Be Positive

A friend of mine was having a business dinner with representatives of a big South Korean firm and they asked him about his blood type.

He thought this was a very peculiar question — and in the US, it is a peculiar question.  Outside of a hospital or a blood bank, who cares what your blood type is.  I bet the majority of Americans don’t even know their own types.  (I’m B+, which I only remember because it struck me as good advice.)

I asked my wife, who’s Korean.  Her reaction was (summarized) “Different cultures are different — in the US, asking your blood type is a personal question, whereas asking where you were born is just polite conversation; in Korea, it’s the other way around.”

I had to laugh.  My friend wasn’t offended at being asked about his blood type, he didn’t regard the question as intrusive, just as pointless.

Turns out, Koreans (with the Japanese and Taiwanese) have an abiding faith that a person’s blood type gives insight into his personality.  The belief is so pervasive that prestigious Yonsei University released a study purporting to quantify the effect exactly.  Turns out, we B-blood types are “illogical, unstable, and lack leadership” — but you already knew that about me.

What I find interesting is this belief isn’t particularly old.  It first arrived in Japan in 1927, piggybacking on so-called “scientific racism”, a loose group of complex and contradictory theories about how certain kinds of people, while genetically inferior, somehow manage to run the world.

The theatrical poster for the 2005 Korean rom-com B-Type Boyfriend

When scientific racism not surprisingly fell out of favor after World War II, the blood theory went with it, but for some reason had a resurgence in the 1970s.  Now, well-educated Asians have no particular qualms about discussing “typical” behaviors. [My indispensable wife points out there is even a Korean movie called B형 남자친구B-Type Boyfriend, about a conservative A-type girl and… well, you can guess the rest.]

Why blood type, of all things?  I blame it mostly on the availability fallacy.  We want, crave, insight into our own personality and the personalities of the people we depend on; and the blood-type is there.  Like birth-day, birth-year, and birth-month, it’s an unalterable, and apparently random, personal characteristic, so it must mean something.

Plus, unlike zodiac signs, determining your blood-type is both mysterious — what could be more primal than pricking your finger and stealing a tiny drop of blood? If it isn’t a scene from classical mythology, it should be — and simultaneously scientific — there are probably teams of lab-coated nerds laboring over beakers and Bunsen burners to scrutinize that drop of blood.

What I’m looking for is a replacement for blood type.  Something permanent and unchosen and most important, as difficult to determine as blood type.  We’ll set up a business offering tests.  “Your Personality Revealed!  Only $129.99!”

We’re gonna be rich.

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