Monday, September 20, 2010

Why Sometimes I'm Ashamed to be An Foreigner in Taiwan

(Written Weeks Ago)

So today I encountered a brand new English teacher from America, and, because of him, I'm reminded why we are sometimes called "foreign devils" here. It's because for some people egocentrism gets in the way of cultural sensitivity. This guy was telling a story to a group of English teachers wherein he saw a lizard fall out of a Taiwanese lady's umbrella and into her shirt. She tries to get the lizard out frantically, and this guy's reaction was to stop and laugh. So he tells this story and ends it saying that she now gives him an evil look every time she sees him, but he feels no remorse because, "It was funny."

Now I can't help but get really annoyed at hearing this, because laughing out loud at someone's discomfort is rude in American culture as well as Taiwanese. A mature person should know better, and as a brand new foreigner to the island a little sensitivity and respect for Taiwanese people is a must.

In Taiwan there's a concept known as "face" where you basically have the social obligation to save any and every person from embarrassment. It's really important here. By laughing at someone you don't know whose country you are visiting, you take that person's "face." "Guanxi" is also another important element in the social structure where you basically build up "brownie-points" (to put it in simple terms) with everyone around you by how you act towards them. Saying hi to your neighbors, helping someone, smiling at people who look at you builds up your guanxi and in return the people with whom you've interacted will give back the good karma one way or another. Laughing at that poor woman destroyed this guy's hope of getting guanxi from her and her friends, which really does gives you benefits.

So at this point of listening to the story I can't help myself and I tell him how rude he is, not denying the fact that it's funny and very laughable if it was in a movie. "You could laugh silently at least," I said. "Well it's not laughing if it's silent," he replies. "You would've laughed too."

And here's the part where I feel embarrassed that I'm associated with this guy. The worst thing you could do when visiting a foreign place (in my opinion) is believe you're better than the native people. What's more is he did not want to look at the situation from another point of view- I doubt he would think it funny if he was in the lady's situation.

Young children don't have the mental capability to understand that other people might have different opinions and beliefs from themselves. Piaget called it egocentrism. Perhaps some people are unable to grow out of it. That's really quite sad.

Don't get me wrong. I love that I'm American and I am so fortunate to have grown up there, but sometimes I wish I wasn't related to egocentric people like that.

If you see the movie Ip Man 2 you will get a perfect example of the insensitivity and cockiness of a "foreign devil." I felt really horrible seeing how the boxer in the movie was so disrepectful and I thought that foreigners really can't be like that anymore. That was so long ago. Well, today I found out I'm wrong.

Moral of the story: Please be respectful to other people. The end.

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