I wrote part one of this a while back, but felt like there was more to say.
There are definitely some challenges to living in a foreign country. Learning the bus routes on your own is tough. My team leader knows the area we live in well, but anytime we go outside our usual sphere, it can be a veritable nightmare trying to figure out the transportation. We’re also pretty limited in eating out, since a lot of the best restaurants don’t have English names or menus. I would like to be adventurous and just order whatever was at the top, but I have some food allergies that make this unwise. A real shame too, since I think I miss out on some great traditional food because of it.
Meeting people is both easy and hard. I mentioned before how eager a lot of people are to stop us and talk, but the conversation never goes beyond, “What do you do? Where are you from?” etc. We haven’t met anyone it would be worthwhile to continue meeting. We’re at the school constantly, and we’re here on weekends and evenings for the most part, so we can’t make it to the meetups or wherever we’d need to go. I’ve made some great friends among my co-workers, but not outside of work. I’m pretty disappointed about it, but there’s really nothing I can do.
Embarrassed by Americans
This one is sad. I didn’t notice when I arrived how loud Americans tend to be. I mean, I’ve been annoyed at home with people on phones or whatever, but just in general, we talk really loudly. Since coming here, I’ve lowered my pitch to match the others around me, and I feel really out of place if I accidently laugh or say something loud. But sometimes I see foreigners, not always American, but mostly, coming in and everyone can hear them. It’s obnoxious, but they don’t even realize. When I went back to the States for vacation, I was shocked how much I noticed it when out and about. We went to Dairy Queen and I was overwhelmed with the sheer volume of all the conversations going on. That and the fact that I could understand them. If you’re coming into Taiwan, know that people are quiet in public, and especially on public transportation, like buses and trains. Keep it down.
It’s not all bad though. I really do like being a perpetual guest and given that extra attention. It’s nice, and when it gets me a twenty percent discount at an upscale retail place for no reason, I’m really happy. Seriously, this has happened probably three times. I don’t know if they’re just being nice or if they think it gives them prestige to have an American shopping with them, but either way, I’ll take it.
This one is funny and annoying. If I go into a store and just speak English, they will assume I speak no Chinese, and one of two things will happen. They’ll ignore that fact and still greet me and give me a sales pitch in Chinese, which I ignore, or they’ll act like I’m not there until I go to checkout. If I go in and speak some Chinese, like I ask for something or order in Chinese at McDonald’s, they will think I have more Chinese than I do, and ask me various other questions I can’t reply to, causing a great deal of embarrassment on both sides when I just stare blankly at them. Either way, I can’t win. The best thing is when I go in and the person speaks enough English that I’m not given a choice whether to speak in Chinese or not, and can conduct business with no hassle.
We’ve finally managed to establish a good relationship with the waitress at McDonald’s, since we’re there once a week at least, and she knows what Chinese we know, and doesn’t ask us other questions. She knows our coffee order now too, which is fantastic.
So there you have it. More perspectives on being a foreigner. Overall I really enjoy it. Yeah, there are some difficulties and problems, but for the most part, it’s just plain fun.