Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wasai--- What's in a name?

He looked miffed and rather discomfited. Had I said something wrong? Was my
Chinese bad? Was it that I was obviously a foreigner? All I had asked him was his name!
“It’s not important,” he replied stiffly, his voice almost inaudible through the loud thumping electronica that blasted through the dark pub in downtown Taipei. Baffled, I stuttered as I tried to forget the unexpected conversational speed bump and smooth over the awkwardness of the situation. Why was he there? Friend’s birthday party. How old was he? In his twenties. I quickly ran out of things to say and, crestfallen, turned away to rejoin my friends with whom I’d come to the loudly packed pub. That man hadn’t seemed to friendly. In fact, I was starting to wonder how people in Taiwan made new friends at all. The standard question that had served me so well back home—“So, what’s your name?”—seemed to have fallen disastrously flat.

Americans are mostly open and friendly people. Introductions often involve hand- shaking, sometimes even hugs, and a lot of small talk about names, occupations, hometowns, the weather, anything that keeps the conversation going. The first question I always ask—out of politeness, no less—is “What’s your name?” And I always, for better or worse, do my best to remember that name.

Taiwanese people are also friendly and open. However, as I later learned from a
Taiwanese friend, it’s usually a bad idea to start a conversation off by asking the other person’s name. It appears too forward, too invasive. A little time is needed—a little more friendly small talk—before names can be exchanged. And, after all the strange looks I’ve gotten for my American nosiness, I think it best to remember not just a new acquaintance’s name, but also not to ask for to quickly.

Submitted to Wasai Taiwan by: Jeffery Weng
(Taipei, Taiwan--- USA)

1 comment:

MJ Klein said...

that's a new one on me. Taiwanese love to give you their fake English name. weird.