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Nov 15, 2006

English as official language?

Farmers Branch council OKs illegal-immigration measures (Farmers Branch, TX)

Council Passes English Only Measure (Taneytown, MD)

These headlines are sad to me and make one cultural difference between the U.S. and Taiwan really stand out.
In the U.S., the right wing seems to have the following expectations:

  • adults moving to America should all learn English.
  • children of immigrants should enter English only education.
  • immigrants should basically culturally assimilate in terms of food and some habits, such as number of people living together and standards of politeness.

In contrast, in Taiwan, I am not expected to know Chinese (people are shocked if you do). I am not expected to like Chinese food. I am not expected know how to use chopsticks. I am not expected to know anything about culture-- people will automatically forgive me for doing something impolite just because I'm a foreigner. Even the police are willing to let foreigners go for driving without a license because its just too much trouble to deal with them.

And while these sorts of privilges are greater for Western foreigners, the whole tone of discussion is different. For example, many Asian foreigners such as Thai or Vietnamese marry Taiwanese here, and there is concern that their kids aren't learning enough Mandarin in school and are isolated. But the concern is entirely about them, the kids who are becoming socially isolated or not learning enough skills to do well in the future. There's no resentement about them taking away from Taiwan's culture or country.

Some of these points are related to an article I read in the weekly Taiwanease by a foreigner with similar experiences. But I think they bear repetition and emphasis at this time.

Why can't a country as huge as America, with an immigrant culture, be more tolerant about these things?




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