Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Name Is Not "Foreign Lady"

I wrote this just to prove a point

You know how at Starbucks, if there is any sort of a wait or a few people waiting for drinks, they ask you for your name and call it out when your drink is ready? I don't know how common this is in the USA but it's standard practice in Taiwan. So you hear a lot of "陳小姐妳的咖啡好囉" ("Ms. Chen, your coffee is ready") or some such when Starbucks is busy.

Except I've noticed recently that they don't ask foreigners for their names - or at least they don't ask me. This isn't a language barrier, because I always order in Chinese and I know I'm perfectly understandable. Then, when the drink is ready, they may shout the name of the drink (OK, that's not too bad, it still means everyone but you gets personalized service but it's not actively offensive), but they're just as likely to shout "外國小姐妳的咖啡好囉" - "Hey Foreign Lady, your coffee is ready!" and on the cup you get a big F for foreigner, or a 外 (first character in the Chinese word for "foreigner", but it reads as "OTHER" or "OUTSIDER" when used on its own to identify someone).

I whined about this on Facebook, because I was feeling crabby and why not:

Screen shot 2012-12-12 at 下午1.17.06

...and learned from the many replies that I'm not the only one this has happened to, and it's also a problem for a friend currently in Nanjing.  Everyone who noted that it was a problem is a foreigner who speaks Chinese.

So my friend wrote this on the Starbucks Facebook page.  Now, Starbucks in Taiwan is owned by Uni-President (the same people who own 7-11 and I believe Cold Stone Creamery in Taiwan), and so a more directed complaint will probably be necessary, but it's a start and someone at HQ might notice and pass it on. If you feel you've been poorly treated at Starbucks in Taiwan, go ahead and leave a comment or "like" the post.

Clearly the baristas don't think we have Chinese names, and are afraid they won't understand/be able to spell or pronounce foreign surnames (I don't blame them for this, imagine if you were not a native speaker and asked someone for their last name while trying to ring up a line of people, and the answer was "Janusciewicz"). The thing is, almost every foreigner in Taiwan who speaks Chinese does have a Chinese surname. Some don't, but  they would at least have some sort of Chinese name. Even that dorky '80s kid with the awful hair in the old Shi-Da MTC videos has one. Mine, as you can see above, is Zhang.

There is really no reason not to ask a foreigner who clearly speaks Chinese what their name is, and treat them like everybody else. For foreigners who don't, ask for a first name or call out the drink name (first name is better - and many Taiwanese people, including most urban Taiwanese, have English first names so this shouldn't be hard).

For Starbucks prices, and for a company that is both an international chain and claims to pride itself on customer service, they can and should do better. There is no excuse for calling everybody else by name, and calling me (or another foreigner), Foreign Guy or Foreign Lady. It's not meant to be pejorative, I know, but it sure comes across that way.

As my husband noted, this only seems to happen at international chains. In local shops and holes in the wall,  you are pretty much always treated like a local. They may say something like "who ordered these noodles?" "The foreign guy", but for a local they just seize on some other obvious aspect of their appearance like "the lady with glasses" or "the fat one in the gray t-shirt". This isn't some deep-rooted unchangeable cultural more, it's a bad habit and it can and should cease.

What's more, you'd think that if you were going to be treated like a Weirdo Alien From Space, that'd happen in local joints, and you'd feel more at home in major international brand shops like Starbucks. Not the case at all - in fact, quite the opposite.

It kind of reminds me of a discussion I had on a Facebook post of another friend, on whether foreigners in Taiwan are made to feel like outsiders they way they often are in Japan (and China, as per my experience). She'd said that yes, that was the case. A specific example was that people would frequently say "You do/know _______ very well...for a foreigner". As in, "You speak Chinese very well - FOR A FOREIGNER", or that she always had to break in new neighbors when she moved so they'd treat her as a local, not an outsider.

I replied that no,  that may be the case for her but it was not for me. That people might compliment my Chinese but I never get "...for a foreigner" and every time I've moved I've been treated more or less like a local from Day 1. I haven't had such problems - people are more likely to assume I'm more local than I really am (I still get culture shock occasionally after all these years), and that  I'm not treated any differently by Taiwanese friends.

This incident, however, has reminded me that no matter how long I live here, whether or not I feel like a "local" or an "outsider" is not a constant, and never will be. It's a constantly changing feeling, pushed one way or another by these sorts of incidents. Neighbor chats with me just like she would anyone else, without even questioning whether I speak Chinese? Local. Barista says "HEY FOREIGN LADY"?  Outsider. It's a thing of constant flux, and there's nothing I can do about that.


Klaus said...

Cool, I agree. Guess I should start a Starbucks anti-paper/plastic cup campaign next. Badly needed.

One thing: Living in Taiwan, wouldn't it be more common to romanize your surname as Chang?

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

Yeah, it could be Chang - I don't care that much. I have a preference for Pinyin so I tend to stick with it (I also Romanize Taichung as Taizhong because that's what it sounds like when you say it) but if someone were to write my name as Chang, that'd be fine too.

Klaus said...

Hanyu Pinyin must be the best thing the PRC came up with ever.

Jenny Ling said...

Let me give you a hint, junior: You will always be a foreigner here, this is not America!

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

Yes, but it's still rude to call someone "foreign lady", in America as well as here. I have a name, regardless of my nationality and ethnicity. And your snotty comment implying my inferiority just because I am not Taiwanese says a lot about your character, again regardless of your nationality or ethnicity.