An awkward "party"

Here’s a vexing situation.

The other day I went to my gal’s birthday party, where all of her uni-classmates were in attendance. So about 15 in total. I had met a few of them before and I know that all of them are fluent English speakers.

Let me repeat that: All of them are fluent English speakers.

Anyway, after a few moments of 100% Mandarin from everyone except me, I was wondering if they would ever start using a little English, just enough to make me feel less alienated. However, it turned out that for almost three hours, the only person who spoke English to me was my girlfriend and the guy right beside me.

I was a little surprised by this. Had they no inkling that I would feel uncomfortable by this?

Sure I know it’s partly my responsibility to bone up on my Mandarin, and to be prepared for social situations exactly like this. However, even if I did know more conversational Mandarin, there’s no way I could keep up with a roomful of native speakers. At the very least, I expected them to be speaking about a 50/50 mix of English and Mandarin.

But no. :noway:

My girlfriend, too, was surprised. She suggested that they were all too shy to speak any English in front of a native speaker. Right. So they’ve all been learning English since they were in high school just so they could NOT speak any English when there is a western boy in their midst?

I mean, isn’t that the point of learning another language? To at least say a few words to someone who speaks the language in question?

I can understand if we had only been there for a few minutes. But everone knew in advance that I would be there and my Mandarin skills are limited to about 10 sentences and some handy words for survival.

Anyway, I’m puzzled by all of this. Is it my expectations or their lack of social skills that are at work here?

Let me add that I KNOW I should have more Mandarin in my every day life. So telling me that would be a waste of time and an obvious reply. I’m interested in what othe people have done in this situation. It could happen to anyone, whether you’ve been here for a month or a year.


This is 100% par for the course. I’m sure the same thing has happened to all of us - many a time. It’s the same way when you go out with a group of your students or local colleagues, in no time at all everyone is yakking away in mandarin, and you are left to fend for yourself.

The same thing happens everywhere. When I first arrived in Argentina (where I live now), I went out with a group of friends who I knew spoke good English - 90% of the general conversation was in Spannish, which I didn’t really understand at the time. The big difference with the Argentinians was that they all made the effort to chat with me during the evening, not wanting to leave me totally excluded.

Like you, this bothered me a lot in the begining of my long stay in Taiwan. Eventually your mandarin will get up to speed so that you won’t feel totally clueless. You’ll need patience and thick skin, though.

I once went for a day shopping in Tienmou with two French colleagues and my Taiwanese girlfriend. Although the two French people and I spoke reasonably fluent mandarin, and all four of us could speak English, that day, for some reason, me and my colleagues got to swapping stories in French. When my girlfriend and I got home she let me have it. She thought it so rude of all 3 of us to exclude her like that. She felt really embarassed, and she was particually pissed with me for not redirecting the conversation to either mandarin or English. She calmed down and saw the situation differently after I reminded her of all the times I’d hung out with she and her friends as they chit-chatted about shao-jie stuff in heavily taiyu laced gwoyu - and I was the odd one out linguistically.

One of the challanges of multicultual romance. Good luck.

I don’t really see anyhting strange about this, and yes they were probably too embarrassed of their poor English. If it had been me, I would have just been thankful not to have to struggle through 3 hours of horrible attempts at communication in English :laughing:


that happens to me all the time.
I just inject random english sentences into their conversation.
then smile alot.
the confused look on their faces are priceless.

Hey, I can feel their pain. I speak a little Russian, but I’m too shy to chat up the Russian hookers who are all over Taipei.

Bu En Lai wrote [quote]I would have just been thankful not to have to struggle through 3 hours of horrible attempts at communication in English[/quote]
Yep. I don’t care what language is spoken around me, as long as there is alcohol.

They all know each other and all are native Mandarin speakers. What do you expect, that everybody suddenly starts to speak English just because there is one English speaking person in the room?

Would you do that when hanging out with your friends? :loco:

Wow, a bunch of Taiwanese people get together in Taiwan and speak Mandarin to each other. Who’d have guessed. Dude, you’re not that important that all of them are going to decide to speak to each other in a mutually second (or even third) language when they all speak the same mother tongue.

True true…

However, Did you ever attempt to just go over and start a conversation with one of the others? Perhaps they had no interest in talking with you and it’s probably just as much shyness with the classmates foreign boyfriend.

Next time you feel left out, just go and start a conversation with your GF’s friends.

Yep. I don’t care what language is spoken around me, as long as there is alcohol.[/quote]

I’ve developed an allergy to the stuff since I came to Taiwan, so now I just have to imagine myself into a state of blissful ignorance (rather than frustrated ignorance) of all around me :woodstock:

As to the original point - yep it used to piss me off a treat when I first arrived but she who must be obeyed kinda tried to make up for it when we got home so… I grew to accept it :rainbow:

[quote=“mesheel”]They all know each other and all are native Mandarin speakers. What do you expect, that everybody suddenly starts to speak English just because there is one English speaking person in the room?

