Culture: Not necessary to live with your wife

You get used to the usual questions, but the one about marriage I always found funniest:

“Where you from?”

“America.”

“Very good. I have been to New York, and…uh…Disneyland.”

“How long you want to stay Taiwan?”

“Two years.”

“You come alone?”

“Yes. Huh, so brave. You don’t miss your family?”

“Not really” Chuckles and giggles at the ridiculous suggestion you don’t miss your family.

Then: “So you didn’t bring your wife?”

“No, man, and just before I left I got her pregnant just to heap more shit on her pile of loneliness, and my irresponsibility.”

“One more time?”

“No, I am not married. And that should be self-explanatory. I told you I have come here for two years alone.”

About the Author

I have been in Taiwan for nearly fifteen years, deciding to complicate life by adding cultural confusion to the mix of going from cocky early twenties guy to more mature family man. Along the way I have gone through almost every stage that we foreigners do unconsciously trying to reconcile culture shock, love of Taiwan and home. I have also spent alot of my time outside of teaching, being the only foreigner in local companies - big, small, legit and borderline. Dan blogs frequently at his own site,Betelnut-Equation

15 Responses to “ Culture: Not necessary to live with your wife ”

  1. oh man, I’ve been in Taiwan for just about a year and your proto-conversation nails every first conversation.

    i’m having a lot of trouble understanding chinese culture. no, actually, i totally think it is stupid and horrible for young minds and old minds alike.

    the children are trained to think with confucius’s logic but not confucius’s heart, and the older people act from “limao” but not from their hearts. this doesn’t apply to everyone, of course.

    basically, it’s really hard to form solid friendships when “limao” acts as a filter for every honest emotion of the heart.

    what do you think?

    david

  2. Dan’s story is an amusing anecdote deliberately told from the reference point of a different culture for the sake of laughs. David’s critisms however appears to be based on the refusal to shift your reference point to the Taiwan culture you’re currently immersed in.

    Every culture has a form of politeness(“Limao”) that screens one’s honest emotion of the heart. Here in the US, I wouldn’t claim that our conversations with strangers are significantly more honest or intellectual. People superfically stick to safe mundane topics such as the weather, sports etc.

    From my experience of both cultures, I find that in the US what people say may give you the impression that they’re honest, intelligent and heartfelt, but often their actions fall short of their verbal display. In Taiwan, it is reversed: The dialogue may not be outwardly smooth and impressive, but the actions are sincere and warm.

    Ultimately David is a foreigner in a country that is racially and culturally homogeneous. It will take time to break into the culture and understand it. The first step is to not hang on so tightly to one’s own culture as the point of reference.

    Vincent

  3. Nice try, Vincent.

    Sincerity is sincerity, no matter what culture you reside in.

    If you say something sincere, anyone can tell.
    If you act sincerely, anyone can tell.

    But if you say “I am limao” but your actions are not “limao”, it is hard to believe someone is sincere in their “limao”. Similarly, if your actions are in accordance with “limao” but your words are not “limao”, what meaning does “limao” have?

    According to your logic, you can say “not limao” but if your actions are “limao” it is “limao”.

    Do you really suppose that this cognitive dissonance is the heart of Confucian philosophy?

    Please blame the foreigner. After all, it is easier to hide behind “limao” than changing one’s self to be more loving, more compassionate, and more understanding.

    David

  4. David,
    You certainly sound bitter of your experience in Taiwan.
    I’m sorry to hear that.
    I cannot attest to the same experience.
    Yes, sincerity is sincerity.
    But I’m always a believer of actions speaking louder than words and I’ve certainly experienced very warm and sincere actions while on business in Taiwan.
    Like I mentioned, keeping an open mind and judging the culture in its own context will help.
    Hope things improve for you.

    Vincent

  5. David,

    When travelling or staying in one foreing country, I am always aware of how my perception of the place and its people are shaped by the limited number of people I have encountered. Obviously, the Taiwanese you met or knew kind of let you down and feel frustrated.

