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#54 False Humility

Posted April 7th, 2008 by avaliant · 17 Comments

In his Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis defines true humility as a kind of “˜self-forgetfulness’ ““ the ability to take joy in the fruit of one’s own accomplishments, but without taking any more joy than if someone else had done those same accomplishments. If false humility can be defined as the exact opposite of the above definition, then it can be said that Asians like false humility.

This is ironic, because the Asian penchant for hard work and overachievement means that most Asians have a lot to be falsely humble about. This false humility manifests itself many places in Asian life. For example, at the dinner table, you will never hear an Asian mom say that she just cooked her best or her favorite dish. Instead, she will say something like, ‘Oh, this is nothing,” or ‘I just put it together in a few minutes. Please excuse the poor quality.” This is despite the fact that the dish in front of you is probably twenty times better than anything you would ever find at an Asian restaurant.

Asians will also bring false modesty to many other aspects of their lives. For example, beauty (‘You look nice today.” ‘Oh, no not really. I didn’t even have time to do my makeup.”) or academics (‘You’re so smart.” ‘No, no, I just study a lot.”). It is important to differentiate false humility from discomfort with accepting praise. Many Asians are uncomfortable receiving praise or being singled out. When complimented. they may look down and mumble something incoherent.

False humility is a different animal altogether. The Asian in question, rather than being uncomfortable, revels in the praise. By playing it down or denying it all together, they are able to lower expectations and thereby make their own accomplishments seem greater in comparison. At the same time, they appear modest and humble, which are traditional Asian virtues.

Credit: should you do if you are confronted with this phenomenon? Under no circumstances should you agree with the Asian person. Instead, continue to insist that your compliments are true. This is one of the few times you can directly contradict an Asian person in public without deeply offending them. Keep in mind, however, not to continue insisting that your compliments are true if the Asian person keeps on pretending that they are not, which would lead to an endless cycle. Eventually, they will become aware of the ridiculousness of the process and start to feel slightly uncomfortable. Instead, smile and nod politely.

Alternatively, you can say something like, ‘Oh, you’re so modest.” This achieves the dual effect of insinuating that the Asian person is in fact very good at what they do and at the same time praising their humility. Follow these instructions and you will go a long way towards earning an Asian person’s trust.

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Tags: Activities · Beauty · Chinese · Culture · Customs · Habits · Japanese · Korean · People · Relationships · Social · Vietnamese · Words

17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 strmbkr // Apr 7, 2008 at 11:00 am

    *thumbs up* great work! =D

    LOL, sometimes “white” lies get into this false “humility” as well. lol

  • 2 Anything Black // Apr 7, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    i like your blog yo its mad hot.

  • 3 Justin // Apr 7, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    I love this post!

  • 4 Justin // Apr 7, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    it’s from growing up in this modest environment that i don’t know how to give compliments to people

  • 5 Lana // Apr 8, 2008 at 11:56 am

    The false humility slays me. I either stare at them or tell them to cut it out.

    Say, can you make an entry about Asians and their obsession with’whiteface’ and how the white pancake makeup always fails to match the rest of their bodies? It it’s white you’re going for, please make it match! It’s strange seeing a blaring white face and tannish skin everywhere else….

  • 6 Justin // Apr 8, 2008 at 11:59 am

    lol, we have that on our to do =) thanks for the comment! enjoyed reading it haha

  • 7 Valley Girl // Apr 8, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    This blog is f*cking brill! I heart you guys.

  • 8 haqikah // Apr 8, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    I love this blog!

  • 9 AllergyFree // Apr 8, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    Thank you. Thank you so much for explaining my mom, my aunts, my brothers, and all my Chinese relations so succinctly.

  • 10 Blue Floppy Hat // Aug 21, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    This holds true for Indians too (since I assume that the ‘Asians’ of the blog’s title refers to the standard US usage of the term as referring to East/Southeast Asians). We love the self-deprecation! (though I’ve noticed pockets of people that also love bragging..)

  • 11 kris // Nov 23, 2008 at 3:02 am

    I totally agree with this article. If you ever want to connect with an asian and really be their friends, if you are aware of this cultural phenomenon and use it to your advantage, you will go a long way with the said asian. So true!

    p.s. Indians are angry, arrogant, and love to drive Lexus SUV and make sure they do it VERY SLOWLY.

  • 12 Peter // Nov 10, 2009 at 12:20 am

    I think you hit the nail on the head.

    And its funny to boot!

  • 13 Louie Pham // May 4, 2010 at 9:00 am

    So True. Im Viet, and even when someone compliments me for the achievements ive made i always play it down like it wasnt much or nothing to be proud of. As if like i could have done better. Maybe i’ll accept my achievements in all its glory next time lolz.

  • 14 gman // Jul 18, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    okay, i don’t know if you’re white or asian but how are u able to analyze us so well?

    I agree with this post but #1 and #2 ARE TOTALLY WRONG, WHY IS PLUSH DOLLS AND THOSE PICTURES #1 & #2????

  • 15 IAM_EASTASIAN // Aug 11, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    @kris, LOL love the Indian comments.

  • 16 amazon ghd // Sep 6, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    I love your website!

  • 17 links london // Mar 21, 2011 at 1:50 am

    Good to hear that you are back to blogging. I am looking forward to some good article.

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