Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

To follow up on my tales of the legendary inquisitiveness of the Taiwanese (posted April 18)...

What I’ve realized, most importantly from these experiences is that you cannot always evaluate the appropriateness of a social custom out of context or from a different cultural perspective that has different assumptions. Of course at times there may be exceptions such as in cases which the practice of certain social customs harm an individual’s dignity, or physical well being (as in extreme cases such as institutionalized social classifications, or female genital mutilation).

Each time I’ve been asked all these questions I invariably find myself striking up a conversation and making a new acquaintance and some cases, swaping phone numbers. My conclusion is that this line of questioning is a form of social greeting.

Most Taiwanese think nothing of their questioning; they view it as a form of greeting and a way to demonstrate their helpfulness and interest in another person. Likewise, the average Taiwanese person would actually wonder if their conversation counterpart did NOT ask him or her 20 questions; as a result, they would more likely wonder why their conversation counterpart has been so unfriendly or disinterested. So I suppose that what I’ve described is a sort of social custom or mechanism which creates familiarity or to shows concern for someone else. It’s a type of conversation opener. And with friends it demonstrates that you’re paying attention, that you’ve noticed a change however for the worse or better.

Matters of cross cultural exchange simply require mutual respect on the part of all parties involved. In this case, the foreigner should recognize the well intentioned motivations behind all the questions and the Taiwanese should be more astute to the reactions of the person to whom the questions are being directed.

NOTE to any family members who may be reading this: Guess what we thought was perhaps a familial quirk turns out to be much more widespread. Maybe we can now have a better tolerance and understanding of the motivations of our dear relatives.


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