Are Asians Too Nosy?

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This post was written by Marybeth Ramey.

Marybeth Ramey is an award winning writer, TEG's former Group Editor and a strong advocate for local artists. An American, former University and K-12 Librarian for 20 years in the US, she has been on local university faculties teaching in the Social Sciences since 1998. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]


Well, this is an opinion column after all and this is my genuine opinion. But don’t get all huffy at the question because it was asked of me by a Malaysian recently. Carine asked if Asians are too nosy and to be politically polite I said they were a bit nosier than most Westerners. She herself had attended university in Perth for a Pharmaceutical BS degree and so had a perspective when she returned. She told me since she got back 8 years ago it had struck her how intrusive some locals are with questioning each other and expats. That she had noted Australians were not so blunt or blatantly inquisitive.

Let me qualify my expertise on this issue. Please be aware I only have “native” knowledge of living in China, Taiwan, Australia and Thailand and know many Indonesians here quite well. And I do realise it is a broad stroke to brush all Asians with one generalization but honestly in my experience, the Asians in China, Taiwan and Thailand were even nosier than Malaysians. I would say Malaysians are the least nosy so far where I have lived in Asia.

The first question anyone ever asked me after arriving on our sprawling Resort in Kamala Bay outside of Patong Beach, Phuket, was how much money did my husband make. Serious. This was quickly followed in the next breath by her maid-partner asking how old I was. Then they enquired how much our house cost in the USA.huh? My husband just snickered and said they were checking things out for being his second wife. So I said he made US60 a month and she did indeed look rather crestfallen.

As to how old I was and this was back before I started to lie about my age being only in my late 30’s, all I could think was to ask her “why do you want to know?”Then, being American, I asked, “How old do you think I am?” However this question only ever elicited giggling.

My 12 year old daughter Rebecca, always at the ready to keep me honest said not to lie too dramatically, because they would figure it out by counting her age and the year we were married, which did turn out to be exactly what they did. My 7 year old little loyalist, Naim, ended up being their rich source of information about all things GM Family related. But even he knew the inappropriateness of the questions as he would first barter with them for some hawker chicken dish to be brought to him. Or to bring him into the adult pool; or the really big nasty, bring him over to the public beach. Our driver’s wife insisted her husband find out if Rebecca and I wore false eyelashes. We don’t. That one was a bit flattering I’ll admit and Rebecca also enjoyed it. We found ourselves fluttering quite a bit while we lived there.

In China and Taiwan, and please remember this was the mid 90’s, we were literally the first gwailou’s the majority in the countryside of Shenzhen had ever seen in person. Same for the south of Taiwan when we drove for a few hours outside of Taipei.

Men of all ages would go over to Naim and ask him if they could touch his sparkling white arm skin. Instead of being creeped out, my little show-off proudly allowed them a touch or two. Strangely they never asked my daughter. Women would ask Robert if he knew he had a large bald spot. He was pretty crushed when this became the most popular question telling me that when he had first arrived on China’s mainland and realised how much shorter everyone was than him it had crossed his mind that perhaps no one would notice his growing, sparkling white bald patch on the top back of his head. Nothing then or since has ever bothered him more than prematurely losing some of his glorious black hair.


In Malaysia the questions seem to evolve around one major topic…money and the cost of things. If you tell someone you have been in hospital and almost died they will immediately respond by asking how much the bill was. But, I would splutter, who cares? I want to talk about the precarious time when I almost died of my bleeding ulcer. Well, ok. How much were the Doctor’s fees and did they charge for the food separately. hoo boy. As if inferring they too were expecting to have a bleeding ulcer any minute and should go immediately downtown to comparison hospital shop.

If someone compliments clothing I am wearing, it is always followed up by how much did it cost and didn’t I know that it costs far less at such and such? Honestly what a sucker I obviously am always paying way too much for everything here. Just this morning the taxi driver asked me what my boss paid for his new van. I DID ask him why he wanted to know this one precise thing. He seemed at a loss for an answer and instead answered by asking yet another financial question…did the new van mean our company was doing well?

The nice man who helps me into the lift at the office asked me if I had gained weight, that I looked fatter. I said actually I had lost 3 kilos, with him looking definitely startled. Upstairs one of our out-sourced tech staff asked me how much money my now 24 year- old son was currently earning with his two jobs in California.

“Enough to want to stay there,” I rather brusquely answered, wondering how much I should exaggerate his pay and if it was enough to ship me back home.

This article was written by Marybeth Ramey ([email protected])
Source: The Expat April 2011 
This article has been edited for
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