The Things People Will Say To Your Face

Things actually said to real families with internationally adopted kids, collected on adoption forums:

Are they REALLY brother and sister?
I guess their mom/dad is Ory Ental, huh?
Did their mother die in that big war they had down there?
Are you SURE she's [ethnicity]?
How could you love [adopted child] as much as [biological child]?
I adopted a dog once.
[Upon a post-adoption pregnancy] What are you going to do with the other one, keep him or send him back?
You get what you pay for.
Is he a real orphan?
What's wrong? You can't have one of your own?
Oh, they fight a lot there, don't they? Lots and lots of fighting!
[Regarding infant] Does she cry in Korean?
[By a family therapist, in front of child] Was her mother a prostitute?
Is he Chinese take-out?
What boat did he come on?
You know, your kids can marry each other.
How much did he cost?
[Public official, loudly, upon reviewing documents] You paid THAT much for her?
So is she, you know, natural?
How do you know he isn't really North Korean and a communist?
Will he be Christian?
I can't believe how Chinky his eyes are!
You know you'll never love an adopted kid the same as a real kid.
So, how much does it cost to buy a baby and how much of a cut does the birthmother get?
We'll that's awfully liberal of you.
No, what's her real name.
[In front of male child] HOW DID YOU GET A BOY?!! I thought they wanted the boys in China? You know what they do to those poor baby girls? Leave them abandoned in the streets to die! Why would they do that to a boy when they want the boys?
[In front of children] What kind of woman would abandon beautiful children like that? She must be a monster.
Where'd you get a slanty-eyed one?
Do you ever call him 'Immigrant baby?'
[regarding tiny infants] Does he speak Korean/Chinese/etc.?
[To clearly Anglo parents of clearly non-Anglo kid] Will you tell him he was adopted?
Don't they have birth control over there?
Are you going to buy rice in bulk now?
[Regarding twins, one a boy, one a girl] When a boy and a girl share a womb, those hormones get mixed up all willy-nilly, and so one of them will certainly turn out gay. [OK, that's not adoption-specific, but it's hilarious.]
Are you the nanny?
[After being told yes, they are siblings] No, but are they really siblings?
Can you tell me what you know about his real parents?
Is there a catalog or something?
What's wrong with American kids?
[to children] You don't know how lucky you are.
I've always wanted me one of them orientals!
Have you considered the eyelid surgery–I mean, not to make him look more white–but just because white people can see better with the shape of their eyes?
Oh, his mommy didn't want him?
Did you get a discount for more than one?
[general nipple-Nazi aggressive nosiness]
You must be rolling in it to afford one of those.
Oh, them people do good nails!
So are they all deformed, or does that just make them cheaper?
I'd definitely get one of them if they could guarantee me him. It's so expensive and there is no guarantee you'll get a good one.

I'm informed that adoptive parents of same-ethnicity kids get variations on some of these, too.

My point is not to portray adopted parents as poor victims — we're not, we're tremendously lucky. Nor is it my point to suggest that adopted children and adopted parents are exposed to more ignorance and bigotry and rudeness than other people — we're not, necessarily. The world is chock-full of asshats, and the subject of children is a powerful vector of asshattery, perhaps even more so than politics or religion or sports. Rather, my points are these: (1) my God, but the world is full of twits, and (2) adoptive parents, you aren't alone. Stay cool.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. says

    And my wife wants to know why I don't want to go to the mall.

    Not even close to being in the same league as the above, but my daughter is very tall for her age, and people, finding out her age, will tilt their heads way back so as to look me in the face and, quite seriously, ask me where she gets it.

    It isn't even stupidity. It is just the inability to think about what they're going to say before they start saying it.

  2. says

    @Wilhelm Arcturus:

    > It is just the inability to think about what they’re going to say before they start saying it.

    I've got some sympathy for those with that problem.

  3. Al says

    You may laugh now but experts predict that with twenty years you won't be able to tell synthetic kids from natural ones. Well, until they rise up to kill their human masters anyway.

