How did you penetrate this culture?

When I arrived in Taiwan, my goal was to learn the language and make some great friends along the way. But it’s been about 5 months since I arrived here and I feel that no significant progress has been made. As a student, I figured it would be a simple matter of joining one of the many clubs at my university. Well, I did this and for about 6 hours a week I play sports and chit chat to the best of my ability in Chinese.

And yet, I seem to spend a significant amount of time on my own at the weekends. Other than sports we don’t really hang out. I hoped I could get introduced to a larger group of students in the process, but it seems kind of isolated. There isn’t even a communal drinking hole for everyone (in contrast my Scottish Uni has 5 separate student run bars). I guess they all go back to their dorms and hang out.

My next idea was to get a language exchange, but this turned out to be strictly business, which is to be expected since finding people on a notice board is going to be extremely hit and miss.

And so I ended up spending more time with my fellow foreign friends. This is enjoyable, but leaves me feeling a little hollow inside and reduces my chances of meeting people to shouting in Roxy 99.

So tell me, how did you penetrate this culture?

I think that it’s the same for most foreigners in Taiwan. The folks I do know who seem to have more Taiwanese friends are involved in personal relationships with Taiwanese people, and hence maybe met more local friends through their SO.

I spent six and a half years there, and only made a couple of true Taiwanese friends. One was the taxi driver my husband and I would always use, who we grew really close to (and who, incidentally, is still in contact with us quite often even though we left two years ago) and a doctor who my husband taught and who we then grew quite close to. Other than that, the other people who used to invite us out and about were the parents of our students, who I would not really consider to be real friends.

My close friends were all other foreigners, except for the two I just mentioned. ‘Real’ friends can be hard to find in Taiwan. You are always left with the sense that people are more trying to use you than to be your friend (for English practice, etc.).

I was really hoping I would find closer local friends when I moved to the UAE…it’s an even bigger divide here!!!

Welcome. First off it’s gonna take time especially since you;'re in Asia. That’s just how the game is played. People there just take their time in making relationships, and it could be years before you’re really a “friend.” Unlike in the US or other Western countries.

But you’re going about it the right way. Seeking LEs and joining clubs is a great step in the right direction. Perhaps you can start inviting some of the people you play sports with out as oppose to you being invited. Remember some of the people who are in those clubs have known each other for years and you just dropped into the mix from out of nowhere. And sometimes, because of the transient nature of foreigners,IMO many aren’t as open to relationships as some.

Just keep trying. Come to some of the Forumosa HH’s, albeit it’s got a lot of dirty furrieners (gotta watch out for the chief and his friends :stuck_out_tongue: ). Also you may want to join the Hiking Club, or volunteer with Animals Taiwan, where there’s a great mix of Taiwanese and foreigners.

Good luck. In a year, you’re gonna look back and see how far you’ve come!

Gladly? As often as possible? After a night of heavy drinking? (or other such bawdy responses…) :smiling_imp:

Seriously though, I know where you’re coming from. Same here, and I’m already sick of it after repeating the pattern in other countries…

That said, I’ve found Taiwanese people to be some of the friendliest I’ve met in years spent living overseas. Never once in Germany or Japan did a random person just say “hello” or offer to take me to lunch - both of which have happened here. Maybe try smiling more or something?

I think it’s really nothing more than being comfortable with yourself and using trial & error while taking proactive control of the “I’m an outsider talking to a total stranger in a public place” situation (aka one human being approaching & talking to another human being).

Might as well consider it just like trying to meet people in Scotland. Find things to do that interest you & see who else is around. Talk to everybody and be genuine and friendly. Ask them lots of questions & don’t shy away from striking up conversation (my weak point).

Assuming you’re male, this could probably scare off a good number of ladies, but you never meet anybody by NOT talking to random people … trust me, either fate/luck doesn’t exist or it hates you (or maybe it just hates me…I ALWAYS end up next to the fat old guy on the train/plane/bus - NEVER the hot girl!! WTF!!!).

