One of the things that kept coming up when I was educating myself about Taiwan was the friendly and welcoming nature of the Taiwanese people. An overwhelming majority of travellers wrote about the fantastic times they had with local people here. I took it all with a grain of salt; I mean, I’m coming from Canada, which is a country known as one of the friendliest in the world. Not to toot our own horn, but how much friendlier could people possibly be?
Not only were all my expectations met, they were totally exceeded. Taiwanese people really are incredibly accomodating to foreigners. They bend over backwards for you. Sometimes, it can actually be overwhelming and slightly uncomfortable. For someone coming here for the first time, it’s like being hit by the Vengabus; good times at zero cost (except maybe your liver).
I have gone to restaurants and invariably, upon learning that I was new to Taiwan, someone would come over, talk to me, welcome me to Taiwan, and pay for my bill. Protesting is not allowed, and some people actually get annoyed if you don’t let them pay.
Random people have come up to me at various places when I looked lost and asked me if I needed help. Some have even given me rides to my destination because they cannot explain the directions well enough in English.
People I got to know would still continue to pay for stuff whenever we went out. They never let me pay or even split the bill.
Restaurants would occasionally give me free stuff (drinks, appetizers etc…) with my meal as soon as I opened my mouth and spoke English.
If people don’t understand me, they do everything to try…out come the iphones and electronic dictionaries. Once a guy even made me wait while he went to pick up his English speaking friend to help me out.
Numerous strangers (who I never see after) have taken me to meet their buddies, fed me beer and whiskey all night, and footed the bill. These escapades are slightly strange in the beginning because we cannot communicate with each other beyond a few words like “whiskey”, “beer”, “girl” and “very good”. After a few hours, of course, we are all very best friends. Read about one such adventure here.
All of these kinds of things made it much easier to deal with the newness of the culture and the lonliness of being away from home. While, I’m sure, a lot of this occurs in other countries, the degree to which it happens here is in a class all it’s own. I’m fairly certain that a Taiwanese person going to Canada would not recieve such royal treatment. While he/she would be welcomed, the degree of accomodation would definitely not be so extreme.
Being blown away by the red carpet the Taiwanese people laid out for me, I wanted to know why? A friend of mine who lived in China said that he had experienced nothing like this. Also I heard that South Korea wasn’t as welcoming either, so it definitely was just a Taiwanese, not pan-Asian thing.
Besides the obvious shine that Taiwanese people have toward everything western, I think Taiwan’s international status has a lot to do with their treatment of foreigners. Taiwan is not officially recognized by the UN as a sovereign state, nevermind that they have their own government, money and laws. There are no Taiwanese embassies in most countries. They are represented by “Economic and cultural offices” which pretty much function as embassies without the official recognition. I recently also found out that Taiwan’s olympic team is represented as “Chinese Taipei”.
This lack of recognition is definitely a thorn in the side of every Taiwanese. If Canada’s olympic team was called USA Ottawa, I’m pretty sure you would have about 34.5 million pissed off people. So, when a foreigner is living and working in Taiwan, it’s kind of like an affirmation to the Taiwanese that theirs is a sovereign nation. We have to get an ARC (basically a visa), pay taxes to the Taiwanese government and abide by Taiwanese laws. Although not official, this recognition is valued by the locals, and they show foreigners their appreciation by being as congenial as possible.
The overwhelming welcome I recieved when I came to Taiwan is something that I will remember for a long time. Whether for the reasons mentioned above, or other ones I have yet to find, the reputation of the people of Taiwan is not at all exaggerated. If you are coming here for the first time, be prepared for the ride of your life!