  4. says

    > with twenty years you won’t be able to tell synthetic kids from natural ones.

    The 600 series had rubber skin. We spotted them easy, but these are new. They look human… sweat, bad breath, everything. Very hard to spot. I had to wait till he asked for the crusts to be cut off his PB&J before I could zero him.

  5. Bob says

    We have a special needs child. I should make a collection of things people of said to us… we were at a restaurant once, and a manager came to the table and told us to take our dog outside. When we explained that those noises were made by our autistic son, she demanded that we produce the dog from where ever we were hiding it. She argued with us for a good 5 minutes before coming to her senses.

    We didn't pay for that meal.

  6. Talisker says

    Then there are the people who can't seem to wrap their heads around the fact that different race doesn't always mean international adoption. I've heard several variants of this one:

    "Where's she from?"


    "Yeah, but before that?"

    "She was born in Detroit."

    "…I mean, where's her mother from?"

    "Her mother is the brunette buying flowers over there."

    "No, her real mother."

    "I assure you this is her real mother walking our way — Dear, this gentleman is wondering where you're from?"

    I usually manage to remain friendly and smile during these sorts of exchanges. Usually.

  7. Phillip Ross says

    Love your list.
    There is a whole new category of 'things people will say to your face' for parents of twins.

  8. Rich Rostrom says

    ITYM trans-racial adoptees.

    The dumb questions get asked because of the child's appearance, not the nationality of his birth parents.

    One wonders what would happen if non-white Americans adopted a foreign white child, Say, a a US serviceman in the Middle East who picks up an Iraqi orphan. Some Middle Easterners are visibly swarthy, but others are basically "white".

    Would the nimrods get all confused?

  9. Ansley says

    @Lina. Possessing call your adopted child a gift. I can assure you her mother did not set out to give anyone such a gift.

  10. says

    @Ansley. My intention is clear. I am not being posessive but thankful that perhaps we can be of help. The birth parents conditions, circumstances and decisions, if in fact they had any choice (orphaned…) are not anything I can change or affect at this time (or perhaps ever). I will always leave myself open for the child's decisions to explore as desired. One can not possess another living being. The word "possession" in reference to human beings is offensive at first glance, moreso at second and repulsive, always.

  11. Rich says

    Yes I have twins at home, a boy and a girl. Really are they identical? YES. Your list is interesting collection of very very stupid and some very nasty comments. However "does she cry in Korean?" thats pretty funny. IF the parents are not too uptight. I have often wondered if my children cried in the language of past incarnations. She is crying in ancient Sumerian, her brother is Babylonian.

  12. says

    Awful, awful ignorance. Actually, my wife and have been planning to adopt since before we were even married. I was shocked at how many people told us we would never love an adopted child as much as "our own child." Even my wife's grandmother said it! As if she would know. Has she ever TRIED adopting a child into her own family and raising it?

  13. Linus says

    This makes me as mad as anyrhing ever posted here. I don't know how you guys manage to stay so calm in the face of comments like these. I think I'd constantly find myself saying, "well, the answer to your question is FUCK YOU". You are better people than me.

  14. d-day says

    Ugh, hate. Why do people always have to comment on anything to do with reproduction? After 1 bio-offspring I can't have anymore. AT LEAST daily, someone will ask me when the kiddo is getting a baby brother or sister, and feels the need to say that really I'm doing a disservice to the kid by having only one. Because my medical condition is my own business, I get the fun of having salt GROUND into the wound constantly! Fun! We are getting our finances in order to qualify to adopt – I don't really care where the next child comes from, as long as he or she comes.

    People are unintentionally and thoughtlessly horrible.

  15. Doug says

    We have faced very little of this. Perhaps its the small town where we know lots of people and they knew we were adopting. Maybe the people around here are more perceptive. But, its sad and terrible that these words are said. Its a child who needs a home. My son knows he was adopted and from where. But, we haven't had to face the inevitable question: why was I abandon?

