A few days ago a friend called me up and asked for help. It wasn't anything that important or serious, but it would have involved me lying to a third party, so I politely told my friend that I was uncomfortable with the situation.
At the time I got this phone call I happened to be in a public space and so naturally the people I was with asked me about the phone call. The favor my friend had asked me for wasn't anything private so I told the people I was with. The people I happened to be with weren't in anyway connected to any research I am doing, they were just some friends at the hostel, but they of course all know that I am an anthropologist and that I am in Taiwan to do research.
After telling them the story of the phone call they asked me why I had refused to lie. I thought the answer to that was obvious, but apparently not, so I explained to them why I felt uncomfortable with the situation which included ethical concerns about my behavior while in the field. To my horror someone then replied, "Yeah, but isn't that what you anthropologists do? You lie to get into a group and then study the people?"
I immediately went into defense mode and corrected this person's misconception, but what they said stuck in my brain. What gave them this idea? As far as I know I am the only anthropologist this person has met (I don't know if they have read any anthropological texts) and I all but wear a sandwich board explaining who I am and what I am doing here. I am so transparent about my intentions that I even explain it to people whom I have no intentions of involving in my research just in case.
A couple of days after this conversation I went back and asked this person where they had gotten this idea again. They said they didn't know.
Now I wonder, when I tell people I am working on an anthropology PhD, what does that mean to them?