    I do agree with Vincent’s view of limao. There has been a cultural stereotype of Chinese, Taiwanese and Japanese, who seem to act nice but are hard to form friendship with. In fact, after staying in America for five years, I find it is true of Americans. I guess it takes time, open-mindedness, and a bit of good luck to make good friends on a foreign soil.

    Speaking of limao in America, it might take one a while to learn that nobody really cares if they ask, how are you? A greeting that will mean something only when you two are friends. Compared to the more reserved Taiwanese, Americans in general tend to give compliments, which i consider a positive characteristic, yet sometimes i doubt whether they truly mean it and I want a real feedback.

    I hope you can get to know the rest of nice Taiwanese.

  6. Hi Wen,

    So nice of you to join us!

    Well, I have been let down in work and school situations. My Taiwanese buxiban boss had no forgiveness about any mistakes I made, however trivial. Before I came to Taiwan, I was under the impression that “face” was important to the Taiwanese. But my boss screamed at me in front of everyone, leaving me no opportunity to save face. This is proper, after all, only Taiwanese people understand limao, so it doesn’t apply to foreigners….

    In school, the Taiwanese teach foreigners as if we are Taiwanese. They simply do not understand how to teach foreigners. So my American classmates and I would have to shout at the teacher to get more clarity, more specificity, more questions answered. I tried to get one of my teachers to understand my perspective and she went to the Director of the Chinese Language Center and complained about me. He interviewed each of my classmates and asked them if I was preventing them from learning Chinese. It was my fault! He didn’t even really know what I had done wrong, if I had done anything wrong, and he immediately interviewed my classmates with the certain knowledge that I had done wrong! After all, ignorance in action is limao….

    I transferred to a new University and one of my teachers would scream at me if I didn’t do what she wanted. So I acted very condescending to her. She was shocked that if she didn’t give me respect, I wouldn’t give her respect. But of course, she probably doesn’t see that she didn’t give me respect. After, the teacher is always right is limao….

    Certainly, I have made close friends in Taiwan. You say correctly that finding close friends is difficult no matter what country you reside in. However, my bad experiences outnumber my good experiences, simply by virtue of the fact that the good people are hard to find….

    Best,
    David

    p.s. Your written English is very liuli

  7. Limao is the tool the Taiwanese use to keep you at a distance. They spin a web of Limao, and only few of those people are genuine. It’s a tough lesson to learn.

  8. David,

    out of curiosity: At which University did this happen? I am taking classes at Shida, Taipei, and have found the teachers to be really diverse in terms of quality of teaching. Still waiting for the big clash, however.

  9. Hi Deguoren,

    I studied at Chung Hsing Da Xue CLC for five months before dropping out. That was where the director interviewed all of my classmates without talking to me to ascertain blame.

    Then I studied at Dong Hai Da Xue CLC for two months before dropping out. That was where my teachers said I wasn’t limao, while they screamed at me and refused to answer questions, which is, of course, limao.

    Shida is probably of a higher caliber and more use to dealing with foreigners than the smaller CLCs in Taichung. I also am quite a outspoken person and I don’t let people treat me with disrespect, even if they think that is how Taiwanese students should be. I wouldn’t wish my experiences on anyone, but on the plus side, I understand how my mind learns Chinese now, and I can quickly evaluate whether a CLC is of use or not. I am going to start Providence CLC in one week. Wish me luck…

    David

  10. The article describes small talk. Every culture has them, every language has them: those little verbal rituals people engage in when they wish you to feel welcome and at ease.

    It is natural in Taiwan to ask about family as a conversation starter. People figure that (1) everyone has this and (2) everyone likes to talk about people they care about.

    In America you would (1) talk about the weather and (2) ask if you saw that game last night on TV featuring your favourite sports team. For the same reasons.

    It is what it is: a way to be friendly, a way to smoothe those happenstance interactions in life that bring us together, a prelude to possible friendship if interactions continue.

    If someone is looking for instant intimacy on elevators, in taxicabs and on breaks between meetings, I recommend revising expectations. Doing so would be a good idea no matter where in the world you find yourself. It is not the fault of taxi drivers when you are lonely, just as it is not in their job descriptions to counsel you.

