Talk about culture shock.
I had read all the information I could - Lonely Planet, Wikitravel, forums, etc. my students had told me about their visits. I heeded warnings about language barriers and made sure I was prepared for everything I could conceive.
One thing I didn't consider was manners.
I lived in America for almost all of my life, but I had traveled to Europe and met people from all over the world. I've lived in Japan for six months and figured the rest of Asia would be about the same, in most respects.
A culture steeped in tradition and respect, a push for high education and a hive mentality. That's a small part of what I've seen in Japan.
But Chinese/Taiwanese people are nothing like this.
I don't mean the people of Taiwan are dumb, unreligious savages. But there is a serious lack of manners that is hard to ignore.
People push and shove to get through a crowd. They don't say anything, so I know they aren't saying a Chinese form of the phrase "excuse me" or "I'm sorry". In fact, in the Taiwan guide book I was looking at (Lonely Planet I think) there were no translations for these words. There's no remorse for disturbing others.
Along the same lines, people stop and block narrow sidewalks or passageways. At an intersection in a night market, a couple stopped to ponder which way to go... right in the middle of the intersection so nobody could get through. People walk down the middle of the path slowly, spread out wide in groups. (Sure they do that in America too, but not as much in crowded areas). Just you try walking through a convenience store with narrow aisles. People don't make way. Maybe that's why everyone just pushes through, since nobody makes way anyway.
Are you trying to take a picture? You'll probably have a Taiwanese or Chinese person in your way. They may literally look right at you and see you're trying to take a picture exactly where they're standing, but they won't move out of common courtesy. The same goes for looking in stores.
People cut in line. Like, you're in line and then they're all of a sudden in front of you, like they have a right to do that. I told you about one incident that happened at Taipei 101, but it happened a few more times too. At vending machines, convenience stores, everywhere. I was next in line to buy a single item at the convenience store, when a guy literally walked right up in front of me, and when the next register opened, tried to go ahead of me. I had to shove my item into the clerk's hand and say "I was next".
People spit. On the street, in the subway, everywhere. Gross.
And they smoke without concern to others around them. Walking with cigarettes, or standing in major crowded areas, or in front of doors to businesses. I was resting at a temple yesterday afternoon, and guys who sat down on either side of me were puffing away, no concern for me. In fact, I ended up with cigarette ash on me!
Motorbikes are everywhere, but that means they're parked all over the sidewalks. And sometimes driven on the sidewalks or the wrong way down the street.
People burp and fart audibly without modesty. I was on a train early in my trip, and heard a nearby passenger let out a fart. And several times I've heard men burping.
And speaking of men, do they not wash their feet? I never noticed women's feet but I certainly saw nasty, nasty looking toenails. Yellow or brown, needing to be cut, and jus disgusting.
Now not everybody is rude, dirty, and has no manners. Shop clerks always say thank you when buying something, and some of the people I had a chance to talk with we're friendly (see yesterday's post about the junior high girl looking for some conversation). But to travelers to Taiwan, be warned: people there are completely different from western culture or the Japanese. And now I see why the Japanese don't consider themselves to be Asian.
Don't think I had a horrible time on my trip. People in Taiwan are generally more sophisticated and more in touch with politeness, and even with the rudeness, grossness, and general incivility I witnessed I really had a great time. I just felt it is important to make these impressions made, so others can mentally prepare themselves for the trip. (And I was told by one Taiwanese person that mainland Chinese are even ruder.)