First Friday night out after getting to Taiwan – I’m hanging out after a cocktail party at a restaurant with friends of a co-worker. This conversation is in Chinese, with a Taiwanese woman to my right.
“So are you a nerd?”
“A what?” I didn’t know the word in Chinese.
“A nerd.” she said it again, she repeated slowly, enunciating. “nerd. You don’t understand?”
“Maybe I am. Why?”
“Because you’re wearing your office clothes.”
I was wearing a long-sleeved collared shirt and slacks.
“That’s because I came from work.”
“And you didn’t bother to go home and change?”
I looked at her. I had known her for about three minutes, and she was trying to insult me. I was less angry at her than I was missing Japan. It was only evening of my second day. It’s not that people in Japan never tried to insult me, but at least we would get to know each other first!
She was wearing overalls a t-shirt underneath, and the pant legs cut really short, maybe to show off her legs, which were thick. Instead of trying to insult her back, I turned my body to talk to the man to my left. He was Canadian, and had been in Taiwan for thirteen years. He worked in television, as a commentator on variety shows. He was moving back to Canada soon, though. He and his Taiwanese wife had a son who would be starting kindergarten soon.
I asked. “You don’t want to raise him in the Taiwanese school system?”
I thought about my own experience in Japan. I knew several foreigners who’d lived in Japan, married Japanese wives, and decided to raise their children in the Japanese school system. One man even cautioned me. “If you like Japan and want to stay, make sure she wants to stay, too. Some of these honeys they’re looking to leave and see marriage as their way out. You like Japan, get settled in, and suddenly she wants to go overseas.” A lot of foreigners like Japan and stay.
But here was this guy who’d lived in Taiwan, for thirteen years, and who decided after that time that he didn’t want to raise his kid in the Taiwanese school system, so it was time to leave. I wish I’d asked him why. I thought to myself – because this country raises sad conformist people who insult you within the first five minutes of meeting?
Be careful of making generalizations. I got tired and decided to go home.