English letters in foreign setting

Hold on

Hold on

Becky Husky

I’d expected to leave English behind when I left America. Instead, I found it abroad.

When visiting a foreign country, the primary concern is generally that of a language barrier. But, for an English speaker staying in Taiwan, I’ve learned that it’s not always an issue. I suppose I had expected everything to be written in Chinese and that my Chinese-English dictionary would be my means of survival. But, as I walk down the main street in Yanshuei, I see English everywhere. The menu at the local coffee shop is written in both Chinese and English and it even offers “Americano” coffee.

I’m no longer surprised to see kids walking around in shirts with English lettering. Students on campus often sport shirts bearing such band names as “Nirvana” or some sort of catchy phrase. I’ve even seen shirts with random English swear words splashed across the front and wonder if the person wearing it knows what it means.

Nearly anything I buy has English written somewhere on the packaging – so there aren’t any surprises when I open it at home. Shopping at the local Carrefour feels like a visit to the Wal-Mart in Joplin. Aisle markers let me know where I can find shampoo or cereal and English labels let me peruse without looking like a helpless foreigner.

During my first trip on the MRT in Kaohsiung, I was worried about getting lost. And considering the minimal time given for entering and exiting the train while attempting to fight through a horde of fellow passengers, that’s definitely a possibility. But, as I took my seat and the train shot off, I saw that a screen with scrolling text announced each arrival in a language I could read: English. Furthermore, each MRT station offered directional signs for travelers like myself, and so I quickly learned that getting lost isn’t too easy.

The interesting part of spotting English in an Asian culture is seeing it misused. I often find packaging with information written incorrectly and can’t help but smile when I do, because it’s just part of the experience.

Though it’s often a comfort and an advantage to spot my own language in a foreign setting, it’s also a disappointment at times. I wish I could my experience here could be a true submersion into the Taiwanese culture, without my own culture popping up everywhere. Also, when I go souvenir shopping, I’d prefer to buy things decorated in Chinese rather than English. After all, I have easy access to English at home, but Chinese decorated merchandise is harder to come by in Joplin.

I guess my family will just have to accept English adorned souvenirs. It’s the thought that counts.