Culture Shock: Women

My friends would ask me what it is like dating a girl from Taiwan, and I would say, “You have watched Pulp Fiction of course. Well…Remember Bruce Willis’ character’s girlfriend. The one who lies on the bed talking about whether she has a belly or not – Who forgets to bring his watch and then gets so upset when he slightly loses his temper that he has to spend twenty minutes comforting her. There you have it…”

I used to quote the above as a comical first analogy when I had not been in Taiwan very long, but it still acts as a good lead in to some of the key aspects of the Taiwanese female and Taiwanese character in general.

taiwanese-girls

One of the first things you think when you first start dating a Taiwanese girl is that they are ‘so nice.’ As if there is something in their heart that is just nicer than other races or cultures. Maybe, she leans into you and says something like: “You are such a wonderful boyfriend. I am so glad to be with you. That restaurant was so good you took me too. I am really grateful. Tonight you can do anything you want to me. You know I am just the little Taiwan girl and you are the man.”

Depending on how heavily you carry your own western baggage about directness, honesty and being realistic, your reaction ranges anything from skepticism, feeling a like squeamish to damn right revulsion. One of the things you do is remember how she is a downtrodden little Asian and you feel sorry for her because she has been pushed into this terrible position. Otherwise, you feel she is weak.

Of course this is nonsense. The correct way of viewing it is the culture emphasizes being polite, nice, enthusiastic, helpful. Asians are prepared to go to far greater levels of service than we are – Things that we won’t do because we view as impinging upon our rights, they will just do without thinking. Just take an Asian airline compared to a European or North American one. If you are on the Asian airline you can press the button on your seat a thousand times and the girl will come and give you a new drink; on the European one, after the second press you can already see her face resenting you and she will say something on the lines of, Get up and get it yourself, I know that is my job, but I think I have provided you with sufficient service. In short, we westerners don’t like to offer too much because we are too caught up with our rights and not being taken advantage of.

In fact, there is a word that sums up what the girl above is doing: Sa jiao. When a Taiwanese girl first started using the word with me I could only come up with a negative translation: sucking up or brown nosing. The girl will put her arms around you and say lots and lots of nice things and say how much he likes to ‘sa jiao’ with you. I suppose, we do have words that are similar such as ‘bonding’ – but, in general, we refer to the above more often than not in a negative way.

So, as she is being nice to you, how do you allay your fears that she is weak? You will soon find that out in time because if she is weak then she won’t require you to reciprocate and also be polite. And that comes back to the Pulp Fiction analogy and why it reminds me of Taiwanese girls. The joke is clear: She is in the wrong because she forgot to do the one thing that he requires her to do. We are thinking the stupid bitch should be apologizing and putting up her hand and saying ‘My bad.’ But no – Bruce’s character has to apologize in the end to stop her crying.

So how does it fit in? There you have the price for a Taiwanese girl being nice to you: You are expected to be nice back. A couple of the phrases you will hear most often are: “Ne bu yao shen chi (No, need to get angry); “Wei shih ma, ne mei you hao hao di jiang (Why don’t you just nicely say what you want to say?). An example, John once described a situation in which his wife was dithering in the middle of the road playing with her cell phone and a truck is approaching. He of course shouted words to the effect of ‘move quickly’ to which her subconscious reaction is to dig her heels in because of his sharp tone. He has to move back into the road and grab her to pull her out of the path of the truck. Once on the pavement she stood angrily and they had the following conversation:

“Why you get angry with me?”

“I wasn’t getting angry. I was shouting because it was a noisy road.”

“Still no need to shout. Just talk nicely.”

“I think talking nicely means you would be squashed.”

“Now you are being sarcastic.”

She refused to budge, at which point most of us would have walked off at the preposterous injustice of having to apologize for saving someone’s life – but not John, as I said he was good at dealing with Taiwanese, so he replied as follows: “I am sorry for losing my temper – You know how much I love you and so I panicked.”

She forgave him immediately no doubt giving him the best sex of his life that evening. We listened in admiration because while we all loved the idea of the Taiwanese girl we weren’t so good at handling them ourselves.

We can’t leave this topic without touching on the idea of sexism. Taiwan was still an incredibly sexist society compared to the west – exceptionally liberal compared to most of the rest of the world you have to remember – but it wasn’t that straightforward as that – Taiwan has one of the best employment markets for women in Asia and with economic opportunities come freedom. And while society was officially sexist many families were not. Women were used to getting their own way in more subtle ways rather than direct confrontation.

