Why Are Some Asians So Quiet All The Time?

There’s the common racial stereotype that Asians are quiet, and also shy and silent all the time.

Sometimes this is true and there are reasons behind that.

Many of these reasons are due to cultural upbringing stemming from school and class. Cultural upbringing and values also play a part in why some Asians are quieter than others.

Introverts love quiet and their own space | Weekly Photo Challenge: Layered personalities of different colours.

Introverts love quiet and their own space | Weekly Photo Challenge: Layered personalities of different colours.

I am a quiet person, preferring to lay low as opposed to shouting out every opinion. I was the Chinese Australian, Asian student in class who almost always never talked in class. In all honesty, I don’t mind being the quietest among a group of people.

Thinking back to the younger years of my life and even today, it seems many moments led me to being the quiet person I am today.

In a stereotypical Chinese family, it’s regarded as respectful when you listen. It’s respectful to listen to your elders and don’t speak up against seniority – challenging them is seen as rude and out of place. The traditional Asian mentality is ‘listen first, speak later’ but if you don’t speak up at all, that’s perfectly okay – you’re seen as keenly learning by listening.

Growing up it was considered a sin if I spoke up or interrupted my dad. It was absolute horror if I disagreed with what he or elder Asian men thought. While some might be scared and scarred of piping up because of these experiences, back then I thought it was common-sense to kept my thoughts to myself and not start a fight.

Introverts may never feel part of a crowd.

Introverts may never feel part of a crowd.

The focus on listening to the teacher and more specifically rote learning in the Asian classroom can encourage quietness. In schools in Singapore and Malaysia, it’s common for students to remain quiet as the teacher teaches in front of the class. It’s common for model-minority students to also remain quiet when the teacher asks if there are any questions at the end of the class.

Being quiet in class for over a decade, chances are you might get used to being quiet for a lifetime.

In Chinese culture, rote learning creates an atmosphere of solitary competition and solitary task completion is fostered. In 2005, a study by the University of Michigan found Asian-American schoolchildren academically outperform their Western counterparts because they try harder – and spend less time with friends. In her book exploring the significance of introverts, writer Susan Cain refers to studies that found Asian students problem-solve better when they remain quiet and argues introverts exhibit ‘quiet persistence’.

Introverts might feel lonelier in a crowd than being alone.

Introverts might feel lonelier in a crowd than being alone.

During secondary school in Singapore, my class (of Chinese, Malay and Indian backgrounds) sat in silence at our own desks practising maths and chemistry formulas over and over every day. We were allowed to go home when we came up with the answers.

Another reason why some Asians are quiet can be attributed to their sheltered upbringing centred around Confucian morals. In a typical Asian family you are encouraged to spend time developing individualistic skills which means spending time with yourself as opposed to socialising.

According to lawyer and author Amy Chua, Tiger parents constantly push their children to excel at academic and non-academic achievements. As a mark of filial piety, it’s not uncommon for these kids to obediently practice musical instruments, sports or a craft for hours each day away from the rest of the world.

A quiet moment, a moment of solitude for the introvert.

A quiet moment, a moment of solitude for the introvert.

At the insistence of my parents, as a kid I practised the piano each day after school. These days, my mind concentrates best when no one is around such as when half the office decides not to turn up.

Back then my parents also bought me a Nintendo GameBoy – they rather I stay home and play video games than stay out late. I didn’t mind solitary game time at home as this gave me reason to avoid shopping centres. Shopping centres overwhelm me.

Within Chinese culture often a selective collective culture is fostered, a culture where one affiliates themselves with others of similar cultural values. As some of Asian descent have said, there’s a common understanding of each other’s upbringing and perspective.

At university, my international student Asian friends sat together in tutorials and during lunch every day. I joined them as I found it hard to get a word in conversation around my usually louder Western classmates. I guess to non-Asians, we seem quiet and keep to ourselves.

