When someone calls you exotic, you take it as a compliment at first. Then, you start to wonder exactly what that means. After all, you have looked the same way your entire life. To yourself, you are completely normal and not exotic. Did they mean that you are beautiful or that you look like a foreigner? What exactly was that person trying to say?
When most people hear this, they probably think that it refers to your skin color or race. This is not always the case though. Technically, the word “exotic” actually means a characteristic or originating in a distant foreign country. If you are from Zimbabwe and live in England, you might be exotic. If you live in France and are French in heritage, then most people probably would not consider you exotic.
According to this definition, basically everyone is exotic if they go to the right part of the world. When I lived in Asia, my students thought that I was exotic because I looked so different from them or from anyone that they knew. Even the little tattoo that I have was thought of as odd since their culture thought tattoos were only used by mafia guys. In the United States and Europe, no one ever thinks that I am particularly interesting or unusual. Only when I go abroad do I ever get the “exotic” term used for me.
If the person is referring to your race or ethnicity, don’t get angry at them quite yet. While this is certainly a backhand compliment and not something you should ever say to someone, they probably did not mean it badly. They thought that you seemed like an exotic flower and completely different from anyone that they had ever met.
The term also may refer to how you act instead of who you are. Once, I had a friend who was called exotic a lot. She looked like everyone else and was decent looking, but certainly not a model. People often asked her if she was from the United States though because she had a certain lilt in her voice that sounded English. The way she acted and her mannerisms also made other people think that she was exotic and different.
People rarely use the word “exotic” for someone who is ugly or unattractive. Even if you fit the definition of exotic, you won’t hear this word unless you are pretty. While it might sound weird to hear, it does mean that whoever said it thinks that you are attractive. They may think that you seem mysterious, unusual or different in some way. The connotation of the word is generally positive, so the individual must think you are alluringly unusual in some way.
Should Anyone Use the Word “Exotic”?
Honestly, people should probably stop using this word in most countries of the world. If your country has a melting pot culture, no one is actually exotic. For example, in the United States, there are people who immigrated from just about every part of the world. We are all Americans, so no one is “exotic.” For someone who is an American and who was raised here, it can be rather offensive to hear that you seem like an exotic outsider. You are an American, and not some exotic flower transplanted from a mysterious land. They might have meant it well (and probably did mean it as a compliment), but they were not really thinking about how you would think of the phrase.
Exotic is meant to symbolize something alluring, adventurous or positive. The person may think your looks are exotic, or they might think that you have an exotic, sexy accent. Whatever the case, they have tried to compliment you on your uniqueness, but they may have unintentionally insulted you by making it seem like you aren’t accepted and are an outsider.
Take It at Face Value
For the most part, your best option is to take the compliment at face value. In the majority of cases, “exotic” is meant as a compliment and not an insult. It is even used among members of the same race and culture for someone who has unique mannerisms or a facial shape that is unusual to see. People are often attracted to the exotic allure of other cultures and nations. In this particular case, they tried to tell you how alluring you are and just chose a potentially loaded word. Don’t hate them for it.
If a guy told you that you were exotic, you can just about bet money that he finds you attractive. Something about you intrigues him, so he told you that you were exotic. If you are interested in him as well, then you just got the first signal that he might like you back.