  16. C. S. P. Schofield says

    My father was the adopted son of a Methodist Minister in the 1920's and '30's. I can't say for sure what that exposed him to, but I DO know that when I was small he gave me explicit permission to BITE anybody who patted me n the head.

  17. says

    d-day – +1 million. My wife and i were 31 when our first was born – 5 months ago. We struggled a bit. It took us quite a while to get pregnant. The constant questions of "when are you going to have kids? Why haven't you yet? Are you having problems?"

    When I saw the hurt in my wife's face every time someone asked I wanted to throttle them. People seriously need to pull their heads out of their asses.

    BTW, having a daughter is everythign i thought it could be and more. She is the happiest little thing, always smiling and giggling at her Dad. I can't even imagine how I could love something more – and I know that that love has very little to do with the fact that she is blood related. She is my responsiblity – totally dependent on me, and she trusts me with every part of her being to take good care of her. I can toss her into the air and it doesn't even occur to her to be scared that I might drop her. To her, Daddy is infalliable and I love her so much because of her perfect, innocent little soul. An adopted child would be no different. I can't even imagine why someone would feel that they couldn't love an adopted child as much as a biological child.

  18. says

    The constant questions of “when are you going to have kids? Why haven’t you yet? Are you having problems?”

    Did you get the "all you have to do is relax?" We loved that one.

  19. Matriarch918 says

    We haven't been at the right place for our long-held dream of adopting yet, but we do have 5 naturally born girls, and get plenty of inappropriate comments for it, right down to the near constant "you sure have your hands full!" which subtly suggests: "Wow, it was kind of dumb of you to have so many kids. Bet you wish you hadn't done that now that you see how much work it is." The thing I've noticed is that most people aren't even trying to be mean or rude. In this land of blogs, tweets, and comment sections, people seem almost conditioned with the idea that they have to share whatever inane thing they are thinking. Discretion is a lost virtue nowadays! (I realize the irony of posting this in a comments section) =)

  20. C. S. P. Schofield says

    My parents spent 15 years living in Iowa, and one of my Mother's favorite memories from those years is of being in the Des Moines airport (waiting for me to come for a visit, as it happens) and seeing a couple with six kids, none of them the same ethnic appearance as any of the others, eagerly awaiting an orphan baby from Vietnam. They were so clearly happy, and so clearly a family.

  21. says

    A college friend of mine, one Kevin Lynch, grew up in a family with 14 kids, all adopted from different countries. Everyone called them the Lynch mob.

  22. says

    People exhibit spectacular stupidity on the subject of children, be it raising them, adopting them, or not having them.

    My wife and I are childless by choice. Aside from the usual "awww, you can't have kids?" immediate response when meeting people, Some apparently normal intelligent people have said some really, really stupid things to us.

    One fun party trick… when someone asks us why we don't have kids, we ask them why they do. Fun to watch them stutter.

  23. Rob says

    As an adoptee I've found the whole thing pretty bewildering at times. My conclusion is that people who arent adoptees or adoptive families have no clue but are kind of simultaneously fascinated and scared by the whole concept of adoption and their clueless brain (down there next to the lizard brain and a bit to the side) engages when they discuss it. Hence the plethora of off beam assumptions ranging from the dismissive (never love as much etc) to the overly protective (OMG they just mentioned adoption on the news, do you need to go see a counsellor? Have a breakdown?). It seems to stem from the fact that we dont really openly discuss it as a society, even now, and so myths and stupidity proliferate.

    The reality to someone who has been brought up with it is the whole thing is really banal and normalized , like anything that you have grown up with. None of the assumptions of those who havent experienced it make any goddamned sense. Not the shying away from discussion – its part of who I am, surely no more or less definitive than any other characteristic, but it is part of my story – and conversely not the range of programmed responses, from "loser" to "poor dear" to embarassed silence, they just dont compute and assume that being adopted defines me.

    All very odd.