Also, international students might keep to themselves in Australia because they aren’t confident speaking English as their first language. And perhaps they are quiet because they want time to themselves to study (maybe maintain face and pride of working hard too).

A moment of solitude, a moment of peace for the introvert.

A moment of solitude, a moment of peace for the introvert.

There’s also no forgetting that sometimes when you speak up as an Asian person, you’ll be on the receiving end of racism. The fear of facing discrimination is indeed a reason why some Asians choose to be silent on occasions.

Many times here in Australia I’ll walk into a clothes shop, drift past a silent white salesperson staring me down. I’ll then hear them greet someone behind me. I’ll glance around and see a white person walking in, the white salesperson all smiles. Heart hammering in my chest, I’d drift to the exit, their small talk ringing in my ears. Sometimes I wonder what response I’d get when I open my mouth in front of people who are so different from me.

Being quiet can also stem from our preferences and personalities. Maybe some Asians are quiet because they are introverted and that’s their personality.

Based upon Carl Jung’s writings on introversion and extroversion, author Susan Dembling argues introverts ‘gain energy in solitude and quiet, whereas extroverts gain energy in social situations with interaction’.

That describes me perfectly. Being an introvert never bothered me. My ideal weekend involves having alone time. As an introvert, it’s natural for me to keep quiet, remain silent in the background and reflect on what’s going on.

Connections are touch and go for many introverts.

Connections are touch and go for many introverts.

Not all Asians are quiet, silent and introverted. Some are more outgoing than others or extroverted during particular moments that matter or excite. For instance loud karaoke is a common pastime in Japan. Typical Chinese wedding receptions involve a good number of roof-rattling toasts. Chinese people are no stranger to heated bargaining matches at markets in South East Asia.

In a world where the confidently loud and outspoken dominate the spotlight and discrimination is part of society, it can be hard for quiet people and introverts to share their voice. That said, there are introverts who excel as public speakers from practice and researching their audience.

Today it’s encouraging to see more Asian Australian faces in Australian media speaking up against racism and pursuing their ambitions underneath a bamboo glass ceiling. But presumably some of us prefer to stay in the background and live our lives as they are.

Often, the latter is how I feel as an Asian Australian creative and person. After giving a talk on multiculturalism to a high school class, I felt absolutely spent. Responding to comments on this blog can feel overwhelming too though I am humbled to connect with you.

Fellow quiet person and introvert Lani over at Lani Cox sums up the dichotomy of being an introvert:

‘Sometimes I feel like (being introverted is) a curse: needing space, being touchy and hyper-sensitive. Other times, I simply drink in the silence and solitude, and luxuriate in living my own universe.’

A true connection, often a meaningful one for the introvert.

A true connection is often a meaningful one for the introvert.

Being a quiet Asian person doesn’t mean you don’t ever want to speak up, meet new people and make friends. We just take the quieter approach, getting to know each other over time through quiet moments.

This was how I met my wonderful friend, introvert, author and blogger Rebecca Rossi. We met some years ago when I went for a job interview and she was on the panel. I didn’t get the job; Rebecca started commenting on my blog and I wrote back despite feeling she was stalking me.

This went on for about half a year, and she suggested we meet up for lunch. And another lunch and another. Since that day, we’ve shared many more memorable meals and pauses.

It may be nice meeting someone extroverted eager to get to know and finding out you click right away. But it’s something special when you slowly connect with others over silence.

After all, collective silence or sharing a space of silence with another allows us to escape social conventions and see each other as we really are. One of my amazing friends happens to be of Asian background and she’s outgoing, loves hanging out with others all the time unlike me. Once she said to me, ‘I like how when we hang out, we don’t always talk with each other’.

Are you an introvert? Do you know an introvert?

241 thoughts on “Why Are Some Asians So Quiet All The Time?

