You mean, you have computers in Taiwan?


The wife of one of my relatives grew up in Taiwan and attended college in the United States. When she went home to Taiwan for the holidays, she would tell her classmates, “If you need to get in touch while I’m away, you can send me email.”

One of them asked her, “You mean, you have computers in Taiwan?”

(Hint: It’s the home of the world’s third largest PC manufacturer behind Dell and HP.)

One of her friends grew up in Japan. When she moved to the United States at around age twelve and was introduced to her new school, her classmates were excited to hear about what it’s like living in Japan. One of them asked her, “Do you have television in Japan?”

When I told this story, one of my colleagues added his own version: “When I came to the USA from England, an 11-year-old asked me if we had electricity there.”

Comments (40)
  1. patrick says:

    when i moved to new jersey from kansas, people literally did not believe i was born in dallas.  also, my sister was asked if we still had covered wagons, log cabins, and if we still fought the indians.

  2. mnemo says:

    When a friend went to student exchange in the US about 20 years ago, he was asked by someone standing beside his own BMW if they had cars in Germany …

  3. Joe Dietz says:

    My father when traveling on business to London in 1982 was attempting to tell about Mt. St. Helens erupting (we live ~80 miles from it).   Nobody seemed that interested.  He realized they thought this sort of thing happened all the time in ‘the west’.

  4. peterchen says:

    3rd hand story:

    around the late nineties, (former) east germans asked by (former) west germans: "Did you actually have refrigerators?"

    (no the ground holes we lived in were cold enough)


    I consider these things "mind jerks" – suddenly challenging something one never really thought about. I give people the benefit of doubt that once they would spend some time thinking about it, most of these lapses would not happen.

    travelling south america a lot, the typical "no thought prejudice" is: all covered by jungle, filled with snakes, spiders, bloodthirsty dictators and legions of pickpockets and daylight muggers living in huts. I now actively photograph thinkgs like bicycle lanes to have some arguments against :)

  5. Trevel says:

    Canada.

    Dogsleds.

  6. Mihai says:

    And I have heard an American telling the story of his vacation "we went to Europe, and it was actually quite civilized"

  7. The first time I visited the US (coming from Belgium. Not UK! see below why I insist), I spent a few days with some people I met in Wyoming.

    The first night, before the dinner, the woman told us "Sorry, do you know what pizza is?". Then during the conversation, her husband asked us if it wasn’t too difficult to drive on the right.

  8. Paperino says:

    As Italian a few years we got asked if there were color films in Italy (so these friends didn’t have to bring them from US during their trip) and if we had gasoline cars.

    We replied that we didn’t have film cameras yet and the most popular rides were still horse chariots.

    Go figure. :)

  9. Raymond Cyst says:

    travelling south america a lot, the typical

    "no thought prejudice" is: all covered by

    jungle, filled with snakes, spiders,

    bloodthirsty dictators and legions of

    pickpockets and daylight muggers living

    in huts.

    Yeah, how stereotypical!  Contrary to popular belief, very few pickpockets actually live in huts.

  10. takehiro says:

    I live in Japan.

    Occasionally when I visit the US, I am asked about samurai, ninja, and geisha… I usually respond that they are less common than seeing two cowboys dueling at high noon in Time Square.

  11. TraumaPony says:

    I live in Australia. I’m constantly asked if I have kangaroos for pets and if they’re in the city, etc…

  12. amin says:

    perhaps do not blame solely on the ill-informed and uneducated "school kids" – the relevant educational authorities in their respective counties/school districts should consider teaching world history, geography, etc etc, this would widen their horizon/perspectives on ‘truly world’ things, ot merely US-centric. tq

  13. AdamT says:

    I would have thought a better link for Electricity in England might have been:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Gilbert

    I find that usually, the misconception about England is that it is, in fact, a small village located in Western Europeland.

    “Oh, you’re from England?  I used to work with a guy from England – called John Brown, do you know him?”

    [I chose that link because it opens with “The Electricity Association closed its services on the 30th September 2003…” -Raymond]
  14. Ben says:

    When I was about 14 I visited the states and one of the kids at the hotel asked me if we had phones and televisions in Australia (this was 16 years ago).

    When I moved to Redmond 7 years ago the relocation people explained how to use an ATM card to me, and seemed surprised that I did not require instruction in this.

    The only thing that I can think of that created these opinions about Australia is Crocodile Dundee. :)

  15. Dave says:

    I live in Australia. I’m constantly asked if I have kangaroos

    for pets and if they’re in the city

    Of course there are no kangaroos in the cities! Everyone knows they get eaten by dropbears.

