This picture is funny, because I’m pretty sure that sign says fire hydrant.
Here in Taiwan, I stand out as a foreigner. I’m labeled as such, get greeted as such, get special discounts, and above all, get a LOT of attention. There are pros and cons to being such an obvious “guest” in a country, but overall I’ve enjoyed the experience.
Any foreigner is held to different standards. I am essentially a cultural outsider here, and as I don’t fit into the Asian culture, I’m exempt from the normal rules. There are things that would be rude in any country, but I’ve generally found that I get a lot of grace for most things. Foreigners, and especially Americans, are expected to be louder and ruder than the Taiwanese. I try not to be, but it’s a common expectation.
So much visibility. I literally cannot walk down the street without getting stared at by the majority of people, and probably hailed at least once. I stand out; not only do I look different, I speak a different language and act differently. Everything screams “FOREIGNER,” and even people who’ve been here for years and fully assimilated will still get stares. Sometimes it bothers me, sometimes not. Depends on my mood and how confident I’m feeling. I recently went to a very crowded McDonald’s, and after sitting at the only available table in the middle of the room, immediately wanted to bury my body in the ground, since everyone was watching me, obviously talking about me, and some were laughing. I’m sure they weren’t being mean, but it is awfully uncomfortable. (Although it more than makes up for the discomfort when you’re walking along the road and someone sees you and mutters, “How beautiful.” Ego WIN!)
I hate being inundated with media and commercials in the States. Ads and stores are everywhere; you can’t get away from it. I love living in a country where I can’t read the language. Sure, it’s a pain….well, most of the time, but it sure does make avoiding ads and conversations easy. No more accidentally overhearing something unpleasant or stupid. When I go out with my English speaking friends, it’s like we create this tiny English world in the midst of everything else. We’re shut off and isolated. It’s less stressful in that way, but it can be a hindrance to meeting other people.
So, there’s this thing that happens. I’m not sure what to call it, but it should have a name. Total strangers feel comfortable coming up to us and talking to us or having their kids talk to us just because we’re foreigners. I mean, we could be horrible people, right? Why send your little darlings over to us? I guess they just assume that since we look somewhat friendly, we won’t make off with their children.
This is a brief look at what it’s like being a foreigner here in Taiwan – I’m sure other people in different areas may have different stories. I know some of our friends have been offered drugs, pursued by crazy old women, and told to die. Why them and not us? No idea.
I’ll have more to say on this later.