It’s not just the sociological issues or the political obnoxiousness, but the deep resentment they harbor for each other that hits you in the face like your first whiff of stinky tofu. After living in Taiwan for only a short time, it becomes clear to anyone who moves here that Taiwan has the worst culture many people will ever come across. And just like the stinky tofu, try as you may, it’s inescapable.
For the first few weeks you’re in Taiwan, you tend to notice how people are really friendly. Smiles given are frequently returned. Most Taiwanese people, as with most people everywhere, are happy and willing to help someone who is grateful to be a guest in their country. The chaos of an expat’s first few weeks in Taiwan flies by as you immerse yourself in your new environment.
Then there comes The Day. You’re walking down the street and you spot someone who looks just like the type of person you went to school with just a few months or years ago. You look at them, ready to give a head nod or a smile or finally, at long last, have a quick conversation with someone you can speak with in a normal cadence. Then they look at you.
Like they want to rip your face off.
For years, I’ve had new expats in Taiwan come to me and ask, “Why do foreigners here look so pissed off?” It’s a hard question to answer. After all, there can be so many reasons. Despite the idea that a move to Taiwan is the culmination of a lifetime of dreams, there are plenty of Western expats in Taiwan because they made the wrong choices in life. Some are saddled with crippling debt. Some are chronically unhappy people who, in a last ditch effort, chose to move to paradise to escape themselves.
But the truth is…it’s not any of that stuff. It’s really all about our insecurity as we continually adjust to a foreign culture, deluding ourselves into believing we’re sooo good at it. You will never meet a greater authority on Taiwanese culture than whatever expat you’re talking to at any given moment. Of course, the only one who buys the hype is the one doing the hyping. But we believe that we “get it.” We believe we belong here.
And then we see each other and that funk of stinky tofu we remember from the first few weeks of being here – the first time we saw another foreigner and they looked at us like they wanted to throw us into traffic – it oozes out of us as we realize we stick out just as much as the person we’re scowling at.
When insecurity finishes its feeding frenzy, anger and depression often fills the void. Ask most foreigners about other foreigners and the answer is consistently the same: foreigners in Taiwan seriously suck. We all have our reasons. Western guys hate Western girls because they’re not Asian girls. Western girls hate Western guys because Western guys like Asian girls.
We hate anyone doing better than we are, thinking the only way to make ourselves feel better about our shortcomings is to focus on someone else’s. We also happily and gratefully condescend to anyone doing worse than us. They all help us secure our delusion, taking comfort in how much better we are than what we invariably see as our competition.
No one expects these things when they imagine coming here. Obviously you don’t believe you’ll become best friends with every Westerner you meet…but you never expect to wind up at a pizza place full of expats thinking, “These are some of the most fucked people I have ever eavesdropped on.”
And that’s another one of those stinky tofu moments.
When did I become this way?
It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a mind grind. The hippie bullshit. The middle-aged adolescents. Jobs marketed as “easy” instead of “challenging,” leading to a complete drop in standards. We make friends of convenience. We have meaningless sex. We tell ourselves the greatest lie:
“I’m not like that.”
For all the dramatic changes in Taiwanese culture in the time I’ve been here, I can not say the same for the expat culture in Taiwan. In all fairness, this is the only place I’ve ever lived as an expat. Maybe it’s like this everywhere. A toxic waste dump of self-absorbed self-conscious self-righteous douchebags who…can’t stop judging each other.
Taiwan has the worst culture I’ve ever been a part of.
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