  16. Stephen Jones says:

    My sister-in-law used to take in language students as lodgers. Once she asked a Bahraini student "Do you have taxes in Bahrain?".

    "Of course we have taxis!" came back the reply, "Do you think we go everywhere by camel?"

  17. G says:

    I’m from India and I’ve heard this story about someone from Bangalore who visited the US on a project for his company’s client. He was asked if they rode elephants to work in India. He replied that they didn’t because there wasn’t enough parking space in the parking lots for elephants.

    I don’t know if that was an innocent question, but it’s about time some people grew up real quick.

  18. nah says:

    Do you mean you have computers and high speed internet in USA???

  19. DEngh says:

    My ex’s aunt had a personal check refused at Macys in Los Angeles because her address in Albuquerque, New Mexico "wasn’t in the United States and we don’t take foreign checks".  The schools here are so focused on teaching to the competency tests that they don’t actally teach much else.

  20. DEngh says:

    My ex’s aunt had a personal check refused at Macys in Los Angeles because her address in Albuquerque, New Mexico "wasn’t in the United States and we don’t take foreign checks".  The schools here are so focused on teaching to the competency tests that they don’t actally teach much else.

  21. Andrew says:

    Once I tried to buy some CD-Rs off eBay (they are badly overpriced here), and saw a nice offer from some Italian seller who proclaimed shipping to the whole EU but the cost had to be asked.

    OK, no problem, but the reply was "sorry but I don’t know any country called Latvia"

    It looks like EU accepted an imaginary country to enter the union.

  22. Wang-Lo says:

    "Do you mean you have computers and high speed internet in USA???"

    Well, yes, we do, but they are extremely primitive.  Our computers are locked down before delivery because Americans are forbidden by law operate fully functional machinery, and the local warlords still control all the cable and DSL connections to our tenement hovels.

    Fortunately the many RTPC (Root Technical Peace Corps) volunteers from Taiwan are helping to improve things here, although progress is greatly hindered by U.S. Congress ignorance and superstition.

    -Wang-Lo.

  23. Giulio says:

    OK, no problem, but the reply was "sorry but I don’t >know any country called Latvia"

    This is due to the fact that in Italy the name "Latvia" is never used, we call your country Lettonia. Chances are 99% of Italians never heard of the Latvia name.

    Unfortunately the words Latvia and Lettonia are different enough that you don’t easily associate them.

    I too had to check wikipedia because I was 90% sure it was Lettonia, but I doubted it might be Lituania.

    You see

    LAT v   IA

    LET ton IA

    LIT uan IA

    It’s not easy to pick the right one.

  24. Bor Onx says:

    I’m a white guy married to an Asian lady and I’ve  been asked whether it was even possible for us to have kids or whether our kids would be sterile, like a mule.

  25. Ken Larson says:

    I just got back from living in Germany for a few years.  Two questions I got were whether there was snow in Germany and whether there was Christmas.

  26. Dani says:

    When my father moved from Spain to Germany, someone asked him if people here still travel using elephants.

  27. Mark Brown says:

    My favourite variation on this is an American asking a person from the UK if they have BP over there…

  28. Andreas Krey says:

    You mean, you have a democratic government in the US?

    Well, the east germans (the people, not the government) in fact had a little problem deciding whether the stuff they say in western TV was for real or just good propaganda. The few who could travel there were either loyal party members or not allowed to return.

  29. "we went to Europe, and it was actually quite civilized"

    You hear this sort of comment from people who visit the US as well.  Probably because TV makes it clear that everyone is running around trying to shoot each other all of the time, that there is no natural/healthy food to be found, and that everyone is incredibly ignorant.

    Yet, overheard in Waitomo Caves* one day, an American accent, very loud: "Glow-worms?  I don’t see no glow-worms!  And what are all those funny little lights anyhoo?"

    *http://www.waitomo.com/waitomo-glowworm-caves.aspx

    Oh, and here in Canberra we DO have kangaroos in the city.  In one of my previous appointments they sat in the fields outside my office and I had to dodge them as I walked to the bus stop after work.

  30. Yury says:

    Interestingly, this attitude is 95% american. I’ve never heard Europeans asking "Do you have credit cards in Latvia?"

    I guess europeans, even if they don’t know anything, are afraid to seem stupid. So they won’t expose themselves this way.

