It happened again today! As I was exiting the Harvard Square T station, a woman approached me with "Ni hao" and asked if I spoke Mandarin. I answered "a little" and confirmed that she was on the right platform to head downtown.
I used to get irritated when people spoke Mandarin to me based on their assumptions from my physical appearance, but now that my language skills are enough to hold very basic conversations, it doesn't anymore. I do, however, cringe a little when I'm expected to speak Japanese or Korean. It makes me wonder how much of my previous ire about Mandarin was really about my own insecurities about not speaking a language I thought I should. And while most people don't like having assumptions made about them, the assumptions that are false are far more annoying than the ones that happen to be true. We tend not to decry the latter, which may be why stereotypes persist and always will.