Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Taiwan jokes: What is a subway….

This little language miscommunication happened the first time my parents came to Taipei. My wife had never met my parents before - she had never met any white people over fifty before - and, having been brought up to respect her parents-in-law she had been shaking like a leaf before they arrived. Still she managed to put their culture shock first and spent the time trying to make conversation, point out things that might be familiar to my parents. My wife speaks good English but my parents have a strong local accent that most Americans would have trouble following let alone Taiwanese – They think ‘when the cows come home’ is everyday English.
We were in a taxi leaving the restaurant. At this juncture the wife had decided my parents might want to know they could have a sandwich tomorrow.
“There is a Subway,” she said pointing out the window of the taxi.
“Really,” replied my mother. We had speed past too quick for her to see exactly what a subway in Taiwan looked like. Why a road underpass was sufficient news to be pointed out, but she was determined to bond with her daughter-in-law, no matter what. “Back in England we don’t use them. They are a bit dangerous,” she replied.
“The subway?”
“Yeah, some people were attacked in them so they closed them down…Terrible!”
“Wow, nothing like that happens in Taiwan.”
“Well they are quite old… And dark at night,” continued the mother.
Ordinarily I only scanned my mother’s conversation for certain key words like ‘heart attack’ preceded by ‘I am having’, otherwise I just answered ‘yes’ or ‘hmm’ and carried on thinking about whatever I was thinking about or talking to my father. Knowing my home town it was plausible that someone was attacked in a sandwich shop; however, at ‘dark at night’, I understood. I didn’t dare stop them though.
“They don’t have the light?” continued the wife.
“Well it is under the street so the lights are never strong enough.”
“Our subways are not all underground. Most are on the street.”
“That is interesting. In England, our country, they are all underground. How else do you get across the road?”
“We just cross anywhere in Taiwan. Nobody worries…Hmm, maybe, we drive our car there.. Or the motorcycle.” The wife had from the start looked like she was being led down through a maze of underground slippery caves, now they had added a blindfold and forced her to wear high heels.
“Oh, that is different. How do you drive in a subway?”
“Not really inside, but close to the entrance.”
Silence fell as the two women, as accomplished as they were at making conversation, needed a few seconds to retrace a thread or two.
“What are you laughing for?” asked the wife because i was now rolling about in the front seat of the taxi.
“I don’t know either. You two are fantastic.”
“We don’t care do we. We were happy talking.” interrupted his mother.
The wife nodded her head and smiled wholeheartedly, because she had been brought up to respect parents, not run screaming like she wanted to do now. “That’s right mum!”
I sat back and smiled contentedly - Women could sometimes be worth all the trouble.

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