Anyway, if you have no context for engaging with locals on a daily basis, you won’t have any chance at becoming friends unless it’s through random encounters. The sports club thing sounds good - if that one’s not working are there other club options? What other things do you like to do?

If the random attack approach fails, try getting on the wrong bus & heading out of Taipei. I did that once & as I stepped off the bus in the middle of nowhere, I was promptly invited to go eat stinky tofu by a friendly old lady. Might’ve turned into an interesting relationship if I hadn’t already been running late & needed to catch the next bus back.

Finally, keep trying the language exchange thing. Mine are “all business” right now too, but another friend traveled all over w/her LE partner & had a blast exploring Taiwan … (Figures MINE aren’t like that… arrrgh.).

In any case, good luck! When you figure it out, let us know!

Taiwanese people in general make friends based on some kind of formal relationship, or at least it must start with that. So, classmate, teacher, student, boss, employee, coworker, inlaw, customer, etc can start things going - give you a relationship identity that a) gives you a reality dimension and b) gives the Taiwanese person a guide how to deal with you.

Random individual interaction blossoming into friendship (Like, I met this stranger at a party and they seemed really interesting. We really hit it off so I invited them to my party and now we are becoming friends.) which is quite common in the west and other countries is really rare here.

I have found that starting a positive interaction in one area (a student) and then transferring it to another area (a hiking partner) helps make the relationship more like a western friendship.

Summary: start with the formal relationship and then take it to the next level.

The people you meet in bars can be classified as “party friends”, and this is not usually considered to be a real friend. There is even an idiom about this (Wine meat friends = jiu ro pun you, which roughly equates to “fair weather friend”) although if you date someone for a long time their friends might start to think of you as a real friend, even if it is a party based group.

  1. Try to find friends not from Univ. - because Taiwanese are crazy about their exams, and study all the time. Especially if you are enrolled at the good school.During five years of study I went out only once with my classmates and roommates - because all the time they were busy with study. Try to make friends who work - they have more time and money.

  2. Learn some Chinese songs, so that you can go to KTV with your new friends (and it will help you tremendously with Chinese)

  3. Meet people everywhere! It’s very easy (and useful: learn to type in Chinese) to make friends through internet - you can chat with them, you can find those who are interesting to you (while chatting), as many taiwanese are glued to their PCs in the evening or during workday,it really works! Many of my TW friends were met in internet, even before I came here - so that was like a great holiday when I came, I even forgot that I came here to study, not partying, KTVing etc - so many friends I 've made. Use icq, skype etc

Good luck!

Gosh. Hard to say.

When I got here, I worked for a big British chain, and flatshared with some of the girls from there. Instant pals. Made friends with the teaching assistants and the school manager.

My best Taiwanese friend was the mother of one of the kids I taught. She didn’t speak much English, but here kid was having a few problems keeping up with the English and socialising with the others; she decided she was going to be the anqingban teacher and my friend and brought us tea every day and took us to dinner and hotsprings, etc. She was a bit odd at first and I’m embarrassed to say I avoided her a bit. She and the kids grew on me; I’ve known her kids for more than half their life and adore them. I still speak to them on Skype from the UK. I stayed in Taiwan much longer than I would have done, because of people like her.

My other BTFF is my ex Chinese teacher. She’s a few years younger than me, and the cleverest, prettiest, sweetest person ever. We had a very business-like class going on. I met after I’d just been dumped in the most horrible way by a boy I really liked. Paying for private classes was part of my ‘pick yourself up and start again’ program; new apartment, new job, gym, learning Chinese, hiking, etc. It was all going great but one day (I have a six month delayed response to trauma), I just couldn’t cope any more and started crying in NY Bagels. Really, really howling and weeping. I’d lost my boy, and I’d lost a baby as well, and my father just before that. Anyone who says that Taiwanese people only care about face should have seen her ‘handle’ that! She started to talk about her problems to and then we started laughing about how stupid we are and we have been very close ever since.

