Local Strangers: "I want to be your friend."

I’m getting a bit tired of strangers approaching me wanting to be my “friend.” It happens with both men and women here (but when I was in other countries, only men wanted to be my “friend,” LOL) so I wonder if it has more to do with just trying to get in the sack with the pretty young foreign babe who must be easy because she’s independent and western.

I already have a female “friend” that approached me while I was eating lunch one day and I feel it has been more of a mutually beneficial exchange (she gets English practice and to show me off to her friends, I get translation help and a few other favors) than a sincere “friendship.” Since then, I’ve been approached by both men and women that just walk up to me while I’m busy eating, studying, walking to work, and ask me a few questions in English then tell me they want my phone number so they can be my friend.

I find it really insincere so I try to blow them off as politely as possible, then I feel like a bitch, but what else am I supposed to do?

How do you handle it?

This is a very common thing to happen to foreigners, but it is unacceptable social behaviour. In the beginning I would politely stammer out an excuse. Now I ask them if they would approach another Taiwanese person this way, with the same language. Of course they’ll say something like “But I think you must be very special”. At which point I tell them I’m not. :smiling_imp:

Now, if a drop-dead gorgeous girl were to approach me (Hasn’t happened for a while :blush: ), I’d make friends fast but give her Tomas’s name and number. He’s single now and would surely reward me handsomely with many beers for a quality introduction… :wink:

Dear Maoman,

Tomas is no longer single and his very sweet new gf, may become a raging psycho xiaojie looking for you. Just a friendly reminder so that we have someone able to keep an eye on the board and not nursing any serious injuries in ICU.


I recommend that you insist on only speaking Chinese to Taiwanese people, even if you only know a few words of Chinese. When I first came to Taiwan, I would speak English to Taiwanese people who could speak better English than my Chinese, but then I discovered that they would often act like I was their friend when in reality they just wanted to use me to practice their English.

I got deeply hurt one time when I found this out about a girl who claimed to be my girlfriend. As my Chinese got better, I understood more and more of what she was saying to her friends, and that’s how I found out that she didn’t really love me and was just using me to practice her English. That’s when I decided to no longer speak any English to Taiwanese people, no matter how good their English is. This policy has worked very well for me. Even when kids yell “Hello!” to me, I either reply “Ni hao!” or ignore them.

Also watch out for the ‘I’ve lived in your country’ or 'I go to your church

I have African men here doing that to me. One caught me at 7am on a Saturday morning while I was going out for breakfast and asked for my phone number…I told him I didn’t have a phone…then realized my cell phone was visibly sticking out of my pocket so I covered up with my bag and hoped he didn’t notice. It’s okay to speak…it’s not okay to ask someone for their phone number after a 10-minute conversation. E-mail, okay. Phone number…hell no. I’ve done the same thing to a Taiwanese guy in an internet cafe.
The other day some woman approached me on the MRT and asked me where I was from…I thought that would have been the end of the conversation, but then she commented on the color of my nail polish and asked me if I was from South Africa (after I told her I was from the US and she told me she had studied there herself). Then she told me she was a fortune teller and attempted to tell me my personality, but she was wa-ay off so I politely nodded when she asked if it were true. Then insisting to keep talking, she asked me to tell her what kind of person she was. I kept saying that I didn’t know, only to keep me from answering, “disturbed.” The nervous tic in her eye, the random head rolling, and the serious invasion of my personal space didn’t help sway my opinion. Nor did her persistence in talking to me despite giving her every non-verbal cue that I could throw out that talk was the last thing I wanted her to do. Fortunately, her train came and she left, and then I was pissed that she didn’t wave at me from the train. Oh well.

It beats going out with a friend of a friend who told me on our first and last date that I had to be very smart because my hair looked awful, in an “Albert Einstein way”…after spending an hour fixing it up. :imp:

Yeah, I’ve had the same experience with the African men, especially around Fujen/Hsinchuang. I feel bad for them – they don’t seem to have anyone to talk to – but then again, I’m a translator, not a social worker. I feel more inclined to talk to people whom I have met in some normal capacity, as for example the Nigerians who go to our church or who are in my Chinese class. This also has the nice side effect that we actually have something to talk about, unlike trying to keep a conversation going with the people who accost you on the street, which usually consists of your trying to prevent them finding out where you live, what your phone number is, etc.

I’m going to start up a business here making “second name cards” for foreigners living here…cards that give false information that will lead to a single, central clearninghouse staffed by really rude bilingual foreigners (any volunteers) who will tell any callers to get a life and stop harassing foreigners on the street.

