How to be polite to a foreigner (An FYI for Taiwanese)

Many western cultures have developed a taste for honesty in situations, and an aversion to honesty about another person. For example, “Tom did a good job on this project.”, this is about a situation. Another example “Tom is a cripple”, this is about Tom. Even though Tom is crippled, it is rude to talk about it. Another example “Tom has diarrhea.”, this is about Tom. It is rude to talk about it. Lets try again.”Tom is a hero”, this is about Tom, it is rude to talk about it. One last time, “Tom is a bad contribution to the team.”, this is a situation, and its okay (even though Tom may not want to hear it).
Lets make some simple examples you may hear everyday:
You are very fat.” This is wrong, do not say it to foreigners. Follow the rule: Do not comment on physical appearance. You may be surprised that what you consider fat is average stature in other countries. Even further in the Taiwanese thinking, this observation could be used to suggest change. It is also rude to tell foreigners what they should do. This is a very quick way to make enemies.
You are very strong. This is wrong, and another way of saying you are fat. I know you have good intent (most of the time) but remember the rule above.
You should eat this its good for you. This is wrong. Again, telling people what they should do is not polite.
You need to taste this, its a special Taiwanese food. This is wrong. I know you think its your responsibility to make sure foreigners eat your food. If you are really proud, or it is really good food, asking once is enough. Do not under any circumstance ask again. And don’t feel bad if they say no. Many times when people decline, they have already tried your food and didn’t like it. But because you are asking them, they do not want to be rude to you and say no.
How old are you? This is wrong. In western countries we have something called privacy. It means that we only tell information about ourselves to people we know well enough to trust. More importantly, females typically do not like to share this information with anyone.
How much money do you make? This is wrong. This is a deep level of privacy. Many people may know each other for many years and still never know this about another good friend in western cultures.
I remember you, … This is wrong. Pretending to know someone unless you are very sure of who they are is very bad. Even worse is remembering the wrong person. If you have trouble telling foreigners apart, dont try.
America…. This is wrong. Yelling America with a thumbs up on the street is embarrassing, but more importantly not every white person is from America.
Foreigner!!! Say hello to the foreigner. This is wrong, even saying it in Chinese or English. Making your children say hello to the foreigner is not only rude, but the way it is done causes your children to think very differently about these people you treat differently.
Can I hold your baby? This is wrong. Most western people do not like a lot of people they do not know to pay attention to their children. Holding a baby is a kind of trust, and it places foreign mothers especially into a panic. Unless you know the family well, or for some time do not ask.
Ahh so cute! This is okay, but be careful. Most foreigners do not mind your comments about he/she is so cute, but don’t touch them. As a parent we are concerned about disease (not from Taiwanese, but from anyone)


Buying Computers in Taipei

In the years that I have been here, purchasing things everywhere has changed. Taipei used to be a negotiation based environment. I learned numbers in Chinese very quickly by going to night markets and negotiating for useless trinkets that were meant to be sent home to my family. One of my personal favorite places for doing this is computer alley.

Computer alley (located around Ba De Liu – map below) is the heart of computer shopping in Taiwan. While it has never been the most friendly of places for the foreigner (mostly complicated with ‘foreigner’ pricing) it has become more and more aggravating to shop there.

Some quick tips for the foreigner buying a computer or computer components –

  1. Try to stick to the stores that publish a price list or Jia Mu Biou. They are all in Chinese, but with a little effort even non-Chinese readers can puzzle them out.
  2. Know what you are going to buy before going. –well duh
  3. Never buy at the first place you go, rarely do I go to the cheapest store first.
  4. Always try to negotiate prices, your chances are much lower than say 5 years ago… but they still have room for small discounts.
  5. Never buy with a credit card.
  6. Always, always, always ask them for a receipt with their stamp or make sure they place their store sticker on your device. Too many times they expect to never see a foreigner again so they dont want to waste their time with this.