How can you tell if a person is an Asian American? Is it that person’s walk? Is it the shape of the person’s head? Some people claim to be able to differentiate Asian Americans from Asians, even in Asia. This topic came up when during one of James Fallows‘ discussions in the Atlantic Magazine about the Chinese professor video. He thought that the “Chinese” in the video did not quite look “Chinese.” That column started a series of blog posts about how to distinguish Americans from non-Americans just by looking at them or from their walk and eventually evolved to a discussion about telling the difference from Asian Americans from Asians on sight.
My Brother-in-Law tells me that when he was in the Philippines, he could tell which Filipinos were raised in the U.S. simply from their walk. Fallows quotes someone who says that the shape of people’s heads marked them as Asian American.
If you look at the profile of a Chinese-Chinese person, the back of the head tends to be flatter. In some cases, the back of the head is a straight line up from the neck. This is especially apparent in older men with short hair. I’m pretty sure this happens because infants in China are traditionally raised sleeping on their backs on firm surfaces, whereas in the west, it’s much more common to use soft surfaces, and (until relatively recently) to let them sleep on their sides. It’s possible that head- flattening is less common in younger Chinese people, as softer bedding materials become more common. Flat heads have become more of an issue here in the US since the increasing awareness of SIDS led experts to recommend putting infants on their backs to sleep.
What do you all think? Can you identify Asians Americans from Asians just by looking at them? Do you have your own field guide for telling the difference? How do you tell?