“We only have cold water here, is that okay?”

On Feb. 4, 2015, Peggy, Little Rock and I traveled back to our home, Taipei, Taiwan for the first time since Little Rock was born.  It has been over three and half years since Peggy and I attended my sister’s wedding in 2011.

Three and half years, a fairly long period of time that I started to lose some memories and was anxious about this trip, not knowing what things I used to be extremely familiar would change.  Of course, some things never change (for example, the brotherhood and the “noodle garage” as shown in the featured picture, are still the best!)

At the baggage claim area of the TPE airport, Peggy asked an airport service person for direction for water, and his answer was “we only have cold water here, is that okay?”  I thought over this answer again and again, and found some interesting observations about the difference between Taiwanese and American cultures, some deep and some shallow, that I’d like to share.  Please feel free to comment below if you share similar/different thoughts 🙂

1. Water options

Note that the answer we got was “we only have cold water here …”, indicating that more options (e.g., warm and hot water) are normally available in Taiwan, a stark difference from most American airports where the only option is cold water.

2. Thinking logic

Another interesting thing was the answer we got versus the question we asked.  We asked for direction to get water and the answer we got was not as straight-forward as we thought.  This is another difference I realized recently: around-the-question thinking versus straight-forward thinking.  In Taiwan, people tend to think and answer around the question, not straight to the question.  For example, Peggy asked the question with Little Rock in her arm, and the person assumed that Peggy is asking for water for the baby.  Instead of giving direction for us to get to the water fountain, he asked another question.  One good thing about this is that, as the person who asked you normally can get more/better options than you asked for.  It gives people a warm and thoughtful feeling because whoever answers the question takes an extra step and provides more options for you to choose.

However, if you are clear about what you want when you asked the question, this way of thinking is inefficient, for instead of an answer straight to your question, you get more questions.  In addition, the long-term effect of this type of thinking is that people may not be able to ask the critical question or give effective answer because they are used to think around the question, not straight to the point.

On the contrary, from my 4+ years of observation in the U.S., Americans ask straight-forward questions and demand for straight-forward answers.  At the beginning, I feel less respected because I, without knowing it, did not think critically about what I really wanted as an answer when I asked the question and when I got the answer, I feel Americans are less thoughtful because I actually expected more options to be offered when I asked.

 

I am not trying to point out which culture is better, just want to point out the differences I noticed.  To me, the American way helps efficiently solve problems and move one; the Taiwanese way helps people become closer.

 

The story ends like this …

In fact, the person answered the question took another step further.  Instead of letting us walk all the way to the water fountain, he saw an attendant of the EVA Airlines and asked him to get us some water directly from their office right next to us.  Interestingly enough, that EVA person also asked if we want warm or hot water.  Very nice of them, isn’t it?

 

At that moment, I felt that I am home, a warm and sometimes hot home I almost forgot  🙂

 

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