You know what annoys the crap out of me? People who meet a group of annoying individuals (or one obnoxious individual) and instead of just saying “boy, were they annoying” decide to blame culture. Like “I’ve met some really shallow chicks here who read nothing but fashion magazines and think about their appearance. Boy, are Taiwanese women shallow! Their culture really emphasizes being weak and shallow!” or “This guy made personal remarks about my appearance! Taiwanese men are so rude and sexist! Taiwanese culture is misogynist!”
I’m not naming names, but I’ve read a lot of blog posts like that by other expats since I arrived in Taiwan. As a person of Taiwanese descent with Taiwanese family, I find these association fallacies offensive and disheartening on a very personal level. As an expatriate, it just makes me want to bang my head over and over again against the edge of my desk.
For all its rewards, being an expat can be an extremely frustrating experience and I’m guilty of thinking many thoughts that start with the phrase “Taiwanese people/culture are so…” I also hear myself thinking things that begin with “white people in Taiwan are so…” or “other hua yi in Taiwan are so…” But I do my best not to cement my momentary frustrations and vapidity by slapping them on the Internet. There are some really great blogs out there (a small handful are on my links list to the right), but there is still a dearth of English-language writing on the Internet about Taiwan. You might think you are just keeping a little travelogue for your family and friends, but what you write really does leave an impression on the Web. Shu Flies is not widely read by any means, but I know that it pops up early in certain search results. I don’t want anyone stumbling upon my blog and leaving with an erroneous impression of Taiwanese culture — and people — just because I had a bad day and needed to vent. I don’t always succeed in this, but I am always conscious of it (and I also keep a personal diary to let off steam).
I am not saying that any culture is entirely free from faults, or that cultural relativism should be practiced to the point where things like institutionalized misogyny or racism are excused. What I am saying, however, is that if you are going to criticize a culture’s shortcomings, back your thesis up with real research and data. Don’t back it up with a handful of experiences you had due to your bad luck with friends or acquaintances.