Asian Americans Are Sharing Their Experiences Of Racism While Traveling Abroad, And It How It Compares To Racism In The US

Admittedly, when my younger sister went to Europe this summer, I was a bit apprehensive. Between stories from my own family, friends, and even Asian-American women on TikTok, I had heard enough stories about racist experiences in Europe (and it's not limited to East Asian women, let alone Asians).
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However, it's pretty common and not often talked about - especially considering how glamorous European travel can often be. So, to center the Asian American experience and raise awareness, I asked Asian Americans to share their experiences of racism abroad. Here are some of their stories:
Note: These stories are of course limited to responses we have received from readers and do not reflect the experiences of all Asian Americans (a diverse identity spanning more than 20 ethnicities).
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1. "In 2016, my sister and I saw the first performance of Cursed Child in London. After that we tried to get Pizza Express nearby. The waiter was from Italy and acted like he was too busy to seat us but he was He was just refilling some water and chatting to his colleagues. After waiting 20 minutes we realized he had no intention of sitting us and left. It was the most blatant form of racism I've seen in a long time and I still think about it to this day."
"The US is not perfect and there are definitely blatant acts of racism that we see in the news every day - especially with the pandemic - but there is an insidious undercurrent of racism in the UK and Europe, where you feel second rate."
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2. “I traveled a lot when I was young. Once, in a hotel, they didn't give my family a room despite having made a reservation. They told us we were in the 'other' place Europe itself happened the same thing: the hotel staff said they were full and wouldn't allow me to stay, but their website showed they had rooms available."
—puppylover4eva
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3. “The racism was different than in the US because it was much more blatant. While in a bar in Portugal last summer, this guy yelled 'Samurai!' on me. He then did a karate chop move and tried to take the mask off my face.
"I froze at first and then yelled at him to back off."
– Anonymous, 27, California
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4. "I studied abroad in Florence for a year, and while most of my local experiences have been lovely, I've often been asked, 'Where are you from?' When I said, "California," they said, "No, where are you really from?" When I repeated "California," they would ask, "Where are your parents from?" I would tell them 'China,' and they would nod along and say 'Ah,' like they knew all along."
“My roommate, who is fifth-generation Japanese, was often asked the same thing. She always answered 'California,' and some people asked her in front of their great-grandparents before she gave up."
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5. "When I was in the UK, my boyfriend and I were taking the tube and some French people around my age were speaking French out loud and insulting everyone in the carriage. There was black people, people in hijabs, one person with a janitor - these guys made fun of their skin colour, their clothes and their religion and made assumptions while laughing hysterically. It was annoying. Then they came to me, an Asian girl. They started going off about my "yellow" complexion and my accent (lol, what accent?) before calling me some seriously racist names in French. Well, the joke was on them because I'm a francophonist. I spanked them right back in French until they were tomato red. They stopped immediately. I swear they stopped breathing.”
"I still remember their absolutely stunned faces."
– Anonymous, 33, Canada
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6. "When I was in Venice with my grandma, she wanted to buy a souvenir shirt for my cousin. Almost immediately, the shopkeeper started taunting her, saying things like 'Ching Ching, Chong Chong.' I didn't want to make a scene, but I was angry. This woman was always just loving and kind to everyone. My mother and grandfather walked into the store shortly after and the store owner blew up and yelled, 'Four people in this store and all you buy is a t-shirt!' Then he snatched the T-shirt from my grandmother's hands. We were in the store for 10 minutes at most and the store was completely empty. My mother snatched a new one from him and stormed out."
"The most frustrating part is not being able to say anything to him that would make him feel like shit like he made us feel."
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7. "I've traveled a lot in Europe, especially since I'm married to a German woman. In France, when I was with an Asian tour group, waiters on the street were mimicking karate moves as our group passed at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, a French teenager in a crowd shouted "Konnichiwa" at me. He immediately regretted it when I showed the richness of my New York upbringing inches from his face.Seeing him cower in terror was very The first time I met my wife's German grandparents, they had no qualms about using words like "Ching Chong" in conversation with one another " in reference to me and said it openly in front of me as if I didn't mind. My wife was horrified and corrected her, but for a brief moment I wanted to kick some old German ass and enjoy it."
"Overall, the racism I encountered in Europe was broadly similar to the racism encountered here in America."
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8. “I found that the racism I experienced in Europe was based on sheer ignorance rather than willful racism, although it definitely depended on the city. When I was working as a language assistant in a small French town, many students asked me if I thought it was a strange question as I had never been asked this before, but then I realized that the only three Asian students in school were all adopted, so they really thought Asian Americans must have been adopted too. In Marseille, an elderly couple approached me in a park to chat and the husband asked where I was from. When I said from the US he said "Americans don't look like that though" and continued to do the narrow-eyed face with his fingers, his wife then dragged him away, another time, during a wine tour in Bordeaux, the owner casually mentioned that he doesn't sell his wine to Chinese buyers as they just bought in bulk without appreciating the wine."
“However, these were just a few samples from a full year that I spent in France and traveled around. Most of the people were absolutely pleasant, friendly and welcoming. On the other hand, everyday racism and violent racism are much more common in North America today.
