The advantage of any European-looking foreigner in Taiwan has over me is they look foreign. I blend into the crowd and maybe my Mandarin is better. Therefore tricksters might not as easily pick me out. But sometimes it backfires. Take, for example, trying to buy some lychees. A very nondescript action, buying fruit. Yet I cannot explain to the man who’d rather be sitting in front of his fan on this scorching hot day at noon that I would like only some, not a bag that would feed three of me for three days (or nine of me today, whichever you’d like to imagine), even if the price goes down at five pounds. So much for running a simple errand.
Growing up listening to my parents speak Mandarin flawlessly, I like to think I’ve picked up on their accent. My American accent isn’t particularly pronounced until I get to certain words that either my tongue can’t quite capture or I just don’t know. Thus, when I first start talking, I’m just another Taiwanese customer. It is when the verbal exchange continues too far that I start fumbling. Since my looks and my accent aren’t a dead giveaway that I’m not from these parts, people must start to think I’m stupid. This is when many people give off the “What? What’s wrong with you? I’m puzzled: why don’t you understand this simple concept” vibe. I don’t blame them.
I hope that these shopkeepers don’t think that I’m evidence of laziness in the next generation. I can imagine that people in the US would think “oh gee, are they teaching Generation Y anything these days? Everyone is buying off the internet and social interaction is being lost in igadgetmacallits!” I’m not sure what the Taiwanese equivalent might be if there is one, and I’m embarrassed if I have contributed to any such sentiment. But if anything, let us learn from this: it is tricky to be complex, as any angsty teenager will attest, and with the world as complex as it is today, with globalizing connections crisscrossing everywhere, let’s not slip into that category of stupid. Instead, let us take advantage: learn from the unintended mistakes and reap the rewards. Especially the delicious ones.