When I first arrived to Taiwan I quickly learned there are three main ways to make new friends. Being a newcomer, my best option was to make friends via the Internet. So I put my feelers out on Couchsurfing, and started meeting up with people.
I moved to Taiwan to learn Chinese. So I was clear about that goal with the new friends I was making online and gravitated towards hanging out with Taiwanese people. I met a ton of great friends on that site, and a couple of duds.
One Taiwanese guy sent me a message and suggested we meet up for dinner. But what sounded like an invitation to meet up as friends turned into an awkward and annoying date!
At that time I had only been in Taiwan a couple of months, and was still trying to get my bearings on the basics of social interactions.
Aware of my American cultural filter, I was also trying to build a new frame of reference for Taiwanese social behaviors. I was curious and open to seeing things in a new way. But the only frame of reference I really had was my experience of living in the United States and Mexico. So it was only from that perspective that I could begin to compare and examine what began to unfold that evening.
This is the story:
The guy meets me at the MRT station and presents me with a single rose, dyed the most horrifying, unnatural royal blue, and covered in glitter. My inner-American takes this to be the first sign that the meet up could be a date. Flowers, especially roses, when given to a woman from a man for no occasion are unequivocally a romantic gesture.
I feel embarrassed to tote this hideous rose around, but of course I do, not wanting to appear ungrateful of this small and awkward gift. Because of the rose, I am now on high alert for other signs of his intentions.
We go to a vegetarian buffet at a shopping mall food court that he’s chosen. I am a little surprised when I get to the cashier and he makes no attempt to pay for my dinner. This, to my inner-American, is in conflict with the rose. Often on a first date, and especially if the guy gives you a rose, he will also pay for your dinner. I wonder if perhaps I had misinterpreted the rose. Maybe the rose doesn’t mean anything romantic in Taiwan? Maybe the rose was romantic, but Taiwanese routinely go Dutch? Maybe this guy is just a cheapskate? I have no way to know, lacking a cultural frame of reference.
During dinner, we talk about our lives and our hopes for the future. The conversation quickly turns into a battle as he argues with me about what I want in life. He tells me that I should be more practical, and that life is about sacrificing and making due with whatever situation you find yourself in. I am so hurt, angry and frustrated that I actually shed tears!
I think, “I just gave up my life in the United States to pursue learning Chinese, I am in this new country all alone, and I am getting verbally assaulted by this guy who isn’t even interested in understanding who I am or what matters to me in life. I have enough challenges and obstacles to deal with while trying to start a new life in a foreign country, I really don’t need friends who are combative and unwilling to encourage me.”
My inner-American starts to think this is definitely not a date. When a guy is interested in dating you, he shows interest in what you say. He doesn’t tear you down and oppose every idea, thought and wish that you confide. Certainly he isn’t showing that he wants to even be my friend or ally.
We go round and round and can’t seem to see eye to eye on anything.
We change topics and he discloses he only dates white women. To my inner-American this could mean one of two things. 1. He is indirectly expressing interest in me, since I fit into his dating preference category of white women (so unclassy!) Or, 2. He is disclosing this as just a friend, because obviously who would say that to their date?
I’m thinking it’s number 1 at this point, just based on a feeling I’m getting.
He tells me about his past girlfriends. He tells me “I will never date Taiwanese women again!” My inner-American recognizes that talking about past lovers on a first date is bad dating etiquette. So he either only wants to be friends, or he is failing miserably at dating, in the western sense of the word. I’m confused.
After dinner, we walk over to Eslite and browse around the bookshop. I am enjoying the opportunity to be completely surrounded by wall to wall Chinese books. Plus I love bookstores and libraries. So I am feeling a bit more relaxed after the confrontational dinner conversation.
Next thing I know, he is standing next to me, leaning in to kiss me! I step away and tell him “No!” and motion him away with my hand. Several minutes later he strikes with another attempt that I thwart. Now I’m getting angry. His intentions are made totally clear with this clumsy move that I interpret to be his misguided attempt at being direct, bold, and “western.”
At this point I decide to call it a night, and head back to the MRT, toss the rose in the trash and begin to reflect on what had transpired.
Needless to say, I never saw him again after that.
Subscribe to the blog and get new posts delivered to your inbox. Thanks for reading!