  31. Yuri, this isn’t totally American. A teacher once asked the daughter of a friend of mine – "can you buy bananas in Moscow?" This was at a school in Oslo, and one would think that Moscow isn’t that  far away.

  32. Franklin Westenheimer III says:

    "Interestingly, this attitude is 95% american."

    Interestingly, bigoted arrogance is a trait of 95% of europeans.  The same made-up statistic applies to the trait of making a generalization based on "well I’ve never heard that happening, so it must never happen!"

  33. John C. says:

    This reminds me of the (in)famous BBC story about the Swiss spaghetti harvest:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/april/1/newsid_2819000/2819261.stm

    Of course, that was 50 years ago, but I still find it amusing…

  34. Matt N. says:

    When I was working in Latin America, people would ask me all the time how many guns I had, or how many cars I had.  "US Americans" are expected to be rich and/or violent.  And stupid, because they never quite understood that I could speak Spanish fluently.

    The best part was when drunk old men sitting out on the curb refused to talk to me because they thought that I was from the CIA.

    Ignorance is not reserved for any one populace.  Tourists and popular media tend to set the stereotypes for any one nation.  It’s the only part of the culture that gets exported to the world, really. If you really want to look and be smart, don’t ask Yes/No questions.  They’re very misleading.  Instead, give people a chance to explain themselves and their home in their own words.

  35. Xepol says:

    Always fun convincing Americans that we all live in igloos and have dog sled teams up here in Canada.

    Disturbing how often it works too.

    Of course, if you’ve ever watched "talking to americans" by Rick Mercer, you find out that it isn’t so much a matter of global ignorance, as ignorance in general as you can trick americans about themselves just as often.

  36. Gabe says:

    Wladimir, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to wonder if it’s possible to buy bananas in Moscow. If somebody asked "can you buy fruit in Moscow?", that would be a ridiculous question, but bananas are not at all obvious (as they might be in Quito, perhaps).

    For one thing, the question probably wasn’t meant to be "is it at all possible to purchase bananas while in Moscow", but more like "are bananas relatively easy to find in stores in Moscow". If bananas are not popular in Russian culture, it’s unlikely that stores would stock them, and they would not be easy to find.

    A similar question might be "do you have huge supermarkets in Moscow?" (Where ‘huge’ would be on the order of 1ha.) Afterall, Manhattan (New York City) doesn’t have them even though they’re popular all over the world.

    I was once derided for asking a Chinese friend if they have pumpkins in China. Considering that pumpkins primarily come from the Americas and are mostly used in pies and on Halloween, both largely originating in Western culture, it made perfect sense to ask if they have pumpkins.

  37. Harshdeep says:

    My ex’s aunt had a personal check refused at Macys in Los Angeles because her

    address in Albuquerque, New Mexico "wasn’t in the United States and we don’t

    take foreign checks".

    While at school in University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, a friend and I took a trip to LA and were asked, "What currency do they use in New Mexico?" While my friend tried to tell this person that we used the New Peso in New Mexico, I couldn’t help it and burst out laughing, spoiling the effect of my friend’s reply.

  38. Ian Argent says:

    My parents would constantly complain about the difficulties putting a call through from Panama City, Panama to Albuquerque, NM, US. It’s not just americans who can’t believe that New Mexico is part of the USA…

    (this was in the early ’80s, I’m not sure why they couldn’t direct-dial).

  39. David Walker says:

    When I lived in North Carolina, one of my acquaintances asked if we have swimming pools in New Mexico.  (For foreign readers and those who didn’t learn much in our public schools, New Mexico is one of the fifty states in the United States.)

    We replied that the stagecoach brings water through our town once a week.  (Hint:  Our "town" has 100,000 residents now.)

    I also went to a U.S. Post Office to mail a package from North Carolina to New Mexico, and the counter-person pulled out a foreign postage rate book to look up the postage.  (This was many years ago, before the U.S. Postal Service counters were as computerized as they are now.)

    We informed the U.S. Postal Service counter-person that New Mexico is not a foreign country.

  40. Eric says:

    I was forced to stop in the USA (New-York) a few months ago. I got a meal voucher. I asked for a grapefruit juice with the classic Hamburger (My first time there).

    The waiter kindly ask me if I know what a grapefruit juice is ? I said something like "yes I know". He very kindly make clear that this is not a grape juice. I feel the need to mention that I know that one is sour and the other sweet..

    The question make me feel uncomfortable, even if after all it was a kind question. Funny how sensitive we can be on this topic.

Comments are closed.