Another thing we like to say is the women don’t compete with us – At every turn they don’t try and show men that they can do it as well or better than them. Well, they don’t, but of course it has its drawbacks. Don’t expect them to say, No I am not tired, or, It’s ok I don’t need any help or I’ll go and pick up that dry cleaning I forgot myself. This is shown best when she has your kid. Don’t expect her to be up off the bed after one day to prove to you she is a strong woman. She will enjoy every day of the special month she is given in which gives her the right to lie on the bed, and do nothing. Don’t tell her every minute how hard she has worked and it is best she rests for longer – and you see how much trouble you get in for the rest of your life.

She lets you be the stronger sex, don’t be surprised therefore when she wants to be the weaker.

Another favorite is to accuse the girl of being a fraud because she was so nice to you in the first two months and suddenly not so afterwards; that she is reeling you in. The more likely explanation is you come from two different cultures separated by 5000 years of different culture. She was nice to you. You weren’t particularly nice back. After two months she is hoping you are going to start doing it her way and you are hoping she is going to do it yours. You are getting to the stage of the relationship where you have to start making decisions together and you will disagree on many things – and your cultural differences are no longer such fun. She has a face problem and drops into passive aggressive mode. You feel bad so push her to spell out she has a problem. It all goes to pieces.

Of course, the above pops its head up to differing degrees in every girl. If it doesn’t then she is the exception that proves the rule.

Of course there are some girls who don’t speak nicely to you or treat you like a man. There are also some girls who do it and don’t expect it back. In those cases I would suggest you look not to the failure of this but to personal issues with the girl: spoilt bitch, psycho or doormat.

I am not trying to put you off dating Taiwanese girls, just expect to behave like a ‘man’ if you want to be treated like one.

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

22 Responses to “ Culture Shock: Women ”

  1. I think you watched a lotta movies.

  2. Dan has a weird view of Taiwanese women. This article should be retitled

  3. oops. Let me try that again. This article should be retitled ‘ Dan’s issues with Taiwanese women. ‘

  4. Sure it is his view, but I don’t think he is the only one like this. Dan is very observant and relays that well in his writing.

    Also, I always thought sa jiao was more like .. whining. Very annoying. Add to it a healthy dose of Snoopy and a pinch of Hello Kitty and it is nauseating.

  5. Hi Fungle.

    I am intrigued why you think i have issues with Taiwanese women. Issues would suggest i am slamming them which is not my purpose at all. I always thought when i wrote this my point is clear: they are not weak or crazy but simply different, and you have to get used to that.

    Most of us guys have a love-hate relationship with the way they are different, with the love part winning the day (them no doubt in reverse).

    Still, if i really put my point across well, then i will rewrite.

    Hi Johnny.

    Thanks for your pitch in.

    And, yes, i thought ‘sa jiao’ was a bad thing at first but check with your wife, it is a good thing. I love it myself!

  6. My wife is Indonesian so she won’t know. Hmmm. Actually, she actually does it but not being Taiwanese I am not sure why. She is a quick study like that I suppose.

    And don’t worry if you get a flame comment. Keep up the good work with writing some honest material.

  7. Well,

    I think he made a good argument.
    Depending on the girl, and ya-de ya-de ya-da,
    he hit the nail on the head.

    Girls back home DO go toe to toe on, “who’s in charge” and “who wears the pants”, “you don’t pay my bills”, “you’re not my father”, “that’s so degrading”, ‘who died and made you the boss”, “I don’t need to listen to you”, etc. etc. etc.

    That it’s no surprise that when they (western women) come here, they notice that foreign men just kind of ignore them in clubs or at school.
    We tend to pay more attention to the Taiwanese girl. Of course the lure of something different.
    Yet in my case,over the years I can’t stand most western chicks now for more than 15 minutes, for they tend to fall into the habit of challenging and competing to prove something to themselves or for whatever reason making their presence and company a bit unnecessary/undesired/unwanted/unpleasant/old (my sister).

    It’s as if the Taiwanese counter parts are a bit more pleasant to be with, without having to worry if she’s about to take up arms and challenge me to an argument or worse, over uncooked pasta, or if we should kill the spider in the kitchen or let it go free.

    Given not all western women are like this, but in my 9 years of XP being away from home, I’ve noticed (now that I have something different to compare them to), most are, and most Taiwanese ARE more submissive by culture and DO let you play your natural roll as “the man”. Some of us abuse it, some of us appreciate it, some of us don’t really get it and don’t know what to do with it.

    Which ever category you fall into, the reality is, girls here ARE way different than what we’re used to back home. Once you come to realize what makes YOUR girl tick, cry, smile and go, the better you’ll get along and go through your everyday lives, with less bumps along the way.

