Thursday, January 15, 2009

Taiwan culture shock: Taiwan girls

My friends would ask me what it is like dating a girl from Taiwan, and I would say, “You have watched Pulp Fiction of course. Well…Remember Bruce Willis’ character’s girlfriend. The one who lies on the bed talking about whether she has a belly or not - Who forgets to bring his watch and then gets so upset when he slightly loses his temper that he has to spend twenty minutes comforting her. There you have it…”
I used to quote the above as a comical first analogy when I had not been in Taiwan very long, but it still acts as a good lead in to some of the key aspects of the Taiwanese female and Taiwanese character in general.
One of the first things you think when you first start dating a Taiwanese girl is that they are ‘so nice.’ As if there is something in their heart that is just nicer than other races or cultures. Maybe, she leans into you and says something like: “You are such a wonderful boyfriend. I am so glad to be with you. That restaurant was so good you took me too. I am really grateful. Tonight you can do anything you want to me. You know I am just the little Taiwan girl and you are the man.”
Depending on how heavily you carry your own western baggage about directness, honesty and being realistic, your reaction ranges anything from skepticism, feeling a like squeamish to damn right revulsion. One of the things you do is remember how she is a downtrodden little Asian and you feel sorry for her because she has been pushed into this terrible position. Otherwise, you feel she is weak.
Of course this is nonsense. The correct way of viewing it is the culture emphasizes being polite, nice, enthusiastic, helpful. Asians are prepared to go to far greater levels of service than we are – Things that we won’t do because we view as impinging upon our rights, they will just do without thinking. Just take an Asian airline compared to a European or North American one. If you are on the Asian airline you can press the button on your seat a thousand times and the girl will come and give you a new drink; on the European one, after the second press you can already see her face resenting you and she will say something on the lines of, Get up and get it yourself, I know that is my job, but I think I have provided you with sufficient service. In short, we westerners don’t like to offer too much because we are too caught up with our rights and not being taken advantage of.
In fact, there is a word that sums up what the girl above is doing: Sa jiao. When a Taiwanese girl first started using the word with me I could only come up with a negative translation: sucking up or brown nosing. The girl will put her arms around you and say lots and lots of nice things and say how much he likes to ‘sa jiao’ with you. I suppose, we do have words that are similar such as ‘bonding’ – but, in general, we refer to the above more often than not in a negative way.
So, as she is being nice to you, how do you allay your fears that she is weak? You will soon find that out in time because if she is weak then she won’t require you to reciprocate and also be polite. And that comes back to the Pulp Fiction analogy and why it reminds me of Taiwanese girls. The joke is clear: She is in the wrong because she forgot to do the one thing that he requires her to do. We are thinking the stupid bitch should be apologizing and putting up her hand and saying ‘My bad.’ But no – Bruce’s character has to apologize in the end to stop her crying.
So how does it fit in? There you have the price for a Taiwanese girl being nice to you: You are expected to be nice back. A couple of the phrases you will hear most often are: “Ne bu yao shen chi (No, need to get angry); “Wei shih ma, ne mei you hao hao di jiang (Why don’t you just nicely say what you want to say?). An example, John once described a situation in which his wife was dithering in the middle of the road playing with her cell phone and a truck is approaching. He of course shouted words to the effect of ‘move quickly’ to which her subconscious reaction is to dig her heels in because of his sharp tone. He has to move back into the road and grab her to pull her out of the path of the truck. Once on the pavement she stood angrily and they had the following conversation:
“Why you get angry with me?”
“I wasn’t getting angry. I was shouting because it was a noisy road.”
“Still no need to shout. Just talk nicely.”
“I think talking nicely means you would be squashed.”
“Now you are being sarcastic.”
She refused to budge, at which point most of us would have walked off at the preposterous injustice of having to apologize for saving someone’s life – but not John, as I said he was good at dealing with Taiwanese, so he replied as follows: “I am sorry for losing my temper – You know how much I love you and so I panicked.”
She forgave him immediately no doubt giving him the best sex of his life that evening. We listened in admiration because, while we all loved the idea of the Taiwanese girl, we weren’t so good at handling them ourselves.
We can’t leave this topic without touching on the idea of sexism. Taiwan was still an incredibly sexist society compared to the west – exceptionally liberal compared to most of the rest of the world you have to remember – but it wasn’t that straightforward as that: Taiwan has one of the best employment markets for women in Asia and with economic opportunities come freedom. And while society was officially sexist many families were not. Women were used to getting their own way in more subtle ways rather than direct confrontation.
Another thing we like to say is the women don’t compete with us – At every turn they don’t try and show men that they can do it as well or better than them. Well, they don’t, but of course it has its drawbacks. Don’t expect them to say, No I am not tired, or, It’s ok I don’t need any help or I’ll go and pick up that dry cleaning I forgot myself. This is shown best when she has your kid. Don’t expect her to be up off the bed after one day to prove to you she is a strong woman. She will enjoy every day of the special month she is given in which gives her the right to lie on the bed, and do nothing. Don’t tell her every minute how hard she has worked and it is best she rests for longer – and you see how much trouble you get in for the rest of your life.
She lets you be the stronger sex, don’t be surprised therefore when she wants to be the weaker.
Another favorite is to accuse the girl of being a fraud because she was so nice to you in the first two months and suddenly not so afterwards; that she is reeling you in. The more likely explanation is you come from two different cultures separated by 5000 years of different culture. She was nice to you. You weren’t particularly nice back. After two months she is hoping you are going to start doing it her way and you are hoping she is going to do it yours. You are getting to the stage of the relationship where you have to start making decisions together and you will disagree on many things – and your cultural differences are no longer such fun. She has a face problem and drops into passive aggressive mode. You feel bad so push her to spell out she has a problem. It all goes to pieces.
Of course, the above pops its head up to differing degrees in every girl. If it doesn’t then she is the exception that proves the rule.
Of course there are some girls who don’t speak nicely to you or treat you like a man. There are also some girls who do it and don’t expect it back. In those cases I would suggest you look not to the failure of this but to personal issues with the girl: spoilt bitch, psycho or doormat.
I am not trying to put you off dating Taiwanese girls, just expect to behave like a ‘man’ if you want to be treated like one.
Oh, and by the way, it is all worth it. Every second.

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