Taboo, or, Why a Chinese Math Stereotype Exists (#18)

Cards from the game “Taboo.”

It was Game Night with Andy’s aunt, uncle, and cousins. Technically, Auntie and Uncle weren’t involved in the gaming. (Well, this sort of gaming. I learned about their love affair with Las Vegas later.)

We had dinner first. Andy’s fillet mignon was a huge hit. The giant raspberry-chocolate truffle brownie I baked for dessert was half a hit. Chronically Late Cousin and Engineer Cousin had grown up mostly in Hong Kong, an ocean away from the American over-abundance of fat and sugar. Their idea of a rich dessert is mango pudding. The Cousins managed one polite bite each.   Their husbands, Bubba and Quite White, ate their brownies, their wives’ brownies, and demanded more.

Around a mouthful of chocolate, Bubba told me, “This is awesome! We never have desserts like this!”

I smiled sympathetically. “Mango pudding?”

He shook his head. “Oranges.”

I made sure Bubba took a plastic bag of brownies home. Surprisingly, Yee-Mah asked for her own bag. She told me I should open a bakery. I love Yee-Mah.

We decided to play a team game. The winners would get first crack at the booze brought by Cousin Freddy. The losers would be stuck with kitchen clean up. If you don’t think those are high stakes, think again. After Andy gets through with a kitchen, the counters and stove have morphed into a dirty layer cake of discarded vegetable peelings, bits of fat, bits of cheese, and piles of spices and flour. This creation is iced with carbonized grease and decorated with a hundred  dirty bowls that once housed ingredients. Less than one-third of the plates and bowls will fit in the dishwasher. It takes an hour to clean the stove alone.

The game of choice was Taboo. A player from each team is given a stack of cards. The cards have a goal word at the top, and a list of “taboo” words below it. The player tries to get their team to guess the word at the top of the card without using any of the forbidden/ taboo words written below the goal word. If you want your team to guess the word “lasagna,” you can’t give them hints with taboo words such as “Italian” or “noodles.” If your team guesses the goal word before time runs out, your team gets a point. If you screw up and use a “taboo” word, your team loses a point. Players have to either be creative or draw on a shared pool of knowledge.

Someone – probably Engineering Cousin – decided we should split up the couples. It seemed fair. We white folk shrugged and agreed.

Here’s a sample of me trying to get my team to say “lasagna.”

Me: “So there’s a country, shaped like a boot, and a national comestible is baked in an oblong pan, with a crimson sauce made of an ingredient that sounds like potato…”

My team: “Uh…pizza?”

Here’s an example of Andy giving clues to his team:

Andy: “Calculus.”

Engineer Cousin: “Easy!”

Andy: “Correct!”

Team Caucasian-American: “What the fuck?”

Team Asian-American crushed us. Repeatedly. I thought they might cheat with Cantonese. Instead they cheated with math. They used formulas to get answers such as “different” from differentials. (Don’t ask this liberal arts major what these formulas were.) Even Quite White, an engineer like his wife, could barely follow their math or their logic.


The Asians celebrated in the living room while our team paid up. As we stacked the dishwasher, scrubbed the stove, and cleaned the counters, every so often one of us would shake our head and mutter,

“In what world is Calculus easy?!”

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

14 thoughts on “Taboo, or, Why a Chinese Math Stereotype Exists (#18)”

  1. I love Taboo. PSCS hates it, but will play it with me.

    I also love the flabbergasted look people get when you pull off a clue that only makes sense to you.

    1. That was Team Caucasian. We were nothing but flabbergasted. Repeatedly. So sad. It was such a slaughter, it wouldn’t seem like Team Asian would have enjoyed it as much as they did. Although, I think they enjoyed it less the following morning. So hung over.

    1. Kate — All subsequent games were integrated. Such a slaughter was never seen again…until the women beat the men.

      Andy is always the one cooking. His dishes are fantastic. I’ve gotten really, really good at cleaning. Mad scrubbing, mopping, and vacuuming skills, that’s me.

  2. I haven’t played Taboo for a long time. My sister and I make a good team. My teenage grandchildren are the math geniuses, and they’re only 25% Chinese. They are 50% Jewish, though.

  3. I can’t play Taboo with my spouse … anymore. Bad memories of game gone bad in another country … I need to stop typing … getting all sorts of fired up just thinking about it. Apoteke.

  4. I’ve never played that game before. But then again, we might not even have it here. However, it looks really interesting. Now I wanna play. (Also, your post got me laughing. xDD)

If you liked this, let the white girl know!