  1. What a fascinating delve into introverts and extroverts Mabel. You did an amazing job of breaking it down and sharing of yourself in the process.
    I think many writers are introverts, and many cultures produce more introverted people because of their upbringings, it’s a learned trait in as much as part of our individual personality.
    And the photos are gorgeous! 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great post, Mabel! Loved reading your thoughts on personalities, they ring so true to me. And I totally know what you mean by not quite fitting into any cultural box, and loving it that way!!! I am exactly the same, haha! 😀

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  3. how nice to read your take on the way we express and live out our lives – and interesting how you credit your early music playing to having a good memory now.

    and loved the point about “At different times in our lives we may be more outgoing or extroverted.” – which is why I think the continuum is a spectrum that can change a bit.
    I remember reading numerous studies that say introversion goes up with age – but I wonder if this is because of changing needs inside and not a social thing – like maybe those with high wanderlust will mature and relax – oh i dunno
    but another side note is that I have met some folks over the years who come across as extroverts but they are really introverts in survival mode – trying to make it in a world where maybe their job or family situation has them forced into a role….

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    • I think piano playing thought be how to be more observant and patient. Had to listen to every note, remember which notes to play, so many of them…

      It is an interesting idea that some of us become quieter as we mature – think of more nights in, early nights, finding what we love and doing that…I think you are very right.

      You know, last year and the year before I had such a yearning for wanderlust and traveling. So I did that, took lots of photos and these days….I just want to stay at home, lol.

      ‘introverts in survival mode’. And maybe extroverts in survival mode too. So well said. Sometimes we got to do what we do to make it, or simply just to get by.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree to all of what you said –
        and the thing about introversion increasing with age – IU wonder if it is sometimes from wounds – like if people do not buffer the societal wounds (that are often dispensed) maybe they will recharge more in a solo mode.
        which reminds me that I really like how you said
        “Who we are is simply because of who we are.”
        sometimes it is nature or nurture – but at the end of the day it is what it is and “I am what I am”
        and so I guess our “lot in life” extends to include our makeup and changing role with how we recharge while living in a society….

        and hope you are enjoying your quieter days this year – I am also having a bit more of settled year (compared to last year)

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        • ‘I am what I am’ I like that, and you said that very well. Sometimes we just can’t help the way we are, because we are. Sometimes that is hard because we have to be a certain way to get to a certain place and space. Fake it until you make it, and then stay true to yourself once again when it’s time to retreat, regroup and recharge.

          Wishing you a happy autumn, Y. Spring has sprung here and maybe it’s time to get out again 🙂

          Like

  4. Hey, thanks for including me in your post! 🙂 Yeah, Asians, at least traditional ones in new countries other than their own do find themselves introverted, or at the very least, hesitant to show themselves. Over time though, I think they do come out of their shells. Part of it is being an immigrant and part of it comes from being an outsider and manuvering through the languge and cultural barrier. In any case, I do take heart that many Asians from all over the world are taking over social media! It’s awesome and empowering and inspiring. Glad to hear you are happy just the way you are. xxoo

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    • It was a pleasure reading your post on solitude and being an introvert. You are a shining inspiration to me 🙂

      Some of us are just more comfortable online, better at expressing ourselves silently with words – we connect with that. It’s just what we’re comfortable with. Keep being the way you are, Lani 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I will try leaving my comment again using my other login.. Though I do not get WP replies to this in my notifications.. I tried twice leaving my comment, they may have been spammed.. I am having problems again at WP with this.. SO here goes again
    Dearest Mabel, one would never know from reading your excellent posts and seeing your interactions with others that you had suffered from being so shy..
    I can so relate to your feelings of anxiety.. As a child in school, I was very quiet, sat alone mainly reading so I did not have to mix with others.. And later suffered depression in my teens and felt oddly alone in the world..
    So hearing you have had therapy for social anxiety I can understand that you must have been through to mix with others and go into crowds..

    I loved this sentence of yours
    “All of us are own unique personalities built upon the individual stories that we live. Our stories and personalities are constantly changing.”

    So true, we are who we today because of who we were yesterday, and tomorrow we will be who we are because of today..