  8. Nice article. Although I would suggest the Taiwanese women are as different as every single woman is different. I submit there’s cultural nuance in how conflicts are resolved, but that nuance is not too far from the difference between how a Manhattan-ite and Ms. Georgia would handle rude cab drivers.

  9. ha! rosie the riveter here–aka, a western woman who lived in taiwan. don’t worry about us–we don’t mind not being paid attention to by the white guys. we know why you go to taiwan and we come there for totally different reasons. (not because of a fetish) i wouldn’t give 99% of the western guys i met in taiwan a second look… however, the 1 out of 100 who caught my eye and is now my boyfriend, gets asked all the time if he’s ever dated a taiwanese woman. when he says no, he gets looked at like he is crazy. this website should be renamed “the real taiwan from a western MAN’s point of view.”

  10. @ Rosie –

    Unfortunately that is how it comes off a lot of the time as many of the authors are western men. I am always looking for different points of view so you are welcome to email me an article with a totally different perspective.

  11. Damn! Awesome writing!

  12. Just reading your blogg, don’t really know how I ended up here. I am a Norwegian man in my late twenties, I live with a East African woman who has been my girlfriend for the last 3 years. Even if it’s some diffrents, I reconice a lot of these issues. You married to a Taiwanese I understand?

  13. Another thing, I don’t understand why lots of TV personalities and young girls always speak in a very very high pitch and whiny voice, like the TV personality “shui mi tao jie jie”. They think it is very “ke ai” cute and they call that “sa jiao” too.

    How is that CUTE?

  14. Virginia, I’m totally with you on this one. I can’t effing stand it when they pull that bullcrap. “ke ai” my ass. makes me want to, as the Taiwanese love to say, “tu shue” (spit up blood). Interestingly (or perhaps predictably), most of them aren’t even aware they are doing it.

    Needless to say, I make fun of my cousins and their friends a lot when we go out.

    pardon my hanyu pinyin. never learned it.

  15. My mother is Taiwanese and I am very much like her yet raised in America. I do find myself at a bit of a struggle and you nailed up my main arguments with my beau. I let him be the “man of the house” while I sit back and be the weaker sex. He observed this as belittling him more by letting him do so.

    When you mentioned that bit, I literally lol’d.

  16. Honestly though, they are like that. I am Taiwanese so I would know.

    Thank god I grew up in America though…because I absolutely cannot stand them. Ugh…

  17. I have been dating a Taiwanese girl (in the US) for a year now. She’s great! She’s funny, really pretty, very smart (her favorite activity is studying). I love her a bunch. Yet, we have been having more and more problems. She often gets angry at me and the intensity has been increasing. A few months back she told me that in Taiwan, men are supposed to appologize first, regardless of the situation. Until I read this blog, I wasn’t even sure she was telling me the truth. Anyway, I tried this approach of always saying sorry first, but I always felt weird for appologizng for things that she had done, and so I stopped. After reading this blog though, I see much of her behavior now (the whining, screaming, and other things) as part of her culture.

    I have been thinking of breaking off our relationship, but now, after reading this, aleast I know that it’s not her making things up to get her way but truly our cultural differences. Now that I understand this, I feel that I can do what it takes to maintain our union.

    Thanks!

    Also, do you know of any more sites that explain dealing with Taiwanese women?

    Gracias,

  18. betelnut equation is a good one.

  19. Thanks! Really enjoyed the read

  20. Great Website. I too am in a constant state of culture shock and loving every minute of it.

  21. Very interesting to read as a Taiwanese woman myself! I noticed this article was written in 2009. Dan, if you are still in Taiwan, do you think Taiwanese women have changed? I used to live in New York for 6 years, and I gotta say, NYC women are nothing like any other American women in the US. I can clearly see some Taiwanese girls behaving like what you described, but lately I have seen some changes that made the behavioral differences between well educated and less educated women in Taiwan greater.
    oh, and more interestingly, I am experiencing some reverse cultural shocks after my recent moving back to Asia after living in the Western culture for more than 10 years.

  22. I stopped reading after the first half… horrible stereotypes, and only true if the only Taiwanese women you meet are those who hang out at bars to meet Western guys. Out of several dozen female friends in Taiwan, only one fits this description, and she admits that she’s crazy by Taiwanese standards.

    Just ask yourself, if the average American girl who hangs out at sleazy bars every night in a sad and misguided attempt to find the love of her life the right example to judge the character of the “real American women”?

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