Would you do that when hanging out with your friends? :loco:[/quote]


[quote=“mesheel”]They all know each other and all are native Mandarin speakers. What do you expect, that everybody suddenly starts to speak English just because there is one English speaking person in the room?

Would you do that when hanging out with your friends? :loco:[/quote]

I have to disagree. When I bring my wife to my home country, all of my friends speak English most of the time when she is around, even if they are not addressing her directly. They do it out of politeness to the foreign guest.
OK, sometimes we slide into our mother tounge when she is away from the table, but that is more or less it.

It is impolite to not include the foreign guest in the conversation by using a common language.

We start learning English from we are 10 years old, and a lot of my friends are not used to speak English, but they try as hard as they can anyway - probably because my wife is such a beautiful and charming person…

If I met my friends and want to talk… why should I speak a langague not common in use between my friends and I, so as not to offend someone else I do not know that is tagging along

I would welcome the chance to not have to listen to all that gossip. Its getting so I can tell what they are talking about by the tone and body language. It’s usually shop talk anyhow…you aren’t missing much.

Well X3M, you have exceptionally polite and considerate friends. I agree it’s good manners to try and include the guest, but I don’t think it should be expected.

hmmmm… In Germany people try to include a foreigner in their conversation, when he speaks English. Only sometimes for politeness. Like referring shortly to him in English. If they speak a little English themselves.

People avoid talking ABOUT someone in German when he does not understand. If we do, then with a short explanation and summary in English.

Here however, people pointed at me and talked to each other in Chinese. If you do that in my home, people will regard that as being rude and primitive.

But I learned here it is normal. Different culture.

It’s true, I have found people very polite in Germany in this respect. But typically, I’m the foreign guest surrounded by 3 or 4 German friends, which is very few and different from a party of 15.

Anyway, at least a couple of people at the party talked to the fellow.

I wonder - did the poster initiate conversation with many other people, or did he sit down waiting for everyone to approach him and strike up a conversation in English? Because it’s not realistic to expect the latter.

Also, the way I see it, if you plan to be here for more than a year or two, it’s your responsibility to take Chinese classes and get beyond 10 sentences. By taking the initiative and improving your Chinese, you can gradually shift out of English and into Chinese in most social situations.
Relatively speaking in Asia, the level of English in Taiwan is quite good, given that it’s not an official language. (Anyone who doubts this may take a trip to Japan or Korea and see how things go.)

However, given the richness of the Chinese language and all the cultural subtleties that it encompasses (which are often absent or more muted in English conversations with native Chinese speakers), it behooves long-term residents in Taiwan to communicate with folks in Chinese. But that’s probably another thread. :sunglasses:

All of these comments have actually been quite helpful in trying to figure out the mind-set of Taiwanese when they have a non-speaker at their table.

I do agree with some in that I really, really…REALLY need to learn much more conversational Mandarin. And I also like the comment of throwing English at them in the middle of an intense Mandarin exchange. I used to do that in Korea and it is quite hilarious to see the look in their faces.

But I do have to get back to one of the points I made, which is, if they know English fluently, why not take a chance and actually SPEAK English? I mean, there was absolutely no attempt at this at all. Even though I was the boyfriend of the guest of honor?

I din’t “expect” everyone or anyone to go out of their way and address me in English. I did think that since these were young, outgoing uni-students, they would speak to each other in English once in a while so that I might feel a little less awkward.

And to be quite honest, I didn’t have a bad time. After all, it was my gal’s birthday and it was her day, not mine. However, if I am out somewhere with my GF and a native English speaker comes along talking a million mile an hour, I’ll turn to my GF every once in a while to see if she is inderstanding most of the conversation.

And if she isn’t, then I’ll slow things down and bring her into the chit-chat, so that the other person understands that what we are saying is beyond her comprehension and is making her feel uncomfortable.

I understand spoken Mandarin pretty well, but only understand a few phrases in Taiwanese. What galls me is when I’m specially invited to some kind of get-together, and everyone is fluent in Mandarin, but the conversation lapses into Taiwanese. This is even worse when it’s a business meeting.

But you’re from Scandinavia. They all speak good English.

Germans usually all speak decent English too.

This is where you’ve made the mistake. They can’t speak English. I know you said they alll graduated English Lit or something, but they still can’t speak the language. Not only can they not speak it, but having graduated English Lit, they’ll be more embarrassed at not being able to speak English than the average Taiwanese.