    We are indeed constantly changing and evolving as our confidences rise, or something may give us cause to withdraw… We are all of unique and have things which make us tick and things which push our buttons.

    I can only put myself in your shoes.. As feeling a foreigner in another land and not speaking their language, I have felt the attention, the stares, and at times, yes the prejudices .. So cannot even begin to imagine how you must have felt.

    You must also be so very proud of your achievements.. And on reading this paragraph you have every reason to be proud of your self

    ” Often, the latter is how I feel. A year after starting this blog, I was invited by a high school to talk to one of their classes about my written work on multiculturalism. Towards the end of the one hour talk, I felt absolutely spent in front of an excited culturally diverse class asking question after question. Also, responding to comments on this blog feels overwhelming as much as I am humbled to connect with all of you”

    And even now for myself, I love my own space, that quiet time of reflection away from everyone and everything.. Preferring my own company

    It is also wonderful too, how the Universe can throw opposites to meet and then find out they have much in common within those silence spaces..

    A wonderful and enlightening read Mabel.. And my admiration for you just jumped up another notch. And you were already the top of my tree..

    Love and Hugs dear Mabel and wishing you an excellent week ahead in ALL that you do..

    Love Sue ❤

    Like

  6. We all are exactly who we are and IMO it takes an honest and courageous person to acknowledge who they are, and NOT what the world says they are. Beautiful and strong post, Mabel. Well written and I just LOVED your photography. Keep on shining your Light and your Beauty. They are so needed in this world. 🌸

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    • You are so right. We need to be honest and brave to be who we are, and it’s easier said than done when all the time we try to control what others think about us. It’s a habit we need to break, and simply just be. Shining a light right back at you, and sending you hugs across the miles to you ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Such a beautiful, still, wise post. Mabel. I love the gentleness of your writing that also has a deep power. It’s great to read the quote explaining ‘introverts exhibit ‘quiet persistence’. I think I may be on the cusp, a foot in either camp although I come out Extro on the Myers Briggs.

    The deep connectedness that you talk of when meeting true friends for me shows the rich benefit of being introvert. And although I feel our world can outwardly appear to reward extrovert behaviour at times the harvest of rewards for Introverts from reading your blog seems to be wholly worthwhile.

    Wonderful. Thank you for sharing. Wishing you a great October.

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    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Lita. Always pegged you as more of an introvert. Then again, you’ve dabbled in theatre and you do need to be outspoken and network to a degree to that.

      It is always more than a pleasure when a deep connection is formed. There is no words to describe that, especially for many an introvert. Wishing you a good month too, and take care 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Mabel,
    First of all let me congratulate you on being invited by the high school to about your written work on multiculturalism. It must have been an excellent experience, addressing the students and responding to their question.
    Thanks for this extensive research on introvert behaviour and for compiling this post on introvert behaviour. I quite like the statement by Susan Dembling that introverts ‘gain energy in solitude and quiet, whereas extroverts gain energy in social situations with interaction’.
    It is amusing to note that you feel most productive on the days where half the office decides not to turn up. Like you, I also find that my mind concentrates best when no one is around.
    The definitions and characteristics of introverts given in this post convince me that by all means I am an introvert. Till date I do not like to go to shopping centre unless I have something specific to buy. I tend to have smaller social circles (in real life as opposed to my virtual social circles) and generally don’t feel very enthused about going to parties.
    It is interesting to note that introversion might be an individual trait driven by the sensitivity of the dopamine receptors, and not related to the race that one belongs to. Lastly, I would again reiterate that I truly appreciate the amount of research that you have put into this post.

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    • You are very kind, Somali. Thank you. It was a great experience talking to the school and amazing to see a class so interested in cultural diversity.

      Perhaps you are a little hypersensitive like me – that we get distracted easily. Not that it’s a bad thing, but just that we pay a lot more attention around us than others, lol.

