The Culture of "Did you eat? " in "The Taiwan"

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By Joshua Dent

“Hi ______! (insert English name here) How are you today?”

NOTHING will KILL a conversation in an ESL classroom in Taiwan like the words “How are you?

I can almost guarantee that you will always get the same robotic response “I’m fine, and you?”

This is quite the difference from let’s say asking a 13 year old American ‘”valley girl” the same question.

I would imagine some 7th grade teachers probably avoid this question like the plague in fear of hearing about some girl’s shopping trip for an entire period of Chemistry class.


Trade “How are you?” for “Did you eat today?”
For my approximately 211 days of residency here in “The Taiwan,” I was desperately trying to find out why nobdoy would give you an honest response to this question.

I can’t tell you how many poor innocent children I wanted to shake the shit out of just to get another response besides “I’m fine.”

I just wanted to see some sign of life. I would have even taken a “Fuck You!”

I hope that I finally struck conversation gold this past weekend. A friend of mine explained to me that around dinner or lunch time it is much better to say “Did you eat today?”

Coming from a middle-class family in America who never once had to worry about food this was quite the suprise to hear. There also seems to be no shortage of food here either.

Apparently, this dates back to thousands of years ago when food wasn’t always an assumed reward or gift for a day’s work. I was also told that this is the ultimate way of showing that you care about the person.

One more reason for a very dry and monotone answer to this question exists.Reason #2 stems from the idea of always being humble. This works for if they are having a bad day or a good day. They don’t want to ruin your moment if they are having a bad day, and they certainly don’t want to rub it in your face if times are tough for you.

So, ESL teachers and Taiwan expats, give it a try if you don’t already know this information. I know for me I found this very helpful

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2 thoughts on “The Culture of "Did you eat? " in "The Taiwan"

    Jason in Taiwan, still. said:
    May 29, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Hey. Taught for 10+ years in the 'Wan and I'd like to encourage your blogging – let it allll out, big guy. Personally, I'm charmed a bit and your blog brings back some nostalgia for me from '99 when I was first starting. Ahhh, I'm Lau Gau. (Old Monkey) Anyway… If I may – your logic is a bit off when you compare "How are you?" to "Have you eaten?" here's why: "Ni how ma?" directly translates to "You ok ?" so they understand the concept perfectly but the answer "I'm fine thank you, and you?" makes more sense to them plus by now hopefully you've figured out that in the 50's the govt legislated the way English was to be taught: rote. So all your students try to dutifully memorize answers (as it's done in their language) so they can get "the good grades." Think of it like this: an entire country tries to learn English by memorizing the dialogue of a play, or more correctly the dialogues their government has sanctioned as being "correct" to be marked thusly and necessarily graded for their traditional Confucian examination system. Best advice I ever got from an veteran teacher was this: everybody needs at least six months to adjust personally to Taiwan, it's a special place. It is, but you've realized that by now. It takes longer if you are off on your own trying to bash through your functional illiteracy, your alienating loneliness, and constant belligerent frustration with and from the Taiwanese. But, it gets better. PS. second best advice? For men, the easiest way to learn the language is in bed… hahahahaha. Carpe diem.

    Joshua Dent said:
    May 30, 2013 at 1:17 am

    Thanks so much Jason for the insight! I never realized that "are you ok? " is the direct translation. It definitely makes a little more sense to me.I always welcome any advice from "The Taiwan" veterans. I just try to be as open-minded as possible while learning more and more about this special place. Some days are better than others for sure.It was also really nice to hear that it gives you a little bit of nostalgia.P.S.- I also know "the language exchange" ha!

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