This is the seemingly universal reaction to my marital status. It may be in Mandarin, Taiwanese, or English, but still consistently the same. The few times it’s differed have been due to language confusion.

A recurring (and possibly annoying, to some of you) theme you’ll probably read in my blog is my views about marriage. Marriage in Taiwan, marriage in the States, marital expectations, marital assumptions, yadda yadda yadda… This preoccupation with marriage culture shouldn’t be a surprise. Taiwanese and Americans alike have a thirst for weddings, be they big or small, expensive or bargain, lavish or quaint, traditional or modern – the list goes on and on. And the follow-up of the ceremony? There are so many aspects of marriage to be discussed, but one detail that always calls my attention is my newly-multicultural status.

Now I’m no longer just a white chick living in Taiwan. I’m a white chick married to a Taiwanese guy living in Taiwan for some approximation of forever. That’s special. Or maybe I’ve allowed the locals to convince me that’s something special. In either case, the fact is I haven’t met any other North American ladies married to locals here in Tainan. If you’re one, write to me!

Let’s try to figure out why. Here are my first thoughts based upon my own observations and experiences:

1) There aren’t as many foreign ladies here (at least there aren’t in Tainan).
2) Foreigners seem to stay here for 1-2 years and then leave. There are exceptions who stay much longer, but it seems that few of them are ladies.
3) Taiwanese men often (but not always) appear to be shy / avoidant / scared / mortified about speaking to foreign women.
4) Taiwanese men are often (but not always) embarrassed to use their English skills, even if they have some level of fluency, for fear of making mistakes and losing face. Especially if a foreign lady is present.
5) Foreign women cringe at traditional Taiwanese family dynamics and expectations regarding women. The gender roles give us nightmares. We prefer our modern ways, assume every Taiwanese man will adhere to the old traditions, and sprint for the door.

Of course, these are generalizations – not every foreign lady is the same and not every Taiwanese guy is the same. But one must admit that there’s a trend of “foreign man + Taiwanese woman.” I’m just trying to understand my minority status.

About the Author

Aside from my experiences as the wife of a Taiwanese guy in Tainan, I'm just a white chick from Iowa with a lot of opinions. Let me annoy you!

25 Responses to “ “What?!” ”

  1. I’ve been in Taiwan for six years now. I’ve not been married long but I’ve never be given a “what” the whole time we dated or were engaged or now that we are married when I tell people my “lao gong” is Taiwanese. In fact, before I married him many Taiwanese told me I should find a Taiwanese man to date, many offered to help me find one.

    Although we are most assuredly a minority, there is an increasing number of white women married to Taiwanese men. I am one of them, and I also live in Tainan. I know several who just married recently (or are about to) and several who have been married for many years with several children.

    Some other reasons we are a minority include *false* assumptions based on American media:
    –we all love to have sex and have all had many partners
    –all white women are dominant and like to be in control
    –Americans are better than the Taiwanese and will not lower our standards to marry one

    Then, in addition to the fact that the traditional family dynamics scares us away a lot of times their parents–especially their mommas–say no way to marrying a “foreigner.”

  2. w00t! A lady! So happy you replied.

    I wholeheartedly agree with that list. It’s a shame we have to fight images like that. You must have a guy as perfect as mine! And LOL mommas, especially traditional ones, so glad I won the lottery on that one.

    So honestly, you never get confusion or commotion about your man choice?? I should make a database of all the interesting responses we’ve gotten… Not that the opinions of others should matter much, it’s just interesting to me. Makes life entertaining!

  3. I am wondering how you two communicate with your in-laws. Do you speak Chinese or do they speak English or both?

  4. When hanging with the in-laws my hubby is usually my translator. I can engage in small talk in Chinese, but actually his parents speak all Taiwanese in conversation – Chinese is very much a second language to them. They’re quite traditional about language, as well as many many many many many other things. ; D

    I was talking with the hubby last night about the surprising reactions we’ve had to, well, us. He pointed out that we probably get stronger responses because:

    – We both look younger than our actual ages.
    – I don’t speak Chinese well.
    – Everyone thinks I’m from a random eastern European country (I’m “too thin” to be from the states), so they’re already confused.
    – His accent is “too Taipei” to locals and they don’t believe he’s from Tainan.

