Eastern Girls and Western Boys
Taiwanese girls and their Western (mostly white) boyfriends: A tricky subject that expats and Taiwanese can talk about endlessly.
On Twitter, someone recommended the website eRenlai, which describes itself as “an Asia-Pacific magazine of cultural, social and spiritual concerns”. I have not yet found the time to really dig into it, but I stumbled upon two videos I highly recommend for anyone interested in the dynamics of Taiwanese-Foreigner relationships and their perception by Taiwanese society.
Nationalism and girls who date foreigners
Some Taiwanese refer to local girls dating Western (i.e. white) foreigners as Xicanmei (西餐妹), literally “girls who like Western-style food.” (This video by rapper Dog-G is one example.) I have also heard the term “Potato Queen” (馬鈴薯皇后).
The subject of intercultural/interracial relationships is being discussed ad nauseam on sites like Forumosa.com and probably on a lot of Taiwanese forums as well.
My German blog entry about this subject: Sex, Lügen und Vorurteile
But I had not yet seen an attempt to give a voice to those who are directly affected by such terms – namely, Taiwanese girls dating Western guys. That is why this video is worth watching. (Click CC for English subtitles.)
The filmmakers interviewed five women. (And a Western guy, whose blurred-out statements do not add that much.)
Some statements I found interesting:
- “Dating a Westerner has nothing to do with him being white, but with culture.”
- “Some girls think foreigners are particularly exotic, just like some guys like girls with big breasts.”
- “Because their own political position is awkward, Taiwanese tend to project stereotypes on people from foreign countries. Like: French must be romantic. There is more space for your imagination than with a Taiwanese guy. With him, you know how he grew up. For a French guy, you can imagine a wonderful life for him, but maybe he is really ordinary and grew up next to some dreary fishing port.”
- “In Taiwan, the term ‘foreigners’ is always suggesting Westerners.”
- “For some girls, sleeping with a foreigner is like an achievement, she can brag about it.”
- “If the limits on immigration are loosened to much, Taiwanese culture could be invaded. There would be more and more Xicanmei, and Taiwanese guys would have a harder time finding a girlfriend.” (This is a statement I personally cannot agree with. Stop eating pizza and watching Hollywood movies if you are afraid of your culture being “invaded”.)
- “People may think because Taiwan is a weak country by international standards, girls stick to foreigners from countries perceived as being more powerful. It is pathetic that Taiwanese see themselves in this way.”
- “Our education tells us that foreign things are all great, that red wine is better than rice wine or Kaoliang. And you have to speak English to be international. Going to America or having a German boyfriend sound very special and cool.”
One of the authors working on this project elaborated on the eRenlai website:
The term (Xicanmei) always made struck me as over-emphasizing the difference between Taiwanese people (us) and Western foreigners (them). The fact that it refers almost exclusively to women suggests also that there is a male chauvinist implication behind the term – it functions to undermine the individuality and independence of women in the choices they make in their love lives, and sees these choices instead in terms of a failure to be patriotic and marry ‘into the tribe’ so to speak.
(Taiwanese men who date Western girls) are seen in a much more positive light than their female counterparts – and Western girls, it could be argued that Western girls are seen as status symbols – which feeds into the Nationalistic narrative from the other end. So essentially it’s the male voice from which value is derived – essentially translating to – ‘if she dates a foreigner – it’s a rejection of me, the Taiwanese male, therefore a rejection of Taiwan, – if I date a foreigner then it is an affirmation of me, a Taiwanese male, therefore an affirmation of Taiwan.’
(Emphasis is mine)
Xicanmei vs South-East Asian brides 西餐妺x東南亞外藉配偶
Another one of the eRenlai editors added his own thoughts on the matter. He comes up with some interesting observations as to how Taiwanese in general perceive and treat foreigners from other (poorer) Asian countries differently from Westerners. Being Taiwanese and male, he obviously does not fit the ‘male chauvinist’ pattern outlined above.
Some key statements:
- “Taiwanese like to think of themselves as very open-minded, but actually they are not. The society is conservative when it comes to accepting people from other countries. On the outside people are very open, but on the inside they have a strong opinion about race.”
- “On the one hand Taiwanese often criticize girls who are with Western men and try to assimilate Western culture. But the foreign (South-East Asian) girls who marry Taiwanese men and try to become a part of Taiwanese culture are also frowned upon by the same people.”
- “Some people belittle Asians and consider Westerners are better. That is just as loathsome.”
- “Filipinos often speak better English than Taiwanese people, but in Taiwan they are still expected to communicate in Chinese, different from Western foreigners.”
Over the last few years living in Taiwan, I have come to share many of these observations. But it feels good to see Taiwanese actually saying it out loud.
There are so many good things to be said about Taiwan’s society, and it has gone through such impressive developments, that I am quite confident: In a few years time, many of these problems will have been resolved.
What do you think? Will ‘Xicanmei’ become a term with positive connonations, or is already not that much of a problem?
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English posts you might want to have a look at:
- Cheap labor, no rights? Taiwan’s 2nd class foreigners
- Booth babes in Taiwan (videos): Good ole fun, or should we talk about it? 台灣的辣妹showgirls：有沒有問題？
- Taiwan’s new interior minister: Not your typical politician
- How Taipei citizens do not get a second forest park, but just another shopping mall
- Jingmei Prison shows how Taiwan does not deal with its past