      Had no idea you were an introvert, Somali. Agree that our real life offline and online can be very different. It’s amazing to have friends online, but also equally amazing and maybe a bit more special to have friends offline who will show up for you 🙂

      Sometimes introversion may not be a choice. It is just simply how we are wired, who we are and how we feel.

      I love research. Can be addictive. Once again, thank you, Somali. This was such a lovely comment ❤

      Like

  9. I enjoy your forthright writing, Mabel. Your delve into interesting and important topics and your images are always gorgeous. That was a nice story about meeting someone you didn’t know through the internet and becoming friends.

    Like

  10. You could have played your Gameboy at the shopping center. Having a game makes it look like you are doing something. I have heard introverts say that they feel uncomfortable because “they don’t know what do do with their hands” which makes them sometimes feel nervous or awkward.

    Sometimes a shy/introverted young woman makes herself unintentionally — but incredibly — adorable in their awkwardness, and they do not even realize it.

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    • That is true. Playing a handheld at a shopping centre, you’d look busy. Personally there are times when I just don’t want people around me at all – any slight movement is a distraction and that would make me feel awkward, and probably look awkward too.

      Like

  11. Thank you for bringing this topic, Mabel! (Your images are outstanding too!!) I just realized that I have introvert traits as well just recently. Social interaction is often draining my energy. I am most likely the person who will avoid karaoke with a large number of (Asian) friends. I’d rather spending time with one or three friends in social occasions nowadays. I do gain energy in solitude and quiet environment rather than from social interaction. Although, social interaction is often inspiring my writing too. I guess sometimes we can be in between too 🙂

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    • Thanks, Indah! I had so much fun with these images. Haha, I’m also the kind who will avoid karaoke preferring to sing in the shower 😀 It sounds like you value your friendships and quality company, spending your time wisely 🙂

      Like

  12. I’ve always been an introvert, Mabel. However, I usually find that once I become familiar with a place or a person, then I usually want to go back or meet them again. And, how many times have I not wanted to go to a function where there is going to be lots of other people I don’t know, and then wished that the evening was not about to come to an end beacuse I’m enjoying myself? Doesn’t happen all the time, because I do have those moments of not wanting to be left alone, not knowing what to do with myself. If I ever see anybody in a room looking like that, then I will always go over and say hi and start chatting to them because I know exactly how they are feeling.

    Like

    • ‘once I become familiar with a place or a person, then I usually want to go back or meet them again.’ This is so me too, Hugh. It takes time for me to make connections and when I do, I like to get to know the other person more.

      I can totally see you going to an event and slowly working your way around the room if the people are approachable. It is very nice and kind of you to go over and start chatting with someone who looks lonely. They probably appreciate it and won’t forget you, the charming you 😀

      Like

      • Sometimes, I can almost attach myself to somebody who has come over to talk to me because I don’t want to be left alone, but then I just look around for somebody stood on their own and will go and talk to them. I guess we’ve nothing to lose by doing that, Mabel, but it can be tough to do for many introverts.

        Like

  13. I loved this! I am an introvert myself and recently stopped fighting it. With every new day I try to embrace my personality as it is instead of forcing myself to become someone I would not even like to be. Thanks for this post!

    Like

  14. I am a bit late…I know, but this post really speaks to Me. I am an introvert and so are my two children. The facts and descriptions are since long familiar to me. I opened up to the world when I had my children and when I started teaching – never thought I would make it…but I did. And I can be/work both ways.
    But I love being an introvert. I recognize myself in your description of being alone, having your own time just for yourself. Reading, writing, listening to music, hiking the forests. Just like you, I and my son and my daughter, have to study without company, or other distractions. We are hard working and try to use the gifts and talents given to us from the start. But, I remember being told that there must be something wrong with my three-year-old daughter, because she rather played alone than with other children. I should take her to a psychiatrist, they said. I was very angry then – not all children are alike, are they? I think children should be able to play more alone and to make up other fantasy worlds and so on…Today you are not allowed to be different in that way. In that case, there is something wrong with you! Children stay in big groups from the age of 12 months – surely that is not a “normal” way to grow up. How come so many children and young has got nervous problems, are over active or suffer from depressions? My children never had or did.
    Treated as the persons they are, I believe every child will grow into something great – and into the costume they were born with.