    In conclusion, we’re weird. So maybe we’re alone on this one? But I think not…

  5. […] Formosan Emmy writes about marriage in Taiwan. […]

  6. I speak with my in-laws in Mandarin. They are Hakka, and speak Hakka as a family, but when I join them they graciously move to Mandarin.

    My father-in-law calls me by my Chinese name even–one of the few people who do so. And I LOVE it!

    The only English word I’ve heard my in-laws speak is “uncle.”

    If I don’t understand or can’t quite express what I’d like to express clearly, my husband will help me.

    But, with my husband, the two of us also use quite a bit of Mandarin. We do use more English than Mandarin, and of course there is a ton of bilingual conversation mixed in for good measure.

    I’ve not *yet* had any confused or surprised reactions to our relationship. He himself was shocked when a mutual friend suggested we date–he thought being with a white woman was beyond the realm of reality. But he gave it a chance to see what would happen. I’m so thankful he did!!

  7. good on you!! I wish I could say the same thing with my ex-gf and I.

  8. I’ve been dating my Taiwanese boyfriend for almost a year now and we’ve started seriously talking about marriage in our future. I’m afraid that I’m one of those American girls with nightmares about traditional Taiwanese in-laws and a ton of questions. I’ve talked with my boyfriend and he’s tried to answer all of my questions about the family dynamics of a Taiwanese family and what would be expected of me as his wife. I was wondering if you and your husband have decided to have his parents move in with you or not or if by just living in Taiwan you have seen it. I would appreciate any information!

  9. ask your bf about it. is he the only son in the family? if he is then yea there is a good chance that they will move in with you guys when they are a bit older. i think the main problem here is whether you can communicate with his family members or not. It will make things a hell lot of easier if they can understand you.

    the best way is to talk to your bf about it, i can list many stereo types that a traditional taiwanese in-laws ‘expect’ you to do, but i don’t know if his family is traditional or not. the most important thing is you must let him know how you feel, if he loves you he will meet you half way. good luck.

  10. I am an American woman married to a Taiwanese man for 20 years. (Second marraige for both of us so we are older) Until last year we lived in Florida. Then his father had a stroke and as the eldest son he had to give up his job as did I and we moved to Ilan so he could take care of him and his rice paddie and his mother and her large vegetable garden and all of their other needs. Then I needed hip replacement surgery and am now recovering. I don’t speak more than a few words of Manderin and no Taiwanese so I am totally alone with no one to talk to 24/7. It is very lonely. I have private students who come to my house 2 nights per week. I would love to find someone who speaks English.

  11. “I would love to find someone who speaks English.”

    Well, the Internet is the best place to start looking.

    If you’re in Ilan, I suppose there are few foreigners. However, you can start by using the Internet to find people with similar interests. Forums, mailing lists, etc. are good.

  12. JS: I am an American woman married to a Taiwanese man for 20 years. (Second marraige for both of us so we are older) Until last year we lived in Florida. Then his father had a stroke and as the eldest son he had to give up his job as did I and we moved to Ilan so he could take care of him and his rice paddie and his mother and her large vegetable garden and all of their other needs. Then I needed hip replacement surgery and am now recovering. I don’t speak more than a few words of Manderin and no Taiwanese so I am totally alone with no one to talk to 24/7. It is very lonely. I have private students who come to my house 2 nights per week. I would love to find someone who speaks English.

    At the minimum you could try to pick up some Chinese. It will keep your mind active and also help you socially. It isn’t as hard as people make it out. You can do it!

  13. I am in a year-long relationship with a Taiwanese man at the moment. I will move to Taiwan in August. I already met his family, and he is my translator. I can only do small talk with them.

    We are already starting to talk about marriage. He is much older than me and very ready for marriage. My only concern is that I will feel a bit isolated after spending a year or two there. I know I will understand Chinese better, but I want to have a social life. By what I read about your blog entry, it might be more difficult than I thought.

    What do you recommend as the best way to socialize with the locals? I will be in Taichung.

