Anarchy in the R.O.C
Generally when someone meets a new person from another country, the first thing they ask is ‘how do you say “hello” in your language?’ It’s a polite conversational starter as well as a comforting welcome for a stranger in a strange land. You think that hello, the easiest word in any language would be used more often, yet like “I love you” it’s often overlooked, underused and abused. Even in Hong Kong, a massive overpouplated place, the government has made PSA’s to encouge people to break out of their shell to be kinder.
In my life abroad ,Japan and in Taiwan, I have noticed that there is this strange affliction that only affects people who tend to come from western countries. Some call it Anthroplitis or Astrologitis. For the former, the symptoms are observation of the ants, or other things that are pertaining to the ground. The latter is observation of the current weather conditions or the status of the sun/moon. These symptoms are only exhibited in situations involving the oncoming of another foreigner on the street. I first encountered this in Japan.
Coming from Chicago, a rather friendly city, where you could actually count on having a conversation on the street, in the check out line, the bathroom, and depending on the part of city you were in a constant flurry of “good morning”. This behavior was really strange to me. I didn’t expect a stranger to go out of his/her way to say ‘hi’ yet; I found it rather flippant that one would actually go to lengths to avoid saying hello. I,mean, what did these other forgieners think I would do? Run up to them and hug them as if they were the first I’d see that day? Or maybe better yet, I would start an inccessant conversation about the weather. Discussing this with other foreigners who had been in Japan longer than me, there were several reasons. Some was that the person could be having a bad day. Another some foreigners are trying to distance themselves from other foreigners,i.e.going native. Or maybe the person just got off of work and was tired of talking, thus, they were zoning out. Lastly, was maybe they didn’t speak English.
With time, I learned not to take it as personal as I had originally done before. And even developed some of the symptoms myself.( I was more inclined to windowshoppingitis). By and By most foreigners were rather polite if they were caught and generally you could get a hello or what’s up occasionally.
Fast forward to Taiwan. Here is where I have seen the worst of the disease. I have actually seen people change direction or act as if they were to avoiding the plague. Even in 7-11 stores I have seen foreigners get out of line. Talk about strange behavior. When I have caught them in the act, I generally just burst out into laughter because it is rather comical that a foreigner would go to great lengths to avoid an act of kindness. Now, generally I have observed this with white males. I can always count on a ‘hello’ from a person of color, with the rare exception concerning American black males (but never got much hello’s from them in the states in mixed company situations. So, I’m not surprised at all) One could surmise that these males(and a lot of females at times) feel very insure in theirselves therefore can not express not cope with an act of generosity or that the need to lose oneself in the illusion of the Taiwanese/Chinese culture is so strong, that it could be a mental epidemic.
Living abroad is such a transitory situation. You can make really good friends, yet majority , unless they have married a local and you as well, tend to return to their respective ‘homes’. So the amount of emotional connecting is curtailed by such matters. I generally spend 99% of my time alone. And have so since living abroad. Sometimes it’s by choice and sometimes it’s because I’m in transitory period of making new friends. And many a day I could use a ‘hello’ so that I am reminded that I am apart of the human race.
I do miss Chicago’s friendliness, no matter how inauthentic it can be at times, it’s just common curiosity. This tends to leave everyone in a better place than before. God only knows, the current state of the world desperately needs to be in a better place. So, I have decided to take it upon myself to say hello to every foreigner I come across. I’m not doing this to be heroic or for a pat on the back. It’s just in my nature to be a little anarchist. So, I hope that a revolution starts and maybe give someone a better day.