Fish Out of Water

I’m a “D” personality. According to The DISC personality test  “The D Personality Style tends to be direct and decisive, sometimes described as dominant.”

I grew up in an incredibly (loving, warm) conservative Christian home. One of the versus my mother spinned at me occasionally was Matthew 5:37. In the Message Version of the Bible it says, “And don’t say anything you don’t mean….Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.” Now, this is referring to religious practices, but I took this very literally: don’t exaggerate, be straight with people.

In college I had many different suitemates and roommates. I had a few *fun* relationships where I discovered what passive aggressiveness is. I was was appalled. It was so indirect and… hurtful? Like, why don’t we have a good enough relationship that you can just tell me you are upset, etc. I felt it a point of pride that, even having joined a sorority, I almost never engaged in passive aggressive behavior.

Then I moved to Asia.

The left text bubble would be how I communicate. The right text bubble would be how most of Asia communicates.


The communication styles here are distinctly indirect, and it is a “culture” thing. If you have a problem with me, you will never ever say it to my face. You will instead tell a coworker who will tell a coworker to tell a coworker who is close to me, who will tell me, that something is wrong. It’s about saving face, honor, and being polite.

Recently I went on a road trip with a co-worker. We had a great time. We had been planning it for months. When we first started talking about it, I suggest stopping for brunch on the way back to Taichung  at this fabulous restaurant. She said that would be great.

The topic came up of going to brunch at least two more times, and once at the beginning of the trip. Every time she said “Oh yes, sounds good, ” etc.

But on the way back to Taichung, I asked a question about the restaurant and she told me, “Oh, I don’t think we can go.”

So there I was, sort of fuming, because I had totally missed it.



All along, she had been saying yes because she was excited and wanted me to be excited but she never agreed with a time and place and therefore she didn’t actually agree to take me.

That’s the difference in communication. In the U.S. the preceding conversations would have indicated that we were definitely going. However,  in Taiwan people often say “Oh my gosh we should do so and so, we should really eat this or that place,” but they don’t mean it. It is coming from a place of politeness, but can be incredibly frustrating sometimes.

One of my biggest challenges here has been to pick up when someone is communicating with me indirectly, and then reacting to it appropriately. When I finally figured out that she had been indirectly telling me we wouldn’t be going by never allocating a certain time for us to go, I was so frustrated.  While I had finally figured out what was going on, I had no viable way to express my frustration to her. Furthermore, from her point of view, she did nothing wrong.

In the end I will need to sit down with her and explain why I was confused and what confused me so our relationship can deepen and improve.

But that’s hard, and that is just with one person. Almost every person here communicates like this. Sometimes I feel like a fish out of water.

Luckily, I have a wonderful coordinator who will listen and explain tough situations, and other program participants who I can rely on and vent to. Here’s to learning, even when it’s freaking hard.



2 thoughts on “Fish Out of Water

  1. Krissi Driver says:

    This is so rough. I’ve been in a similar position many times and, for me, it never gets any less frustrating. It happens at work A LOT. And I simply think to myself, “I know where this (often stupid) criticism is coming from. I know it’s not coming from the messenger. So why won’t you just tell me directly?! I’m sill going to be mad at YOU, not the person telling me…” Ugh. A vicious cycle. I can relate, girl! Kudos to you for explaining why you were frustrated and confused. That can also be a difficult conversation. 🙂

    • banksceleste says:

      Thanks, yah most of the time the indirect communication hasn’t come from a place of actual negativity, but I know it can still be tricky to maneuver and sometimes hurtful. Whew! what a learning experience.

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