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9. “Before I went to Ireland, everyone told me how friendly the Irish are. Needless to say, my sister, cousin and I (we are Chinese Americans) were very excited to meet the locals. One night we were staying at home in a big city and on our way back from a pub when two drunk men across the street tried to get our attention. When we finally looked over, they repeatedly yelled "KONNICHIWA!" at us while he laughed and waved. My cousin threw back a "Fuck you" and showed them the bird. I'm generally a non-confrontational person (since I never know if the other party will start being aggressive towards me or not). so I just ignored them and kept walking."
"I honestly don't understand what people who do this are trying to achieve, but I definitely felt crappy."
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10. "My mom and I were at McDonald's in France and asked a clerk if we could use a restroom. I spoke French so she could understand us. The clerk heard my question, turned her back on us, and then walked away like we didn't exist."
– Anonymous, 42, Iowa
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11. "I've traveled to 23 countries and I'm not sure why, but most of the racism I've experienced has come from British tourists. I have many examples, but this one stood out: A British teenager in my tour group wanted his grandma to take a picture of him and said, 'Do you want me to do Asian eyes?' He then looked at me and a couple behind me, the only Asians in the group. Another time, in Portugal, this elderly British couple in my tour group kept making micro-aggressive comments about a young Asian couple taking photos of our winery were open Trip. Of course, they never made any comment about other white couples in the group doing the same. In Thailand, a group of young British women mocked our Thai tour guide's accent in front of the whole group and talked loudly every time he said something to the group. It got so bad that I finally shut them up and they were so shocked that I confronted them. Then they were rude to me for the rest of the trip."
"Imagine! You take photos of a winery while on a tour of another country! The boldness! And mind you, we were trekking through the jungle in Thailand, so I was dying to hear the vital information he had to say.
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12. “Once I was in Barcelona with my girlfriend, who is European and Spanish, to meet her parents. I am Japanese and grew up in the United States. The trip was mostly fantastic except for a few things. First of all, I couldn't hail a cab for my life. They wouldn't stop for me, but they would stop for her. We have actually tested this several times. I would stand on a corner and hail a cab and none would stop. She would be a block away and taxis would stop for her. You might think it was because she's an attractive woman, but both male and female taxi drivers would drive past me and stop for her. She "Then I made the cab wait while I went to her. Sometimes the driver would apologize and say they didn't realize we were together or didn't see me. Other times people would talk bad about me and Comments made me interesting without realizing I understood Spanish – but that's a whole other story in itself."
"The taxi thing happened so many times that we made a joke about how I only turn invisible when I wanted a taxi. However, this power of invisibility also exists in the United States.
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13. "Once I was taking the train from Barcelona to Murcia to see a friend. I wanted to make sure I got on the right train, so I asked an old lady in Spanish if she could tell me where to go for help. She answered me in Spanish: "Go away, don't talk to me, stupid Asian." I was shocked and sad as I was traveling alone and already feeling quite overwhelmed.When I reported this to the reception at the hotel they said that unfortunately they weren't surprised and that racism towards Asians was fairly widespread in I would like to note though that I had no problems after finding the station help section. I think you just have to be more careful with locals."
"I hadn't experienced a situation like this since I was very little and it was when another kid was picking on me. He called me Chinese in a negative tone even though I'm not Chinese (not that he minds)."
-Anonymous
14. "When my wife (Vietnamese) and I (AAPI) were in Italy in 2016. We arrived in a small village and sat outside at a table while waiting for our food. My wife then said, 'Did you hear that? ?' I asked her what she was referring to and she said, 'I think we were just discriminated against.' She explained that she heard someone yell, "Chino! Chino! Chino!" but I heard nothing, so we dismissed it. A few minutes later we both heard, "Arigato! Arigato! Arigato!" I came from a portly local youth hiding behind the church. I confessed to my wife, 'Yes, and we had to travel halfway around the world to experience that.' That experience was different in that we didn't feel threatened, we mostly felt like outsiders."
"Also, the offending party was probably six years old, so we just laughed it off, amused at the idea that we might have been the first Asians this kid ever saw."
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15. “I am an interracial Korean adoptee. I studied abroad in Italy and then moved there for work shared their experiences in Italy. First I lived in a diverse city in the north. However, people mistook me for one of the Asian restaurant staff and often asked me what time a particular restaurant opened. They would address me in Chinese or Japanese, bow to me, tell me I'm pretty for an Asian girl, stare and point at my eyes or gesture at my face. I've since moved to a smaller town down south. I still feel the looks and curiosity, and when people find out I speak Italian, I'm often asked where I'm from (I know "USA" isn't the answer they're looking for), although I'm angrier or Wanting to be more upset than I've shown, I've resigned myself to pushing all of these racial experiences with the rest of them.
"Honestly it was the best (although maybe not mentally) because I loved my study abroad experience and the friends I made and I wouldn't trade them for the world. After moving south, I felt like knowing that the language and customs helped me fit in a little better, and being American was seen as "cool" — although I probably sound like a kid who speaks Italian.
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