Before I go upsetting anyone’s pretty little heart, be warned, this is article isn’t about making fun of Taiwanese. If anything, it’s a celebration. Many locals are quite curious about foreign nationals in Taiwan. In most cases, for white people like me, it’s generally quite positive. But, sometimes it’s just plain awkward. Other times I make friends that, to this day, still message me random memes and photos every day.
The reason I call these Groundhog Day questions is simple. Depending on your lifestyle, occupation, and how many times you take a taxi, you will be asked these questions again, and again, and again, and again. It’ll be a daily test in aural and oral Mandarin that may give you PTSD.
If you’re like me and anyone that’s lived in Taiwan long enough, the questions are just ice-breakers, and I’d rather be asked some chit-chat over having racism hurled at me.
1. 你是哪裡人？ Where are you from?
This is a simple question, but it will set up the sequence and reaction to the following questions. As an American, you may be asked for your thoughts regarding the current president or past ones. As an Irishman, I get asked if my country is part of the United Kingdom.
That usually leads to me explaining the last 200 years of Anglo-Irish history and checking the person’s response to see if they want the other 600 years.
2. 你為什麼來台灣? Why did you come to Taiwan?
Now, that’s an existential question. The reason most of us came isn’t nearly as important as the reason we stayed. My advice to anyone asking this question is to ask what kept us here instead.
3. 你住在台灣多久了？ How long have you been in Taiwan?
This is a question with some amazing subtext. While the person might just be curious as to how long you’ve resided in Taiwan, what they really want to know is if you’ve spent several years in Taiwan because your mandarin is good.
The shorter amount of time you say will get a resoundingly positive “哇/wow” reaction. The longer amount of time you say will get you a reaction of “ah yes, of course, that’s why you speak so well.”
The person could also just be curious about how long you’ve lived in Taiwan. This is mostly because foreign non-Han residents in Taiwan are a bit of a new thing.
4. 你有台灣老婆嗎 Do you have a Taiwanese wife?
I’m not sure how often foreign women get asked if they have Taiwanese husbands, but I get asked this quite a lot. Being a man in their late 20s, I guess it’s pretty standard now.
Note: Rereading that last paragraph in editing made me realize that I said I get asked a lot if I have a Taiwanese husband. I suppose nowadays we aren’t far off that being a regular question to be asking fellas. Still waiting for it, though.
I didn’t get asked this very much when I was in my early 20s, but years of drinking, growing a beard, and aging have a way with the way you look.
Irish genetics don’t help with the aging process either.
Depending on how you answer the above question, you may get asked:
5. 你有孩子嗎 Do you have kids?
I don’t, but that doesn’t stop me from joking that I do, but then saying, “They keep asking where their parents are.” That usually gets a 50/50 response of laughter or a stare. The stare is always funnier than the laughter to me.
In fairness, I think I’d be more interested in the snip.
6. 你喜歡台灣菜嗎 Do you like Taiwanese food?
This is pretty boilerplate. I always just say yes and mention danbing. I do actually mention how I prefer Cantonese and Hong Kong-style food because that’s the type of Chinese food we’d mostly eat in Ireland. I really can’t explain my frustration and sadness when I order fried noodles, and they arrive looking like they were cooked with water and soup. I’m not a fan of local noodles, to be honest unless they are the hand-sliced ones (刀切麵). Those I can get behind pretty well.
7. 你是英文老師嗎 Are you an English Teacher?
If you’re non-Asian, you’re bound to get asked this one. Interestingly, the stats do show a high percentage of foreign nationals with foreign specialists on their work permits are, in fact, English teachers. So it’s generally a good guess, and it’s usually true.
My response is, nope, I work in marketing. Unfortunately, there’s generally very little follow-up on that question.
8. 你台灣菜吃習慣了嗎 Are you used to eating Taiwanese food?
I can eat anything. I might joke about stinky tofu and Pizza Hut monstrosities, but I can totally eat and enjoy them no problem.
You know the expression a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips? For me, it’s more like a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the toilet.
So yeah, I like Taiwanese food, but I still ended up paying for it sometimes.
Honorable, Dishonorable, and Interesting Mentions
8. Dishonorable: 你們外國人的雞雞很大對不對？Don’t you foreigners have big cocks?
I generally don’t know how to answer that. As innocent as the question is, it’s too awkward.
9. Honorable: Would you like to meet for a drink sometime?
An older taxi in my area in Nangang used to always be around and would take me off to the pubs whenever I rang late. He eventually asked if I wanted to get drinks sometime. He and his friends became my temple buddies. I’ve met a few friends this way.
10. Interesting: 你怎麼會講台語？你是混血兒喔？How come you can speak Taiwanese? Are you half Taiwanese?
This one came from the discussion on my Facebook page thanks to 吉雷米-一粒米. Being someone that isn’t mixed-race, I’ve never run into this one.