Although a resident in Taipei for nearly three years, I, like most of my expat companions, have never taken the time to formally study Mandarin. Despite this, I have managed to acquire what I consider to be an acceptable level of speaking fluency. My rant, I suppose, although perhaps more of a ramble, is that I often find my Chinese tonal pronunciation being mocked by Native speakers with whom I am communicating. I have little pride at stake here but can harldy imagine such mockery occuring if the situation were reversed. (e.g.- a Chinese person being mocked by a Native English speaker for leaving off “be” verbs or placing “very” in front of verbs) Often, I find that those whom I’m speaking to will respond to me in my accent or will intentionally misplace tones in entire spoken sentence. I assume that these offenders don’t credit me with the intelligence to know that I’m being mocked and, of course, herein lies the insult. Many of my expat friends have told of similar experiences and those who have been here a long time even remember when this “trend” of mocking the Non-native speaker began. It’s disheartening and discouraging, especially coming from a culture that is so embarassed by its own lack of command of the English language. In my teaching days, I recall, it usually took me weeks to break down the “face” issues in adult classes just to get students to start conversing. Wouldn’t it seem that the Taiwanese could empathize with the plight of the Mandarin learner?
On a similar note…
One thing that I find annoying… Although I am Taiwanese-American, I guess most people find that I look like a Japanese… what is annoying to me is the fact that first, people look at me, and assume that I am a Japanese, and then when there is a language problem, they will speak to me directly in Japanese… even when I tell them that I am an ABC… of course, I can speak Japanese, so maybe some of my accent sounds like a Japanese, but it’s just the plain idiocy that I cannot be recognized by my own kind… not to mention the fact that I have already told them that I am one of them… then, they also tell me that they are able to tell the difference between a Japanese and a Chinese, and a Korean, etc… whatever… However, I do play dumb a lot of the time, and pretend to be Japanese and use it to my advantage at times… there are times when it is beneficial for me not to speak in Chinese, or to pretend to be Japanese… for example, I did it once at the Computex Show since I didn’t have a ticket to get in… noticed a corner for Japanese people to get free admission, so I just used my Japanese name, and got my free admission and packet of goodies…
so I guess it can’t be all that bad to be mocked at… you can probably find some way to turn it to your advantage…
I agree with you in that local people tend to mock non-Chinese speaking people who are making concerted efforts to learn the local languages. It’s tough, but at the same time, Asian immigrants who move to the West face the same (if not worse) hurdles.
What I don’t see in Taiwan at least, is outright racial discrimination, prejudice or ethnic violence to the same degree that exists in the U.S. and in other parts of the world. Thus, if you can keep that in perspective, situations may not seem so frustrating. For the most part, the local people are friendly and open-minded. Try confronting (politely of course) about how you really feel when they mock your attempts to speak Chinese. Most of the times, I would think, it’s just a matter of explaining to them that what they are doing is condescending, rude, and unacceptable to you. Wherever possible, I try myself to “teach” them what they don’t know. Just a thought.
I wouldn’t say Taiwanese people a very tolerant when it comes to racial discrimination. I think the only reason people may feel that Taiwan is a very tolernat place towards other races is because Chinese society in general is isolated from the rest of the world from their own continued doing. Unlike America where race has nothing to do with national citizenship, here you generally have to be Chinese to be a member of China. If there were suddenly a lot of races living together here (like Singapore), you’d probablly find a different situation. From this point of view, I’ll always be a foreigner here in Taiwan, no matter how long I’ve been here or how well I speak Chinese. I’ve pretty much given up on trying to change Taiwanese thought, and have sought to get by on a few tricks: (1) Always start a converstation with a Taiwanese stranger by aksing if he or she can speak Mandarin. This takes them for a loop. Better yet, in the middle of the converstation, complement them on how well they speak Mandarin. Sometimes I even ask them what country they are from. (2) Always play dumb about how good your Chiense is. It’s always best to “play the pig to catch the tiger.” Never swagger into a situation with your Chinese ability. You can only get spanked. (3) Learn a few complete Taiwanese phrases. Find a place to natually interject them into your Mandarin. Although they know you can’t really speak Taiwanese, it always brings a smile to their face, as if Taiwanese people could actually smile. (4) Tell them your mother is Chinese. This is especially interesting in my case since I’m butt white. If you can say it with a straight face, this also can take them for a loop … Good luck!
Oh my gawd! This is HYSTERICAL!! LOL!!
Good pointers- You’ve tickled my cynical funnybone. I couldn’t agree with you more, esp. where racism is concerned in Taiwan. It is the very lack of ethnic diversity that masks the prejudice that is raging in this society. Although,in truth, one needn’t look further than the three distinct separations on the island (Taiwanese, Chinese and Aborignal) to see that intolerance, even among Taiwanese countrymen, reigns.
As for your pointers, I must confess to having employed them all at one point or another with sadistic glee. I often respond “Taiwanese” when asked my nationality as this is hilariously unacceptable to Taiwanese. “SHEN ME KE NENG?!!”
I’ve also began dealing with this “tonal mocking” stuff differently. When mocked I immediately say in Chinese “Your English is laughable too but I won’t laugh at you if you don’t laugh at me.” Instant recognition of the offense follows. Blunt but effective.
Keep posting! Todd
Hmm… Jeremy, not sure if I am looked at as an American until I talk… I’ve been equally annoyed in the two Asian countries I have lived in so far (Taiwan and Japan) when people scorn me for telling everyone that I am an American… the usual reaction is hey, you’re not white… how can you call yourself an American… when I am back home in American, even in my hometown of the Silicon Valley, where you would think would be a more Asian tolerant place, strangers still speak to me slowly and ennunciate very clearly as if I don’t understand… I speak the same way back to them until they finally figure it out (for those who are smart enough to figure that I am mocking them)…
face it… racism exists everywhere… I don’t think people do it blatantly since they are usually the ones that are adamant in the fact that they are not racist… I will be the first to admit that I am… I like both sides… both my American-ness, and my Taiwanese-ness (don’t let my handle fool ya… ) anything not American or Asian (mainly the Confucian influenced countries such as China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan), I have really no interest in, and I am fairly ignorant to (thus, being a racist for being ignorant to other cultures)
In any case… not trying to flame here, just trying to point out the fact that you can do whateverz, but you can never get rid of the racism that exists anywhere…
i find this
PAT The HORSES BEHIND (PAI MA PEE)
Taiwan person: Your Chinese is so good.
ME: No you’re English is better than my Chinese
Taiwan person: No my english is very poor… youre chinese is so good.
ME: Then if my Chinese is much better than your English…why the F*** are you aspeaking to me in English ??