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    • Never ever too late, Leya. Thank you for sharing your story. It was very interesting to read, and to hear how you are very much respectful and appreciate of the different kinds of personalities out there.

      It sounds like you and your family recognise the need for quiet and for individual time. I like how you stood up for your daughter when others questioned she should be examined and perhaps be more sociable. Agree children should play and just let themselves be. Some of the quiet ones do have quite an imagination…perhaps more so than some of us grown ups. And I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, ‘Treated as the persons they are’ – and accepted for it. It does sound like your children are just amazing the way they are today 🙂

      Thank you so much for coming by. As mentioned, never too late. This is probably my favourite post I’ve ever written 🙂 ❤

      Like

              • Astrid is renowned for her work with children and preserving nature and natural food. She also achieved a stop for putting hens in small cages. She believed in freedom for animals as much as possible. Human and animal’s rights!

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                • Astrid sounds like an amazing person all round. Need to look up more about her and her written works. Thanks so much for being so informative as always, Leya. Or Ann-Christine. I like the name Leya a lot ❤

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                  • Haha, you will like Astrid …world famous for her children’s books. Everybody in Sweden wanted her to receive the Nobel Prize for literature . Unfortunately that kind of literature is not “fine enough” for the committee…But they did make a big mistake in giving it to Bob Dylan. Maybe you might get it in the future😉

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                    • Sometimes awards aren’t everything. Astrid has achieved a lot already and touched others deeply 🙂 Me, Nobel Prize? I don’t live for awards preferring to say out of the spotlight quietly, so no 😉

                      Like

  15. Shopping centre’s can get overwhelming for me too sometimes. I guess I’m an eclectic mix of an introvert/extrovert. I can perform on a stage, but I also enjoy my own company and not having people around. “My ideal weekend is one where I get the house to myself and hibernate indoors watching YouTube”, apropos that: this weekend I haven’t left the house. In on Friday, out on Monday. 😀 haha.

    Like

    • I’ve always pegged you as an introvert. But you certainly are confident with music, or maybe less shy with what you are good at . Hehe, I like that. In on Friday, out on Monday. Always so much to do at home 😀

      Like

  16. Hi Mabel, Enjoyed reading your article. I am an introvert and always have been. My dad was the same way and the times we spent together were in silence. There was more said between us in the quietness when we hiked, canoed, or even working on the tractor or in the garden. I sure miss him.

    My mom, who is Japanese, is also an introvert but we never had that same connection. It could be due to no common interests. I really don’t know but I know the silence between her and me was, and still not, not the same.

    Ever since I was a kid, I never liked being in crowds and never cared for chaos. Give me the great outdoors of nature anytime. When my husband and I bike-pack, I do enjoy meeting different people along the way when they approach us and ask questions about our travels. It is fun seeing the look on their face when they find out how many miles we have ridden.

    Same as with your situation, I do not fit in either side of my cultures either but it does not bother me. In my little circle of friends, I don’t think any of them are introverts. They all like to talk a lot. Sometimes too much for my patience but I take it all in stride because that is just how they are.

    Like

    • Thank you so much for reading this one, Patty. And for liking it too 🙂 ‘There was more said between us in the quietness’ This is such a beautiful thing, and you must have enjoyed those hikes and enjoying the great outdoors with your dad, hiking in sync.

      It’s amazing how far one can go when they are alone or with a small group of people. Some of us just feel and function better being with our own selves. Also sometimes opposites attract, so it could explain why a lot of your friends are extroverts. That said, my close friends are introverts, though I do have good relations with a few extroverts.

      Liked by 1 person

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