Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Foreigner Thing

I have a few foreign friends who have been so helpful in acquainting me with the cultural differences aka “The Foreigner Thing”. Still, I’m naive in these sorts of things; an iota from a vast quantity isn’t quite accurate for quantifying my knowledge of that.

Scenario 1: Birth certificate, Quebec, Canada
I've never heard that a birth certificate can expire. What does it mean if a birth certificate is expired? Does it mean that one was never born? The government explains that due to security issues, birth certificates issued before Jan.1 1994 are no longer valid; the expiration mechanism is to secure certificates from fabrication.
Well, the explanation makes sense to me.

How about applying for one? There are 2 kinds of applications you can choose from: the express and the regular one. The regular one takes longer for paper work, once it’s done, the certificate will be sent in a non-registered regular mail. The express one takes about 1 week before they can send it in a non-registered mail to you and it costs more than double the price of the regular one. If you are in the country the mail will be sent as an express mail, however, if you are in a foreign country, the mail will be sent as a regular mail which isn’t specified by air or by ship in the application regulations. Why would someone apply for an express one to have his/her certificate sent by regular mail which takes as long as a regular application? Because you don’t know how much longer the regular application takes and you would image that the mail will be sent by air at least even if it’s regular mail. Also, because of the security issue, birth certificates issued before Jan.1 1994 are no longer valid then why are certificates sent in non-registered mail instead of registered, which would be more secure. My friend had an express application made in March and he is still waiting for the mail to arrive.

Scenario 2: Tax issue, Taiwan
When foreigners are going to stop working in Taiwan, they will have to pay a visit to Tax Office before they leave the country. Usually, they will be informed that they can get some money back from the money they have already pre-paid, however almost none of them can actually get their money back. After finishing the application for reimbursement, bureaucracy almost guarantees you that the money is not going with you anywhere. In addition, foreigners’ bank accounts are frozen on the day their ARC expires, leaving you no way to cash the check and unable to use your bankcard outside of Taiwan. So even though it’s your money, you can’t touch it unless you come back to Taiwan.

Scenario 3: The etiquette of email writing
Chapter 1
I got an email from a westerner who wants to borrow a book from me asks for a meeting. I wrote back an email and told him when and where I would like it to be. He responded: “sound good, but I don’t like the location though, is there any cuter place”. I sent an email back in which I gave 2 more possible places to meet. No response this time, so I wrote an email to remind him that the day we were supposed to meet was coming and I still didn’t know where to meet. No response still until the exact moment we were supposed to meet; a text message sent to my mobile told me that he was too busy and would like to cancel the meeting. About two weeks after, I got an email from him again: “still too busy and would still like to borrow the book. Sending someone tomorrow to the place you designated to retrieve the book.” I asked him to come to my office and I would give him the book. No response and certainly nobody showed up the next day.

Chapter 2
I got emails from westerners who told me how good my pictures are and they would like to have a copy to put on their website. I was flattered and glad to share photos so I sent them and asked for the website in return. No responses, no thank you notes, no website addresses, not even a note telling me that someone out there did get the photos. It happens all the time and I start to wonder if the whole thing did happen or was it just my imagination.

Chapter 3
I wrote an email to a possible candidate for language exchange. A few days later, no response from him so I wrote another email to him just to make sure he did get my email instead of being filtered as a spam . This time I got a reply the next day telling me that I am not the guy he is looking for to do the language exchange with because I didn’t wait for him to contact me and wrote another email a few days later which he thought gave me away as impatient.

Scenario 4: Greeting in the street, Universal
Normally, you would not say hello to a stranger in the street, however being a foreigner in an exotic environment, greeting a stranger who has nothing in common with you except for being an outsider is expected. So the dilemma is should I or shouldn’t I express my friendship to a stranger (especially one who has the same skin color as me) in the street, foreigners wonder. Avoiding eye contact is the most common strategy adopted by foreigners yet they can’t help feeling bad for being rude.

Scenario 5: Sarcasm, Canada, UK etc.
I don’t even know how to start! People are proud to say that sarcasm is in their blood, which is something the locals can’t comprehend and the reason to it is the locals have no such expression. I concur with that statement partly. We do have sarcasm but it’s just not something in our blood. We follow the definition of sarcasm, a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain, and practice this expression with deliberation.

Five scenarios don’t quite cover “the foreigner thing”, but I am going to stop here. I’m thankful for all the differences that make life more colorful, and appreciate any effort that help to minimize conflict between cultures. Be open-minded and enjoy being a foreigner.

2 comments:

Adam Bradway said...

Great Blog, I found it through groovegrrrrrl.blogspot.com, I am tracking you on the foreigner greeting, such an odd thing.

Lief said...

To greet or not to greet

Re: Scenario Four, the odd foreigner greeting thing.
I had the dilemma you wrote about. When I first came to Taiwan I would always greet any foreigner.
Why? Nice to chat with someone who shares my native language and customs (possibly). But with more foreigners in Taiwan, I started to get funny looks in return. Rather than feeling bad for being rude, some foreigners seemed to feel slighted for some reason. So I stopped greeting for a while and felt rude.
Now I make a point of greeting foreigners and in return get strange looks, avoidance and sometimes meet some nice people.