  14. Hello…lovely to find your blog! I think I can perhaps trump your WHAT! factor: US white girl/Taiwanese guy expecting baby but decided not to get married (yet, at least). Yep. Anyway, we are thinking of moving to Taipei (he’s never lived there – he grew up in Argentina – so he’s not exactly Taiwanese). Is there ANY work for foreigners (I don’t speak Mandarin YET) other than teaching English? I actually have a Masters in Ed and lots of experience, so finding a teaching job wouldn’t be hard, but I’d rather do something else if I can. Lot’s of other questions, but I’ll read your posts for a while first. Thanks for putting this up!

  15. Gosh, wish I met you when i was in Taiwan. i have been married to my taiwanese husband forever!! Did the chinese schools, tried to get on with the mother-in-law, honestly forget it, its such a battle!!!! I take my hat oofff to european woman who go the extra mile, its very hard. I come from a very well know english family, got the insults, got the looks, never bothered me and stuck by what I believed. In 2004 we had a child in Taiwan, he is my life, I have the most gorgeous baby boy, now a toddler, looks just like his father, and often i am remined by looking at my son why i feel in love with my husband, but as everyone warned me, its very difficult, ,maybe its not the culture, maybe my husband has just learnt the english way, but we are both stubborn and dont agree a lot regarding my sons upbringing. when we met, i was always a strong person, he was soft, that person is gone, he is now a manager at a company and thinks he rules the world, i think i gave him tooo much confidence, and now he is using his chinese culture for excuses, after alll these years, we also look and live younger than our age, we love life but we have this dominent struggle of cultures, how u guys doing?????

  16. I can totally understand what you girls are encountering, although me being a Taiwanese girl I grew up in the western world and my hubby is a local…and his big family is indeed very very traditional. It has been exactly 1 year since we are married, there are ups and downs and I had hard time coping with both him and his family, it’s not like they’re harsh on me or anything but I think we have a huge cultural clash. I gathered a few main issues to address the core of such clash, hope these can help even a little bit.
    1. Bear in mind, in Chinese culture (and many others), if you marry to a guy, you are also “married into his family”.
    2. Try to put your in-laws affairs in priority than your side of family(I know how it sounds but this is what is expected)In tradition, a married women should not contact/see/talk about with her maiden family too often, it will make her parent in law lose face.
    3. Be respectful to who ever older than you in the family, avoid challenging their beliefs.(Confucius)
    4. Expect a different level of privacy, Chinese is a collective culture, and pays a lot T&C for their family members. So don’t be suprised if been asked persoanl questions, it’s not consider rude, they just care about you.
    5. Similar to the Japanese, when it comes to racing a child… well, traditional Chinese uses rather military style than hug & kisses. But, the parents will save a LOT for their children.
    There are heaps more, and really depends on the individuals, for me, these are the main barriers that I’m trying to work on. Goodluck to everyone!

  17. Hi – Many months later since my last input. Matters are worse and my Taiwanese husband is more of a dissapointment to me. My son is now 6 years old. My husbands mother came to visit us and once again caused too much trouble that my Taiwanese husband now ignores his son, has outcast him and has nothing to do with me after 17 years of marriage. How do you explain the cultural differences. The man i loved, trusted and had a child with has totally deceited his child and his wife. I have stuck by him for 17 years. I have had enough.
    this is not even human. My son and I are too gorgeous and lovable to take on this grumpy old man who is actually only 40. We dance, we laugh, we talk, and he sits, and lives his own life.
    I love my son sooo much, and I have no regrets, but the cultural difference is far too different.

    we are soon to divorce, and I have to work on my son’s self esteem as he does not understand why his father just ignores him.

  18. and sorry Viv, I do respect your culture and beliefs, but I would much prefer kissing and hugging my child than the soldier way thats why as a adult my husband has huge conflict to how he actully must behave.He always felt guilty giving affection, as if he was weak to show affection to his son so it wasnt long when his mother came down, he went back to his old cold, unaffectite ways. Parents can discipline and show affection without appearing weak.
    gone are the good ol days

  19. I’m British Indian girl, I have an amazing thaiwan Boy friend we been living together for 1 year since we start uni. But we kept secret from his parents about us living together. I’m scared how they react with having foreign gf like me. Acctually IDK anything about Thaiwan culture everytime I want to learn my bf telling me dont over do myself but I think I rly need to no about those to be his best wife and be a good daughter in low for his family if they let us to be together. Anyone know what I should need to be a traditional Thaiwan wife

