I am Asian, and I have lived in the UK for one year now. There have been a few occasions where I met some young people sneering at me. This has happened to my wife as well, when she was out with the children. Just yesterday, I was walking with my children, and some teenage girls by the road said hello and konichiwa to us. I said hello back, but they laughed. I continued walking. I remember meeting one of the girls not long ago on the steps just beside our home when I was passing by. At that time I said, "Excuse me," and was laughed at. I did not respond. On the previous other occasions when people sneered at me, I did not respond. One of these happened within the university complex where I work.

While the very pleasant people our family has met and befriended with in this country definitely outnumber those few who are not as pleasant, I think it is affecting me to some extent. This is not something new to me, as I grew up as a minority in my home country. But having lived in other countries for several years where I hardly encountered the same, I have now to live again in some fear, knowing that some people do not see me as themselves.

I guess this is something I have to live with, being a non local, and there is nothing I can do about it. But I am interested to know how others, who have had the same experience, cope. This question is meant to be general, not limited to Asians.

  • 1
    Probably more for psychology and sociology...
    – Karlson
    Jun 6, 2014 at 22:57

4 Answers 4


I think this also depends on where you live. I imagine for example, that an Asian living in a UK city might feel intimidated at times - especially if going out at night.

I am a Westerner living in a large Asian city, and I also get a lot of attention, especially when walking in areas that are not considered 'tourist' areas. But it is usually friendly, with people shouting "hello" and smiling.

Your experiences of people laughing at you might just be people not knowing quite how to react. People tend to laugh when nervous, or when they don't know how otherwise to react. I see that a lot too - if someone does shout "hello" at me, and I answer with "hello" in the local language (which is difficult for foreigners to pronounce), I also get laughter. Or giggling. Or surprise. But usually laughter.

It's difficult sometimes to be the person who stands out as being different. But I try to enjoy it, and use it as a means of meeting new people, rather than feeling intimidated.

If you are Japanese (you didn't specify, but you say some people said 'konnichiwa' to you), another way of defusing a situation where you might feel intimidated would be to answer 'konnichiwa' and do the full-on over-exaggerated polite thing - the full bow, and all the decorative language that comes with being polite. That can easily defuse a situation, and you would come away from the encounter at least knowing that you tried :)

Of course, if the group shouting at you is a bunch of skin-heads with knives, then it's best to keep walking and perhaps increasing your pace a little ;)

  • 1
    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Yes, I can imagine the response you received when you say "Sawadee krap" as a Westerner. When a Westerner said "Terima kasih" or "Apa kabar?" I would also be surprised and I would smile/laugh, too. But this is not to mock; far from it. In another case we encountered as a family, someone just shouted foul language at us from his apartment window, while we were walking.
    – adipro
    Jun 8, 2014 at 12:28
  • 2
    Ignore people like that - they obviously aren't people you want to know anyway. Most people are friendly, and even welcoming. If you let it get you down, it will become a problem. If you make friends, and ignore the people who are trying to offend, you will be much happier :)
    – Scott Earle
    Jun 9, 2014 at 2:45

I'm not sure that this is necessarily entirely because you look different.

Groups of teenagers in the UK (and possibly everywhere else) will say hello, and then laugh. Sometimes they're laughing about something else, sometimes they're laughing at you - because they've made a joke you didn't hear. It happens to me, and I look like them. People don't like groups of teenagers hanging around for this very reason. Shops play classical music, or high pitched tones (which older people can't hear) to deter them.

Ignore them. Don't react. Don't say "excuse me". They want a reaction, because that's the most fun.


I am an American living in Japan and I can understand your situation. While the reactions I get are different (people of Japan are much more reserved) I do get the occasional "haro!" :)

One thing I do get quite a lot, however, is staring. In your case, it would be the equivalent of laughing or sneering; as Scott mentioned, its a reaction to an unfamiliar situation.

I think the key is to understand your situation from different perspectives. Culture and upbringing play a huge role in how people interact with one another. In a place like the United States, people are simply people and many of them happen to have various ethnic backgrounds (most of the time anyway). In Japan, people of different ethnic backgrounds are clearly defined as foreign. None of that is good or bad; its just the culture.

So next time this happens, instead of focusing on why you are feeling afraid, try to think about that person who sees you...ask yourself why they are behaving that way. Think about what their parents taught or didn't teach them. In other words, the problem is not your appearance; its that laughing person's lack of understanding of the world.


As an American living in the Middle East I have found myself struggling with this quite a bit. I have found that a lack of understanding is often what causes me the greatest amount a fear and intimidation when interacting with locals. If we were in the hospital and a nurse approached with a needle, and you didn't understand what she/he was doing or why, it would cause panic, concern, fear, etc. A lack of understanding of language, culture, social and economic pressures, as well as racial prejudices within my own psyche help contribute to my fears of or being intimidated by the people I live among. There is no way to rid yourself of these feelings completely, as the actions of others are never in your control, and you will most likely always look different than the people you are living among. So my first suggestion would be to seek a greater understanding of why people interact with you the way they do, by asking local friends and learning the language as best you can. Then to understand the pressures the people are facing or have faced in the past which may affect the way they interact with you. Total integration and complete comfort in another culture need not be our main goal. Our main goal in cultural exchange is to seek understanding and thus be able to more accurately discern from real threats (which do exist) and threats which our rooted in a lack of understanding.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.