What I would say is; be open. The longer I spent in Taiwan, the more I guarded my ‘me-time’. I started working insane amounts of hours and when I wasn’t at work, I just wanted to be with my old Brit friends, my Taiwanese friends from the early days, and my flob gang. If I’d met this woman in my last couple of years in Taiwan, it’s doubtful we’d have become friends because I avoided (most) students and/or pushy mothers like the plague. My loss. Yes, people who aren’t interested in you as a person and just want to practise English are rude and annoying, but it’s easy to start seeing everybody in that way when they really aren’t.

You have to be ready willing and able to do Taiwanese stuff. Taiwanese people socialise over food. Go and eat snake soup, barbecue entrails, go shrimp fishing in a warehouse in Panchiao, eat spicy hotpot and generally treat your stomach lining with gay abandon. And KTV. Learn to suck it up. It’s depressing, shit and boring, but if there are Taiwanese people, there’s KTV. Be a joiner inner, even though it’s not what you’d normally do.

And work really hard at your Chinese! After five months, there’s not a huge amount you can converse about so maybe people think you are boring (don’t mean that in a nasty way; everyone begins somewhere and after 7 years, I’m still rubbish…). Imagine hanging out with people who had only been learning English for five months, back in your home country. It’s not that people are unfriendly, they just don’t know what to say to you.

Anyway, I’m just rambling because I’m ‘homesick’…

What has worked for me in making friends is to find a nice cafe/restaurant that you like and go there everyday. After a week or so you will be friends with the owners (best if the owners are younger folks) and they have friends that stop by. Most popular restaurants owned by younger folks have a core clique of friends that come on a regular basis. Pretty soon you will be part of this clique. I did that and had a great time. The whole gang even went to HK and Macau together once.

Consistancy gives you better odds then just random chance. There are many people who could be good friends who you meet by random chance, but most of the time you dont have enough time to develop something. LIke you meet a girl on the bus and you have a brief chat. You have very little time to get to the point of exchanging an email or fone number. Once you have that, you can have a chance to see each other again.

But if you often go to a certain cafe and know the regulars there, some girl may have had an eye out for you and this will heighten the chances.

Male friends the same way. Join a clique and that is the way to know more people.

This Japanese guy came to a cafe that I was a regular at and joined our group and in a year or two ended up marrying the sister of one of the owners. :slight_smile:

Things happen. But you have to Get Out There.

Don’t limit yourself to people of your own age group. Talk to older people, married couples or families.

Also it takes time. You have only been here five months. After another six months passes you will find that you know more people and your networks will expand offering more opportunities for social activities and making friends.

This is a brilliant idea, thank you sir!

This is a good thread. There have already been some very good posts by Buttercup, Wix, and Tommy525.

I’m not sure how much it’s necessary to compromise by doing activities you don’t really enjoy. I’m not into KTV at all, and only go along when there’s no acceptable excuse not to. But I’ve enjoyed quite a few days out with Taiwanese friends. I like a bit of hiking, cycling, museum/temple-visiting, balloon-shooting with airguns, blackened-things-on-a-stick-eating, etc.

For me, what makes me feel comfortable with local friends is when the whole “foreigner” thing is no longer an issue, and when they feel comfortable enough with you to take the piss a bit.

Big John made some interesting points about starting with formal relationships. I think there’s something in that. Certainly some of my very good friends are former workmates. And I haven’t personally found most of the kind of random met-on-a-hiking-trail friendships to last very long, though that’s often my fault for not making more of an effort to keep in contact. Something Big John didn’t mention was making friends through other friends. That happens quite a bit.

A few people mentioned “openness”, or “openmindedness”, and that does seem to be important. Certainly when you’re fairly new here it’s good to be open to chatting and hanging out with a variety of people of different ages and from different backgrounds. They won’t all become good friends but that doesn’t matter, you can still enjoy the time you spend together. Later, you may find yourself getting a bit more closed and picky, as Buttercup did and as I have. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but if you have limited time I suppose it’s inevitable.

