Monday, March 30, 2009

The temptations of being treated I: Picking up the check

Taiwanese love to treat, especially westerners. It is well-known that Taiwanese will fight to pick up the check, they will also pay if it suits their higher interests.

For example, we are bored, sat at home, so we call up a friend and ask them out for the evening, but they reply they don't have any money. We usually resign ourselves to not going out, but not the Taiwanese, they will say: "Okay, I'll pay."

As westerners we shrink away from this because it feels strange to let someone pay, but they never do. That person wanted to go out and invited them so they go.

There are other more extreme examples. My wife's boss would regularly call her up and say - I want you to go out because you are fun - and so she would pick up the check because she had more cash.

The above sounds very fake but in the end everyone wins: the boss gets her evening out and my wife got a nice dinner. My wife actually counted her as a friend because he wasn't uncomfortable with her paying, in fact my wife would pick up the check occasionally, it was just unspoken that she had less money therefore the boss would be picking up the check more often.

If you were a foreigner it was often the same, and it could get intoxicating for some people.

Pierre was different because a few months after arriving he had made a decision to branch out from the close knit set of bars where all the foreigners went, and try to meet locals in their environment. The result was that his mobile was constantly ringing with people wanting to take out their new foreigner friend.

To get free meals hadn't been a deliberate calculation at first but he was young, and confident, and he listened to the compliments and he got phone calls from people who wanted to see him, and he told them he had no money because he genuinely didn't - and after that because he knew they would offer anyway.

Like above, they would say they were bored and would he come out. Or they were happy to treat because he was an interesting guy, and they themselves were not. Then some of them would say: "I have always wanted a foreign friend, it gives me face." And they would introduce you to all their friends, and practice their English. They were happy. If you are Eric you assume he is using you, because you are paranoid about those things. If you are Pierre you realize it just means he is proud to have you as a friend. Anyway, you still interpret it as your doing him a favour by hanging around with him -- Remember you are the creative, outgoing one and if you are Pierre you believe in your stereotype. And it is not just that: you want to go out, and because you don’t have any money, you tell yourself you’ll treat in future. Finally, that devil in you gets off on the fact that someone is prepared to pay for you, and you get hooked. He became sure as long as he joined the fight to pay the check occasionally, ultimately losing in the end in a flurry of protests and feigned offence, he would never have to pick it up.

What is the point to this story? We all go off the rails a little in Taiwan, Pierre did it in style.

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