Culturally insensitive patients

  1. 2
    A little background: I am Chinese American. I live in a university town in the Midwest that is fairly multicultural, but that is also surrounded by farming communities that are generally 100% white and very insulated.

    I work at a magnet teaching hospital that is affiliated with the university here. The problem is, that many of the patients from these rural communities get transferred here. They have a tendency to say really awkward things to me.

    For example:
    "Your English is really good!" (English is my primary language)

    Or

    "Where are you from?" And then they don't believe me when I insist that I am, in fact, from Midwestern America.

    Or

    "Would you ever go back to China?" No, why would I do that? I'm a citizen and this is my home... They continued to look puzzled and then said, "but why not?"

    Or

    Asking me a zillion questions about what China is like, and continuing to ask them when I've politely explained that I probably don't know any better than they do.

    Or, my favorite is when gentlemen who are World War II vets start speaking Japanese to me, and look confused when I don't understand. (Actually the Japanese came over to china and committed horrible atrocities... But that's another thing entirely).

    Generally I am polite, and patient with these patients. Most of the time i try to have a sense of humor abut the situation. i know they aren't being intentional in their insensitivity, but it still grates on me that despite growing up here, they insist on treating me like I'm a foreigner. I find that if I try to correct them, it just leads to things being awkward. "actually English is my primary language that I speak, much like you don't speak polish, mr. Wienawski (not an actual name)"

    At the same time, if I ignore it, then it continues with the patient making my race and heritage a constant topic of conversation.

    Has anyone else dealt with this before? How did you deal with it? Should I just ignore it, or should I try to politely correct them, if appropriate?
    Kandy83 and bebbercorn like this.
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  3. 41 Comments so far...

  4. 7
    I've never dealt with those questions in that particular aspect. However, I think you should continue to answer the questions politely. I wouldn't let it bother you. The majority of people don't mean to offend you. They are just curious. When they say your english is really good. Say you are from America and that's your primary language. It corrects them but in a "subtle way" and it doesn't make it awkward. Make sure you smile when you correct them, that always helps! Talking about your race gives you and the patients something to talk about. It can also help broaden their knowledge about other races. If it is something you are uncomfortable discussing try to change the topic.
    psu_213, nrsang97, GrnTea, and 4 others like this.
  5. 0
    I understand your frustration. I too live in an area where I am a cultural and ethnic minority, although were I am 80% of the population is Asian or Asian-American and am often assumed to be a foreigner soley based on what I look like. Which is extremely annoying, to tell you the truth. I find myself often fielding questions and being called derogatory names by patients, and even other professionals unfortunately. I just tell myself they do it out of ignorance and are just unaware of how people from other cultures live.

    I just wanted to share this with you because people of all cultures tend to do this any time they are the ethnic majority and aren't exposed to other cultures. I like what the other person says about using it as a time to educate. The caveat is that it is exhausting when you just want to be treated like everyone else and not constantly have to feel like you are "justifying" your right to existence.
  6. 32
    "Your English is very good." "So is yours!"
    loveu123, skylark, Isitpossible, and 29 others like this.
  7. 0
    I live in an area just like you described in the rural ne. I just pass as white american for the most part but sometimes get some questions like that. . Even "certain kinds" of white people get these comments or questions. ( we aren't all the same and some groups are not numerous in US). It is annoying to always be thought of as a foreigner or outsider when you are in your own country!! There isn't much for you to do or say. The questions will continue. Just say you were born here and do not know any chinese or anything about living in china (seems to be what you are doing). Some people are too stupid to understand that they are not the only americans and there have been chinese people in US for hundreds of years. Many of these people have just had very limited exposure to people that are not like them and are just curious I guess. in my experience , turning it on them (like your, "do you speak polish?!" example) flies right over most people's heads. it is different for them @@
    Last edit by anotherone on Apr 11, '13
  8. 6
    I think many are trying to make conversation. Unless its racist, let it roll off your back.
    Sparrowhawk, canoehead, loveoutloud, and 3 others like this.
  9. 2
    I hear where you are coming from. I often get comments about my age (not race) and while people don't usually mean anything negative by it (usually), they also don't think about what they are saying or that maybe you've heard this all before. It's good that they aren't being hateful, but I do empathize with your frustration.

    An example... Recently I was talking about having to do nights, and was barely finished saying that only having to do two in a row wasn't bad (compared to doing all nights). The person I was speaking to said, "That's because you are young."

    Well, no. I didn't say they weren't hard. I only meant to say, comparatively, with just two a person can manage/recover/get into a routine. But no, this person had already decided that due to the age he perceived me as (I had only met him, so likely he thought me younger than I am), I was having no problems. He's not intentionally being insensitive or judgmental, but it's still irritating.
  10. 1
    Unless there was a racist undertone to the questions/comments, I don't think these people are trying to be rude or insult you. They may be just curious about other cultures and countries. I, myself, love hearing about other cultures and countries. I would never assume that someone who looks to be of another culture MUST be born/raised in that country, however if they mentioned that they were from another country I don't feel at all like I'm being rude or insulting if I ask questions about that country and culture. It's more about me wanting to be more rounded and knowledgable of others.

    Of course, I've never been in the situation that the OP has been so I can't judge him/her for their feelings of annoyance.
    psu_213 likes this.
  11. 11
    I'm sorry but I fail to see how these people are being culturally insensitive at all. What I sense from your description are people who are genuinely interested in you as a person. You are different from their normal exeriences and they are curious. I suppose if it happens all the time it could get tiresome but really, your interpretation of their motives is a bit over the top.
    canoehead, Surprised1, dream'n, and 8 others like this.
  12. 2
    I live in a similar area & tend to agree with the last comment that a lot of people are just curious, but don't consider that it may seem intrusive to ask you all kinds of questions & make assumptions about who you are & where you're from based on your appearance. I worked for many years for a doctor who is Iranian & has been here since 1976 when she was about 19. Based on where she is from, most people assume she is Muslim when in fact, she was raised Christian & married the son of a Methodist preacher! I've heard pts ask her about the Muslim faith & she would give them a big grin & say "You know as much about that as I do!"
    nrsang97 and SoldierNurse22 like this.


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