[color=#004000]OT posts moved to temp. Please try to stay on topic.


[quote=“Myotis”]When I arrived in Taiwan,…
So tell me, how did you penetrate this culture?[/quote]

Once you learn to speak the local vernacular, you’ll have a better chance of having meaningful friendships with local Taiwanese.

Think like one, talk like one, act like one, dress like one. You have to convince youself that you’re one of us, before we consider you one of us. That means you do things that you wouldn’t normally do in your home country… almost like you have to be persuaded or encouraged to do something, but nevertheless you do it anyway. Sometimes you hang out with your buddies even though the occasion is boring, but you’d still do it, because you have nothing else better to do and they are your buddies. You also want to increase your knowledge of the geography, the baseball players, the publicly trading companies, the celebrities, etc.

The more time you spend with people with similar cultural background, the less time you spend with local Taiwanese. You kinda have to let go of your old identity a bit, and make room for the new one.

For places to meet local people, you can try language classes. Korean, Japanese, French(if you don’t already speak it), dance classes, etc. You can volunteer at local libraries, museums, art galleries. Volunteers often organize events, parties and weekend trips(Lots of fun!) Young adults often meet people throug reunions(同學會) or inter-office meetups(聯誼).

Ha Ha! I know FAR, FAR more about the geography of Taiwan than ANY Taiwanese people I know, even the journalists I work with every day, who you’d think would know more about their country than the average Taiwanese.
As for “baseball players, publicly traded companies, the celebrities…” fucking HELL! You’re seriously trying to tell us that in order to penetrate this culture you have to become a brain-dead sheep? That’s bloody pathetic, man! What a horrible condemnation of an entire culture! You REALLY think your people are as vapid and banal as that?

Almost by osmosis, I seem to know more about pop stars in this country than in the West. I have no intention of actively acquiring more knowledge on this matter, nor on most of the other nonsense listed.

Why would I apply a different set of criteria to Taiwanese friends here? If I didn’t hang out with foreigners in the West who were into this pap, and I don’t hang out with foreigners here who are into this pap, why would I do so with Taiwanese who were into this pap?

I don’t believe that’s necessary to become better immersed, but even if it were, then my response would be that I don’t want to become better immersed.

Instead, I’ll try to meet and befriend interesting people, regardless of whether they’re Taiwanese or anything else.

I’m sorry walile but don’t take it personally - they’re like this with everyone.


Maybe I’m just freakishly outgoing, but I have had no problem at all making local friends in Taiwan. I didn’t find that people made friends through formal channels; I get all sorts of random overtures of friendship from people I meet on the bus or at coffeeshops, and I’ve remained friends with a few students and even one of my teachers, who is not much older than I am.

I also don’t find that people take their time - I’ve had a few locals become, more or less, suddenly friends.

Speaking Chinese helps. If you don’t, you’re a lot less likely to encounter these ultra-friendly folks simply because they don’t always speak English. A #1 conversation starter on the part of most locals I’ve befriended is along the lines of “Oh my god, you speak Chinese!”

[quote=“walile”]Think like one, talk like one, act like one, dress like one.[/quote]Which one?

That one! Over there!

[quote=“walile”]For places to meet local people, you can try language classes. Korean, Japanese, French(if you don’t already speak it)[/quote] Uhm… isn’t the OP in Taiwan to learn Chinese?

[quote]Young adults often meet people throug reunions(同學會) or inter-office meetups(聯誼).[/quote] This may be a challenge for a student who has only been here for 5 months…

Lots of other good advice given. Hang in there, it’ll get better. You’re doing lots of the right things.
I usually talk to everyone I meet. Everywhere. I have heaps of conversations in my abysmal Chinese in the park, on the street, in shops, all over. Smile first.