  20. hi! i’m filipino-canadian…my boyfriend is also Taiwanese, he lives in Changhua…he is really a good man, “my heart is finally home” why???????????? because i am separated and have a child but still he embrace me and love me with no doubts, he is so proud of me… and said “i am his dream woman” when he became my boyfriend all my worries are gone..i know most taiwanese men are faithful.. BUT he is talking about marriage already…. i’m a bit scared because i’m scared of his grandparents and his dad…his mom is pretty sweet coz his mom told him JUST MAKE SURE HE WILL NOT REGRET AND IF HIS SON IS HAPPY GO FOR IT…AND NEVER FORGET THE RESPONSIBILITY BEING A FATHER AND A HUSBAND…take note!!!! my boyfriend is the only son in the family..that is why i’m scared but whatever the consequences i’m gonna face it as long as he will always protect me and my daughter and take care of us…

  21. I have a question – Does Taiwan automatically recognize U.S. marriages? I want to marry a Taiwanese lady in the U.S. and wonder if we need to record the marriage in Taiwan?? If so, what’s the proper agency to contact? Thanks!

  22. I am an American married to a Taiwanese guy who lives in Taipei. Google searching for others like me (you are right, we are “weird” and “unusual”) led me here. So glad to have found it.
    Seems you have been blogging about your situation for some time. My hubby and I are still newlyweds, having only tied the knot at the very end of 2012.
    There are *lots and lots* of stereotypes and challenges. Though I would imagine Taipei is probably the most progressive place on the island in terms of locals accepting these things; general population is better educated.
    Are you an English teacher?
    Love to hear more about your life! And I, in turn am happy to answer any questions you may have about me. By the way, my hubby is the only son. He has two elder sisters, both of whom are married and live outside. We live with his parents at home. Yep, you read that right. Not easy! Although they are the kindest in-laws you could imagine. I don’t speak Taiwanese, which is what they speak at home. My Chinese is still, er “in development.” Lol


  23. Judy, I am sorry to hear about your in-laws! Actually almost everyone seems in the same boat as me for in-laws. I have been with my boyfriend for a year and a half. We talked about marriage quite a few times and talked about it happening after we moved to Taiwan. Well we moved to Taipei in October and the talk of marriage has completely changed. He can’t give me any straight answers on when it will happen anymore. To make a long story short, his mom has been very cruel and unreasonable with me. I wont’ deny the fact that she really dislikes me. I really think this has made a lot change. He is the only child and I was recently told by his cousin ( such a sweet girl) that I have no chance in changing her mind. What to do?

  24. Hi all,
    I found this topic really interesting as I’m a British girl in my early 20’s who’s moved to Taiwan to be with her boyfriend. I’ve been here 6 months now and am working as an English teacher, and getting progressively more worried about what the future holds for us! Today, my Taiwanese colleague was talking about getting married to her boyfriend later this year, but saying that she really didn’t want his parents to move in with them when they get married…..well, that got me thinking. Of course I knew that was the TRADITIONAL way to do things but I didn’t imagine it would still be such a sensitive issue for most families now. I am trying hard to respect culture differences and me and his family are getting on well, but however well we got on, there is no way I would want them to move in with us if we married – he is also the only son in the family. I try to talk to them in Chinese, but, like most of you, it’s still in progress, so actually, I manage to avoid the awkward questions or pretend that I don’t understand what they mean! haha! anyway, all you guys have really interesting stories….letting something like culture difference get in the way of love seems stupid when you’re in the first madly in love part of your relationship….but I’m slowly realising that me loving him isn’t enough to make me happy in life…..any thoughts?

  25. oh, and Ida Jackson, I don’t like to be the negative party but if you don’t feel comfortable with his in-laws before you’re married, I find it hard to imagine it’s going to change once you’re married….living with people that put you on edge and seeing them everyday, and them knowing all your business, sounds like my idea of a nightmare 🙁 …when my friend asked me today if I would be happy moving in with my boyfriend’s in-laws, I said “no” without a moments thought…and although I respect that his culture is different, I also have my own ideals to respect too. My boyfriend and I met and fell in love…I certainly didn’t fall in love with his family, so why should I have to marry them, too?

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