An odd thing happened when we had nearly finished our dinner at Big Bite yesterday and had started looking at youtube on a smartphone: a man near the cashier started yelling. Our first response was “oh, shut up, we’re trying to watch a video.” Quietly, of course. Then we looked, and realized there might actually be an altercation.
I think this man was about 400lbs and 6 ft tall, crew cut blonde, pale skinned and wearing an oversized plaid shirt. This stereotype of an American was bellowing, “What did you say to me?” to a 5’6″ Asian man who seemed about 28 years old and clearly went to the gym everyday. The smaller man was trying to placate the large American, saying things like. “I didn’t say anything, man!” and, “calm down!” These efforts were clearly not working as the fat American continued to disturb the entire restaurant, bellowing “you can’t say that to me!” etc. Everyone in the restaurant was staring and trying to look very interested in their meal at the same time.
I was muttering something about how he is a shame to our country (I would not have actually said this to him, as I would be smushed) when the even shorter manager stepped in and somehow convinced the fat man to calm down and go back to hang out with his bald friend at the table in the other corner. He stormed past us, stomping and huffing angrily. He plopped down on a bench and started drinking a 1.5 liter bottle of water (a good choice at that point).I was disappointed that he wasn’t kicked out, but I do have further respect for the manager.
We left 5 minutes later, and we had to squeeze past this hulk to get to the door. I made a face, and I think his friend noticed.
I have realized that this American man is the only person in Hong Kong (or Turkey for that matter) who has made me need an escape route. When he was about to strike, grabbing the bags and running for the door without being verbally or otherwise abused would have been difficult. He would clearly be offended by us feeling threatened and then actually threatened us.
This type of thing annoys me. This man, who I assume is American because of his accent and his obesity, just went out of his way to make everyone within 30 feet of him uncomfortable, unsafe and to worsen the reputation of all Americans who travel. I try to portray the image of a respectful, informed and healthy American to battle various stereotypes, and here is this overly aggressive walking stereotype ruining everything.
My students in Turkey used to describe the stereotypes they had of Americans: overweight, loud, obnoxious, rich and rude. When I asked them if they knew any Americans like that, they said, “no!” All the Americans they knew were teachers, and traveled, staying healthy and respectful. If they saw this man, all their stereotypes would be confirmed and we would become the exceptions to the rule.
To be fair to my students, most Americans (2/3) are overweight, but I think not as many Americans are so aggressive. So what is the problem here? Does America have a culture wherein it is okay to start a fight in a restaurant? Does America have a problem with mental health? (yes) My attempt at empathy posits that he’s a veteran and has PTSD, which makes his response reasonable and even sympathetic. But then shouldn’t he be getting treatment? There are clearly larger issues in this persons life, and larger issues in America, and I do not know what all of them are. But I can at least get myself out of these situations.
My solution to aggression is two part: apologize to whoever is being aggressive and then do what Master Lee used to say when I did martial arts at age 8: “The best defense is to run away.”