24 October, 2008

Vous être ou vous être pas?

"You Taiwanese (in Mandarin)?"

Without giving me a chance to reply, the neighborhood Chinese buffet owner was quick to launch into her thoughts about former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bien's corruption scandals. For 99.9% of the world who aren't keen on Taiwanese political news, the former head of the island's Democratic Progressive Party has been accused of all sorts of bad behavior while he served in office (like lining his own pockets and money laundering).

I'm getting off message here. What I'm trying to say is I'm confused.

When I'm in the United States and I speak with Chinese speakers, they hear my accent and assume that I'm from Taiwan. But in reality, I only have the accent because my parents speak Taiwanese Mandarin with me at home.

But when I am in Taiwan, I stick out like a sore thumb. I look like an American; I dress like an American; and I wait in line for services like I'm an American. I say my "thank yous" to shopkeepers and even acknowledge street vendors promoting their wares like I'm a polite gringo. Although my accent may disguise my nationality for a little while, locals find me out very quickly. For one I don't parler the newest cool street slangs like the local kids.

Sometimes the Taiwanese also accuse me to be a Singaporean. I guess it makes sense; I speak both English and Mandarin well enough and Singapore is one of the few places on Earth that considers both tongues their official language.

When I'm in Europe people assume I'm American because of my accent. I was once mistaken to be Japanese Peruvian when I was in the Chilean Patagonian town of Puerto Natales.

I don't know what I'm saying anymore. I just remember starting this entry because I'm really confused. Now I'm more confused.


Baino said...

Hi TCL. Thought I'd pop over for a 'squizz' I always admire people who can master more than one language! I'm hopeless. To answer your question, we speak English here as the official language but being so multicultural, there are many nationalities who preserve their language skills. There are many Hong Kong Chinese in my area which is great, means loads of decent Chinese groceries! I wouldn't know Mandarin from Taiwanese frankly although our Prime Minister speaks Mandarin fluently. Handy considering our trade dealings with China! Neat blog, I'll be back! Oh, I notice you already have Quickie on your blogroll. He'd be a handy contact for you in Buenos Aires. (However he's Irish .. .there's another accent to confuse you!)

TCL said...


Thanks for visiting and being my first follower!

Don't mind my idiotic question about languages in Oz. I was just being cheeky. Growing up playing rugby union got me pretty used to bantering with Aussies. But I was wondering if aborine languages are prominently used like Maori is in NZ.

Taiwanese is actually just a dialect of Chinese. Most Taiwanese had ancestors who came from southern Fukien Province and the two dialects are very similar. But formal education and business on the island are held in Mandarin. So most islanders are usually versed in both Taiwanese and Mandarin. I was just in Taiwan in September and ran into quite a few Aussie surfers at the shore.

I've heard about the Chinese in Oz. Particularly the quality of restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne. I can't wait to visit. Washington, DC is a culinary desert.

Thanks again for visiting and ciao! I've enjoyed reading your blog. Got to it through quickroute. It's always fascinating to hear the different English accents.

Baino said...

NO worries, I like slice of life blogs. Glad you found me. Haha . . .I gathered you had a bit more between the ears! Not much. There are over 200 aboriginal languages but it's a verbal history and only spoken in remote communities. I imagine similar to the native American languages.

TCL said...

It is. The tribal culture is fascinating in the States. Just like in Oz. One of my favorite books about Aussie aborigines is "Songlines" by Bruce Chatwin. The same writer also wrote about the Patagonia and got me to travel to the South of Chile and Argentina a few years ago.

germ said...

i never thought of you as a singaporean- the lack of the bad english! haha.

TCL said...

Hey germ!

Good to see you around. Glad we're keeping up the gossips since we parted in Taiwan. But I am impressed that you penetrated the great firewall of China. PRC censors aren't in the habit of permitting access to blogspot.com domains. Aren't you in Shenzhen?

You're right. I've yet to master Singlish and coffee in a plastic bag. I've got a date with you to settle that account right?

But believe or not, I actually got asked if I'm Singaporean in Taipei. Some Taiwanese shopkeeper was very curious about my accent when I spoke Mandarin to her. She said I sounded like a local but also seem like I'm from overseas. I gave her a guess and she took your fair island.