Etiquette is Dead: When My Real Name Brings Out the Casual Racist in You

Really? C’mon!

Sorry for the two-month radio silence, Ranters. I was looking for a new job because I felt my 9 to 5 gig was making me dumber. I’m happy to announce that as of last week, I’m working somewhere new and it will put my brain power to the test. I’ll spill the new job details in a future post because I want to dedicate today to something that’s been on my mind since I started my new job.

An older woman hired for a more senior position started the same day as me. She moved to Vancouver from Alberta for the job, and within 10 minutes of meeting me she asked for my contact details. No biggie – I would’ve done the same thing. Below is the exchange I had with her:

New Coworker: Hey, can I have your contact details to put into my phone? I’m new to the city and since you started the same day as me, I feel more comfortable asking you for your info.
Me: For sure. It’s Laura Chan* and I’ll just text you my number.
New Coworker: Laura isn’t your real name, right? All of my Chinese friends back home have their Chinese names and chose their English names to fit in. It’s all so exotic. What’s your real name?
Me: *nervous laughter* … Hate to break it to you, but Laura Chan is my real name.
New Coworker:

For the rest of the day, I obsessed about this exchange. In my 30 plus years of life, I’ve never been asked such an idiotic and clueless question. What’s your real name? Really?
I feverishly texted my boyfriend and some friends on what happened and all of them replied with the face palm emoji.
The words casual racism and ignorance were thrown around in our text exchanges to explain her behaviour. And the longer I stewed in my own bitterness, I saw my new coworker as the “racist white lady”. I beat myself up for not calling her out on her bull shit or even responding with something witty. Should I even have too?
I’m still affected by this exchange. I don’t have the correct answers to reply to these types of questions. Will it come with experience or do I need to keep a rolodex of witty comebacks filed away in my brain?
My rage threshold maxed out when I remembered my new coworker said it so friendly that it was impossible to get mad. It was asked so casually like it was no big deal. And if I did have a traditional Chinese name, why should it be considered exotic? It’s my name. Take the time to learn it and pronounce it properly.
What would you have done in this situation? Has this ever happened to you? Email me at or you can find me on Twitter at @Office_Ranter. Please and thank you.
*Laura Chan is not my real name, but it’s close enough to the real thing. I was born and raised in Vancouver, BC and I don’t have a legal Chinese name.


One thought on “Etiquette is Dead: When My Real Name Brings Out the Casual Racist in You

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s