Article #12 in the ESL Student Life Stories Project, by Mei from Taiwan, age 35.
Pedestrians First! The cars stop behind the white line whenever I cross the road here in Boston.
I am so surprised by the street action! I come from Taiwan, where drivers and passengers always contest each other.
Sometimes in Taiwan, a driver will curse at you if you don’t let his car pass. He will scream: “Hey, man! Where are your eyes?!”
But when I cross the road in Boston, I find that the drivers and I always stop at the same second. I want to let the car pass, and the driver also wants to let me cross. It’s embarrassing because we are both waiting!
Cultural differences show in every part of life. While studying English here in Boston, I live in my Taiwanese friend’s home. She married an American who she met on a bus while on vacation in the United States.
In my friend and her husband‘s house, we usually talk about the differences between Eastern and Western culture. I will give you three examples.
The first cultural difference is being on time. In Taiwan, some people don’t keep punctuality on their mind. When I go to the TLC language school here in Boston, however, I find teachers who are on time. Some teachers even get to the classroom earlier than their students! I am a Geography teacher in Taiwan, and in general, teachers in my country get to the classroom after the bell rings. My friend in Boston told me that being on time is very important in America.
Another example of our cultural differences is the living style. Americans like to do outside activities, and like to cook and plant. Everyone has his own hobby.
For example, my friend’s husband has talent in: making wine, playing music, cooking, and gardening.
In Taiwan, the lifestyle is more monotonous. People usually stay at home to watch TV, or they go to the office on holidays.
I once asked my younger sister, “What are your hobbies?”
She shook her head and replied, “I don’t know, I just like to watch TV, and go shopping. Are these my hobbies?”
The third difference is body language. When people in Taiwan are nervous, they often laugh to hide their uneasiness. But Americans would think this isn’t respectful.
My friend told me a true story about herself. When she was a first-year university student, she went to the U.S. and got a part-time job in a fast food store called McDonald’s. One day, she got in trouble because of cultural difference.
She made a mistake on a customer’s meal order. When the man complained about it, my friend was too nervous to speak English fluently. She could hardly say any words and so she just laughed.
The man saw her smiling face and became very angry. Then, he requested for the Manager of the store to deal with it.
My friend became scared. Finally, she apologized for her behavior, but the Manager didn’t understand.
In my culture, our body language doesn’t mean that someone laughs at the other one. It just shows someone doesn’t know how to respond.
It’s important to know the characteristics of each culture. Then you will be more comfortable living in other countries. Maybe, when I come back to Taiwan later, if I meet the drivers who howl at the passengers in Taipei, I will tell them, “Where are your eyes? Pedestrians First!“
Lillie’s Note: Having nearly been run over by motorcycles numerous times in Asia, I really relate to Mei’s great article! Please leave her a comment, stating your geographical location.