I see nothing much wrong with oriental as a word.
However, I have never made a habit of using the word to describe describe people (i.e. “he was an oriental guy”). That sounds kind of silly. Why not say he was Chinese/Japanese/Korean or whatever? Or why not just use ‘Asian’. As mentioned above, oriental does have exotic connotations of ‘otherness’. I don’t see how that makes it a bad word per se, but I do think it makes it slightly awkward when applied to people.
‘Asian’ seems to do fine to me for describing the ethnic group. But what if I was in Britain, where ‘an Asian’ is going to be taken to mean an individual from the Indian subcontinent. I guess saying ‘an oriental’ might then become useful, right? I would certainly use ‘oriental’ to clariy if ‘asian’ wasn’t working for the listener and talking in terms of individual countries wasn’t an option.
‘Oriental’ does describe a more precise geographic area and set of ethnic groupings than than ‘asian’, and thus has its uses. It does sound a little old fashioned though. Also, when you are talking to people with a reasonably good knowledge of Asia then it usually seems to make more sense to talk in terms of individual countries/cultures etc.
However, getting concerned about the word oriental seems overly sensitive to me . I only realized this word was becomming ‘politically incorrect’ last week when browsing an Asian American website. Oh well, if Americans want an issue to mobilize about then let them.
I’ve always been upset that ‘the occident’ never took off in the same way as ‘the orient’. I could quite enjoy being ‘an occidental’. ‘Occidental’ has a romantic ring to it which ‘westerner’ and ‘European’ totally lack.
I admit to a serious bias on this one though. The Occidental in Auckland used to be my favorite pub. Then one sad day the beer stained carpet and victorian urinals were stripped, the decrepit old men and women who had been furniture there since the place poured its first pint were turfed out, and probably buried, and The Occidental was turned into a trendy Belgian beer bar which was no longer called the Occidental, and that had four belgian beers on tap, four more in bottles, and the most amazing mussel pots with chips. Embarassingly, the place then once again became my favorite pub. Hell, pissing about with historic pubs is supposed to be bad! Never mind. . .