Rude Taiwanese co-worker

I’m having difficulty with a local co-worker. I’ve lived/studied/worked in five countries on three continents, with English being my mother tongue. I got my degree from an Ivy League university and have a lot of work experience.

This co-worker speaks broken English, and has never left Taiwan to work. When I don’t understand what they are saying in English and say so, he gets quite aggressive even by Taiwanese standards, saying: “It is not difficult to understand.” or “What is your problem?”

Perhaps I am too professional, but I don’t attack him back and instead focus on the English being difficult to understand. How are we supposed to work together if he gets hostile when I ask him to explain himself?

In terms of years of work experience, he is >10 years my junior and in terms of quality of work experience, even less so. So in the Asian culture of respecting seniors, it is even more rude. It isn’t appropriate even for a boss to treat the company janitor this way.

Any other foreigners here experience this type of unnecessary vitriol from Taiwanese co-workers? What is the reason for it? Jealousy? Feeling threatened? What is the best way to deal with it? Give the boss an ultimatum of either: put him in line or I leave?


All that goes out the window if you are a foreigner.



You’re basically saying he has poor English, which would be an offensive remark to anybody, especially since he has presumably spent many years learning to speak your language even though he isn’t living in your country.

Maybe instead of “I don’t understand you”, try “can you repeat that?” next time.


I’ve never experienced it. How are you handling his English?

He hasn’t learned it for the OP’s sake. You’re acting like he learned it for him.


Not what I was suggesting. Don’t be so literal.

I meant he spent many years learning English so that foreigners can come work here and communicate with him without having to learn his language.

No, he didnt. Do you think Taiwanese are learning English to make it easier for foreigners who come here?


I readily admit my Chinese is almost non-existent. I am not offended by being unable to speak Chinese, why should he be offended when I say I don’t understand his English?

To the contrary I am grateful for whatever English he speaks. It is his country and knowing English is not mandatory for him.

If I tell him “Can you repeat that?” he will take it literally and repeat it, without rephrasing it.

Speaking a language is a skill that is learnt. If one doesn’t speak it well, it just means they haven’t invested enough time or effort into learning it. It doesn’t reflect any deficiency of character.


Ask him to rephrase it.

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Yeah that’s a tough one, but it’s still more polite to say something like “what does (blank) mean?” rather than “I don’t understand you/that”.

Sure, I don’t think he is offended that you’re suggesting he has any deficiency of character. Just maybe offended that you’re pointing out that a skill of his lacking even though he spent many years learning it.

Just curious

What does your Ivy League background and the fact he hasn’t left the country have to do with anything?


He probably thinks you are telling him that his English sucks, which in fact it does. That is fine and all, so you have to go out of your way to make it seem like this is your problem, to save his face. Ask him to say it in a different way because you don’t know that word, or just guess about something he said and move on. Sometimes there is no good way to save face and keep asking people to repeat themselves. Just move on making your best guess.

Honestly, you can try harder. Having said all this, he should not get this aggressive at you. It comes from a place of embarrassment though so if you offer him a way to save the relationship he may take it. Maybe pull him aside and talk to him honestly 1-1 and say you are very sorry and (fill in some excuse about why you cannot understand) and hope you and he can talk more or have more opportunities to work together to have a good working relationship. If he is rude 1-1 just be rude back and end it right there and be very curt and formal when you speak to him in public and basically talk around him in English “Sir I do not appreciate how you are addressing me” and so forth.


Presumably you can comprehend some words he says. So, “Do you want me to … ?” should work.


Yes, this is true @Flint. Rarely will Taiwanese people snap at people around them (especially in a workplace situation where they have to see you every day) unless something was said or done that made them lose face.

A reconciliatory gift (something edible in nice packaging) should do the trick, if you care enough to try to fix the relationship.


My comment about him maybe feeling jealous or threatened.

When we were on more cordial terms after I just joined, he asked me for my resume, but when I asked to see his, he didn’t reciprocate.


Haha! So you are junior to him. He joined before you. So this is just the ordinary run of the mill “putting you in your place” as the noob on the team. I know you are more experienced and better educated, but it does not matter. He was there first.


Not only it true for foreigners, I would say younger educated people toss that out the window if they think the elder local is useless. For me, a Japanese ex pat in Taiwan I would never expect respect on age or even think about it, I am more sometimes tell your generations thinking if that is a problem. Also sometimes if language is problem get a translator. Sometimes not understanding may seem rude, more so if they do not know you people will be quiet. Also when a “new” person comes, if she/he did not hire you , and you have a new boss/co worker that person in Taiwan may not want you to be there I always take some time to try make people work together (part of mgmt’s job) so don’t give up so easy and expect them to welcome you open arms, you might have do some work to make the co worker feel more comfortable and at least work with you

According to the boss, I outrank him in salary, role and necessity to the company. Unfortunately, compared to everyone else around me, he is one of the better English speakers. So he is often the go-between man between me and everyone else, and in this sense wields a lot of unofficial power.

Boss speaks good English but is super busy.

Taiwanese likes to compare and gossip about salary. He may think someone new doesn’t deserve such a high salary. When you say you are senior, are you older than him, or just based on your assumption of your better education and work experience?


Is he like this to other people as well, or just you? He might just be an asshole.