Culture in Contrast: From America to Taiwan

When we travel abroad and encounter a different culture, our default reaction is to compare it to the culture we know. Jake is from a small town in Illinois, the following are some of his observations of everyday life in Taiwan:

There is a serious lack of garbage cans in Taiwan. Sometimes I have something I want to throw away, as people often do. In the United States you can find a garbage can just about anywhere, restaurants, classrooms, the library, on the bus, you name it. Here in Taiwan, there is apparently a much lower demand for trash receptacles, because I usually end up with garbage in my pocket.

I suppose the second cultural aspect works well in conjunction with the first. It is not uncommon to find a bathroom with no paper towels (and sometimes no toilet paper). It is however, common practice to carry your own toilet paper at all times, something I still struggle to remember. Now, I know what you’re thinking, they must have hand dyers, right? Not always, just use your pants. In writing this, I now realize that I have yet to closely observe the bathroom habits of any local Taiwanese, maybe they know something I don’t.

Brief aside: This is not meant to be an “everything I don’t like about Taiwan” kind of post. I don’t study sociology, so these are simply my opinions and experiences wrapped around daily observations, that I bring to you in contrast to an American culture and lifestyle. One is in no way better than the other, and I like Taiwan.

Another interesting note related to Taiwanese culture is an element I will describe as hygiene contradiction. I think this is best described through examples. “Squat toilets” are very popular here. I’m told they are considered cleaner because you don’t have to touch anything. (The squat toilets also have a foot pedal for flushing.) However, in the locker room you won’t find any benches, because it is more comfortable to sit on the floor. As a second example, everyone wears slippers in the home, because it keeps the floor clean. And don’t drink cold water, it isn’t good for you. In contrast, it is perfectly acceptable for everyone at the table to eat out of the same dish.

Much like many other cultures in the world ,the United States included, you will find that religion is deeply rooted within the Taiwanese way of life. Many practices and beliefs are molded around religion, the most prevalent being Buddhism. I feel it is important that I express my opinion on this topic in the same manner as the ones before it. While dancing around the threshold of what is appropriate in this context, I will say that not having personally prescribed to any religious devotions, these practices bother me no more or less than those common in the United States.

Now less about the practice, and more about the people. I find that Taiwanese people are, overall, much less aggressive than their American counterparts. There is a sort of passiveness, or reservation about them. I think this can be good or bad depending on the situation. That sense of calm and control, I believe, makes for a safer, more relaxed society. On the other hand, there are times when assertiveness and certain levels of aggression might be appropriate, but are lacking.

Upon further analysis of the Taiwanese people, I found there is a heightened sense of interdependence, in contrast to that of the United States. It is not uncommon to see college aged girls walking in the street linking arms with their friends, something you might only see from middle school girls in America. In conjunction with this, is an overall feeling of compassion and interconnectedness. Devotion to family and relationships are highly regarded and extremely important.

Culture shock? Well, not really. I don’t believe I ever experienced culture shock, at least not noticeably. I was mentally prepared for extreme change, and I had no preconceived notions, so for me there were no surprises.

One last thought I would like to share is that while there may be many small differences between cultures and people. I like to think that generally people and societies are, on many levels, very much alike. The people I encounter and befriend on a daily basis often remind me of those I know from home. People make the same jokes, experience the same emotions, and struggle with the same problems as you and I.

Submitted by Jake, Abroad101 Global Ambassador in Taiwan