrote this in good cheer and good faith, and as a sign of collegial respect. I know that. But it struck me odd somehow, that non-Japanese people (usually Caucasians) throughout my life have assumed that it’s perfectly normal to call me “Gil-san,” or to say “konnichiwa” (“hello”) or “sayonara,” as if I speak Japanese, or better yet, that I appreciate someoe else assuming that I speak Japanese.
I do — a little. But I’m not Japanese, and the only time I try to mumble and stumble my way through a conversation in Japanese is when I’m trying to speak to Japanese people… from Japan.
So I posted this on Facebook and Twitter: “Is it culturally sensitive, condescending or just plain goofy for a Euro-American to call me ‘Gil-san’? I’m Japanese American, not Japanese.”
As is often the case, I got a flurry of responses right away on Facebook. Interestingly, Japanese Americans and other Asian Americans, as well as European Americans, had different perspectives on this topic.