Oh…and the other thing that really chaps my jaw (as we say in Texas…): the bands of innocent freshmen English students sent out with tape recorders to “catch them a furriner” to interview. I know it’s not hte students’ fault, but I find this incredibly insensitive and stupid of the teachers to give this kind of assignment. They are teaching these kids that it’s fine to just approach anyone on the street – which could very well get them killed in the States and other places. And personally I’m sick of hte insipid interview questions. “What you think of Taiwan?” I’d like to arrange to have these teachers accosted within a week by 15.9 students with one semester of Chinese at Shita, asking to interview them about their impressions of the West. (Tones optional.)

I disagree for the most part with all of you. I consider it a nice thing when people are friendly and wish to talk, even if it is for the ulterior motives of practicing english or learning something about foreigners by talking with a real live one. I’ve encountered it countless times, and usually I’m happy to oblige them. In Nepal a student came up and started talking and we ended up hiking together for 3 weeks around Annapurna. In Vietnam kids came up and I ended up carrying on e-mail exchanges with two of them for years. In Laos kids came up and we ended up swimming and playing in their boat together. In Cambodia a beautiful girl approached me and we ended up taking a trip to Angkor Wat together ( :wink: ). In Japan kids played with me in a river and interviewed me beside a temple. And in Taiwan, I’ve consented to engage in small-talk with numerous inquisitive kids and adults (sometimes being photographed with them as well), and not only is it no big deal, but I usually enjoy it – being a star without having done a thing, and having the opportunity to educate, entertain and make people happy with the slightest of ease.

I remember hearing this kind of grumbling before, in Southeast Asia, from a foreigner complaining about all the kids running up and saying “hello, hello.” He explained how he would scowl at them and shoo them away. Not me. I smile, wave, “hello, hello” in return, and maybe throw in a nonsensical phrase in their own language to astound them and give them a laugh.

Are you really that busy? Are you that important that you can’t waste a few moments of your time with other human beings who are curious about you, admire you, and want to share your company? We’re all incredibly fortunate to have the money, the passport and the opportunity to skip around the world, visiting foreign lands and living among foreign people for so long that it becomes blase. But for those who lack such opportunity it can be a thrilling experience just to share a few words with a foreigner. Is it so hard to give them that thrill? Just by smiling at someone one can make them happy. By carrying on a few words one can make their day, and corny as it sounds, make the world a better place.

Next time some kid approaches try thinking of it as a positive experience. You might even find that you like it. I do.


No doubt I would reward you broheim, but as Okami wrote, despite my best efforts to remain single for a good long time, I met an excellent woman and got nailed down pretty quickly. The single life was an interesting, if short-lived, adventure. I feel like I could write a book, or at least an article, about all of the strange things I encountered.

I tell them I’m from Germany (I’m not) and that I have no idea what they are saying as I don’t speak English. My wife, who is Taiwanese-American, will also tell that to parents of annoying children when they try to get their brats to speak to me in public. She also points out that it is rude to assume that all white people are from America or that they speak English.

Same works both ways. If I’m stopped in my car I tell the cop (who immediately starts speaking to my wife) my wife is from Japan and has no idea what he is saying.

[quote=“ironlady”]really rude bilingual foreigners[/quote]That’ll be me, apparently, except for the bilingual part.

Can I be your friend ? seems we take the same bus :shock:

I guess you can devide the approachs up into 3 groups.

  1. People who are hitting on you because you are in your own words “a pretty young foriegn babe”. Here the best course is presumably a few
    well rehearsed put down lines to get rid of them (I’m not sure if there is an old thread of put down lines somewhere on this forum , if not there probably should be). There are not very many “pretty young foriegn babes” in TW so I suppose you could have some sympathy(though not much) for those with an interest. Also to look on the bright side , if you stay long enough & lose the first 2 adjectives the interest will go away.
  2. Those people wanting to practice thier english. I agree with MT on this that it is one of the attractions of the place ie complete strangers saying hello how are you. But its upto you, some find it really irritating.
  3. People who might just be genuinely friendly. It would be a shame to miss these people through too strict a policy on 1&2 above.

Cultures differ on this even among western countries. eg The Irish are well known for engaging complete strangers in discussion. It one of the things that attracts people to the country & culture . An Irish friend of mine attempted to apply the same irish principle of talking to strangers in a bar in the south of england & the bar staff almost threw him out because they thought he was a homosexual trying to pick up thier customers …

[quote=“ironlady”]I’m going to start up a business here making “second name cards” for foreigners living here…cards that give false information that will lead to a single, central clearninghouse staffed by really rude bilingual foreigners (any volunteers) who will tell any callers to get a life and stop harassing foreigners on the street.