  11. Hi Taikula,

    I guess the original poster and I are talking about two different things.

    The original poster, and yourself, I presume, are talking about meeting strangers, people you will only meet once. Your example of taxi drivers is a good example of a stranger.

    My posts talked about extended contact with Taiwanese, in a job situation 40+ hours a week, in a school situation 15+ hours a week.

    Perhaps I am off-topic and my comments should be posted somewhere on Forumosa.

    I am sorry for offending you. Please forgive me.

    Thank god the Taiwanese understand and apply limao for 15 minutes.

  12. David – Why do you think you offended me? Do you automatically assume alienation exists when you encounter a different perspective?

    (If so, that may go some way toward understanding why making friendships in a foreign country is proving difficult for you. “Everyone has a different perspective, therefore everyone is alien and views me the same way.” Is that it?)

    Your complaint is loneliness. The question you ask concerns expectations. You say it’s less a question of expecting true friendship from cab drivers as from co-workers in a busy workplace. this is difficult anywhere. Co-workers tend to have families as well as jobs to see to by the time you meet them. The situation is complicated by your co-workers’ knowledge that jobs do change and even disappear, and that their colleagues from abroad are not likely to remain in Taiwan for very long. Most will invest their friend-making energies accordingly.

    You’re teaching? That’s lonely work anyway.

    I recommend meeting people in arenas away from work. Make time for activities centered around other interests. Any interest, old or new. Canoeing? Airplanes? Jazz? Tea ceremonies? Choral singing? Basketball? Find some events that let you meet people and do things you enjoy. Get where that action is.

    In Taiwan you are never buried under snow in a one-light town, six hours away from anywhere interesting, looking at palm trees on your screen saver. You’re in a place that bustles with urban activities and lets you play outdoors, mountain or beach, year round. Take what your island gives you. Your adopted home has many strengths. Play to them.

    Good luck.

  13. Taikula,

    Why do you assume that I assume you feel alienated?

    Why do you assume that I suffer from loneliness?

    Why do you assume that I have no friends in Taiwan after one year of living here?

    Why do you assume that I have not taken advantage of whatever Taiwan has to offer?

    I apologized to you since that is limao to strangers. At least, that much, I think we both can assume.

  14. Vincent: David,You certainly sound bitter of your experience in Taiwan.I’m sorry to hear that.I cannot attest to the same experience.Yes, sincerity is sincerity.But I’m always a believer of actions speaking louder than words and I’ve certainly experienced very warm and sincere actions while on business in Taiwan.Like I mentioned, keeping an open mind and judging the culture in its own context will help.Hope things improve for you.Vincent

    Living in and visiting a country are two very different things.

  15. Hi Vincent:

    Thank you for taking time to reply. The difference between visiting abroad and living abroad is like the difference between admiring a coconut for its beauty, and trying to open the damn thing with your bare hands.

    I don’t see why everyone seems to think that one needs to “understand a culture” or “judge it in its own context”.

    Taiwanese are human beings. The only context I judge Taiwanese behavior is a human one.

    Taiwanese have treated me as an inferior time and time again. Whether I was in a work situation, a school situation, even meeting strangers, there is a gulf between us, even though we are standing close to each other. If you are sensitive to energy, sometimes you can sense the lowered energy around you, as people conform to other people’s expectations, and keep their hearts fettered.

    It seems that their Confucian training makes them think that because their behavior is limao (propriety) then the intention of their heart must thereby conform to limao. But in fact, it is like putting on blinders and insisting to everyone you meet that the world is a very narrow space. I believe that Taiwanese have a similar expression about a frog at the bottom of a well.

    I’m not saying the Taiwanese are bigoted. They just learn one way to deal with human beings, and if someone says that that way is wrong, they have no way to see that person’s point of view. Strangely enough, I encounter this in all age groups, young and old alike. Children are not taught to rebel against their parents. Maturity is hard to come by in any culture, but the Taiwanese have done a good job of prolonging childhood indefinitely.

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