While the people of Taiwan are often the nicest and warmest in the world, their cultural indoctrination leads to a dependence on bureaucracy, often to the point where people are unable – or unwilling – to make any decision without it being written as law or being directly authorized by a superior. As a culture, there is a greater emphasis on towing a line of mediocrity than to take a risk; this concept is rooted in a fear of dropping below the perception of “average,” which comes from a lifelong history of being punished for being different from the majority. At the same time, there is a lot of jealousy within Taiwanese culture, as there is everywhere, but in Taiwan it is exhibited with much more passive-aggression; becoming too successful gets you treated with equal distain as a failure receives. It all feeds into itself in a perpetual cycle of being average and fearing doing anything outside the standard deviation.
If I want a bank account in Taiwan and am not an official resident of Taiwan, I cannot acquire one…without an easily-acquired authorization form from the government. Bank policy states no foreign visitor can have a bank account with them, unless they are authorized by the government – but it is harder to get your order right at McDonald’s than it is to get this government authorization. One simply fills out a form and that is that. The same goes for countless other activities where visiting foreigners are treated with total disregard without some arbitrary authorization by whatever “The Authority” may be.
This, finally, brings us to Carrefour and its policies in Taiwan. While I can get a bank account by gaining the right government form – while I can get a Costco Membership without any documentation other than my passport – Carrefour (a French retailer) will not offer “discount cards” to any visiting foreigner: only resident foreigners. So, if a French visitor wishes to get a Taiwanese Carrefour card for the few months they are in Taiwan, to take advantage of the same great deals they get in their home country, that person is completely out-of-luck. Carrefour will not even make an attempt to put the information into the computer, claiming that if it is not an official Resident Visa Number, the system will not recognize it.
It doesn’t matter how far up the chain you go. I escalated it from a customer service representative to the supervisor of the customer service department to the manager-on-duty of the store, and not a single one would so much as make any effort to find a way around The Rule. Whether or not their system is set up to be tied-in directly to the government’s database of Alien Resident Cardholders – which I sincerely doubt – the fact remains that my passport number should not simply be sufficient in itself, but would become a valid ten-digit number by simply adding a zero to the beginning of it, something they were unwilling to even try (probably because they knew it would work).
Beyond that, it begs the very simple question: why do I have to be a resident of Taiwan to take advantage of Carrefour’s discount program? Why is it that a foreign company in Taiwan has a policy that is hostile to foreigners? Beyond the hypocrisy, there lies the absurdity, as there is no risk whatsoever associated with giving out a discount card – if anything, it’s of a greater advantage to Carrefour, as they can better track purchases and the visitor is unlikely to gain enough discount points for it to cost Carrefour anything. How does it possibly behoove Carrefour, as a corporation, to deny their services to a percentage of a population they want to do business with? All it creates is foreign hostility being returned in Carrefour’s direction. And since many foreigners come in-contact with Taiwanese people, who are interested in foreign perceptions and desires (to the point of noticeably inspecting foreigners’ shopping carts to see what foreigners buy), this perception of Carrefour will inevitably effect more than just the foreign community in Taiwan.
For no apparent reason, as it could not possibly harm Carrefour to give out a discount card to anyone who wants one, Carrefour Taiwan has made a conscious choice to alienate the aliens. It is unfortunate, as Carrefour is a fine store in many respects. At the same time, the Carrefour on WenXin Road (家樂福) is universally-favored over the Carrefour on DaDun Street (大墩路), despite their being only a few blocks from each other. It isn’t simply the size of the WenXin Carrefour – it is the sheer incompetence exhibited by the DaDun staff. Their cashiers are slower – their employees are less-helpful – their whole store is a mess of inconvenience. I watched two registers get counted-out at 5pm, somehow requiring seven employees, leaving only two open registers with lines backed up so far they had to bend around the produce section, and my only thought was, “Not this, again!” It’s inept to the point of being absurd. If it wasn’t so consistently annoying, it would be funny.
I can only hope this reaches someone with some power over Taiwanese Carrefour policy. Please feel free to respond with any explanation whatsoever.
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