Oh…and the other thing that really chaps my jaw (as we say in Texas…): the bands of innocent freshmen English students sent out with tape recorders to “catch them a furriner” to interview.[/quote]
Give them the phone number (or address) for a missionary organization. Both sides will appreciate the contact. (But the missionaries won’t be rude to the callers, of course.)

It’s sorta like women giving me their phone number:
her: “Uh, it’s 415-555-1212.”
me: “Uh, that’s directory assistance.”
her: “Oh. You’ve heard that one before, huh. Must happen to you a lot.”

:smiley: :smiley: :smiley:

BTW, regarding the “I’m German” suggestion – just say, “Ich kann nicht verstehen; ich bin Deutsch.” The ‘s’ in “verstehen” should be pronounces with a “sh” sound. “Kann” is with a long ‘a’, “kahn” (think ST2: Wrath of Khan). “Ich” is not “itch” but rather “ikhhhh”; let it roll around in the back of your throat for a second, almost like you’re bringing up some phleghm. “Deutsch” is, more or less, pronounced “doytsh”.

I guess I must be too fugly to bother that way; I spent days wandering around Taipei last year and the only person who tried talking to me at all was a little kid whose ball I threw back at him after it bounced out of the play area. And he just said, “Thanks, mister!”

Mother Theresa wrote: “I consider it a nice thing when people are friendly and wish to talk…”

I think there’s a difference between having a genuine conversation with a curious stranger while out and about in different parts of the world (Taiwan included), and being hunted down on the street and then verbally ‘attacked’ by an overzealous English learner whose motives are questionable at best. I’ve encountered both situations here, but more often then not, it’s the latter. However, in other countries I’ve travelled in, it’s more often then not the first scenario. And the phone # thing? Total violation of my privacy, IMO. If I felt that these encounters I’ve had in Taiwan, with both men and women, were based more on genuine curiosity then on using my Native English speaking status for a means to and end, then I would be more receptive to the conversation.

I had two boys, no older than 9 years old pestering me while I took my class of 22 3-to-4-year-old students to Da-An Forest Park’s playground (of course I had two teaching assistants and a horde of willing parent volunteers to help keep an eye on them). They said hi and I said hi back. Then they kept asking me questions of the typical “Where are you from?” “How old are you?” etc. Then they started asking if I had a boyfriend or if I wanted one. I kept telling them, “Wo hen mang” but they ignored that and kept trying to talk to me. Finally I cam down from the top of the climber where I had a panoramic view of my kids and could intervene in case of any accidents or arguments on top, talked to the closest teaching assistant and she told the little punks to am-scray.
I’ll have to try that approach…or if someone has a list of lost cell phone sim numbers you could probably give them that. Let the theives and night market brokers deal with them.

MaPoDoFu, your German pronounciation needs a bit of an improvement:

“Ich” should be pronounced like “Ish” as “Ik” would be Berlin dialect (think of JFK when he said “Ik bin ein Berliner”.)

BTW: Correct would be: “Ich kann Sie nicht verstehen. Ich bin Deutsche®”.
“Sie” is the polite/formal form of “you”; "Deutsche®"with “r” if you are male, without if you are female.

German lesson ends here. :wink:

That said I bumped into a few Taiwanese who actually speak German, so better try something in Finish or Gaelic …

Gaelic? I don’t see why his sexuality is relevant here.

But the difference here is they want to talk to you for your English skills, but they’re not interested in your wallet. Which is good.
Go to somewhere like Bali, India, etc, and see how genuine the natives can be.

I don’t really like them talking to me either because I cannot be fucked, but I do not think Taiwanese are scam artists or conmen when they want to practice the English language.
You could even call it intrinsic motivation to have the balls to approach a stranger for a chance to speak to a real native speaker. There aren’t that many of us afterall.

And likewise, perhaps you’d even go out of your way to speak Chinese to strangers in your home country, like at Chinese restaurants, laundries, and so on. I know that in my sister’s neighbourhood in San Francisco, I like to go talk to the ice cream shop owner whose from Taiwan. Dunno why really. Maybe the perspective is different when I’m there,and not here. As it would be with them. Which is why they probably get all excited to tell you they’ve been to your country or know someone from there. Whatever…

For once, I have nothing to say… :!:

One more thing on the German lesson:

The “a” in “kann” is not long, it more likely rhyms with “fun”.