TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – A new BBC Travel report calls Taiwan the “island that never stops apologizing.”
The BBC report, published Nov. 1, provides an introduction to Taiwan's “apology culture” and the ubiquitous use of the phrase “buhaoyisi” 不好意思 in the country.
Referencing the Japanese colonial period and Japan’s similar “sumimasen” apology culture, along with Confucian precepts on social harmony and respect for others, the piece suggests that in Taiwan “preserving social cohesion at all costs is the bedrock of Taiwan’s social morality.”
In order to preserve social cohesion, people in Taiwan are accustomed to apologizing profusely to avoid disputes, and to ameliorate potential offenses or inconvenient impositions, often even before any offense has been made.
As the BBC article points out, the term “buhaoyisi” possesses quite a few permutations of meaning beyond the English term “sorry,” with a literal translation of “bad meaning” or “bad feeling.”
A professor from National Taiwan University’s Chinese Language division suggests that translating the phrase into other languages is very difficult. From the article:
“The Western notion of 'sorry' is far too limited to express all the social graces and good form that weigh down on this loaded expression; buhaoyisi can also be a feeling, a sensation, a code of conduct and a whole system of thought that permeates Taiwanese culture.”
“Buhaoyisi” is employed in a very diverse number of situations, in the manner of a simple “excuse me,” to a genuine heartfelt apology for wrongdoing, and even to express or recognize a sense of embarrassment or awkwardness in a conversation or situation.
A Professor at Brooklyn College City University of New York, Chia-ju Chang (張嘉如) is quoted in the article.
“We use it all the time as Taiwan is a verbally polite culture. So, we use it when we interrupt people or asking of a favor. We can even use it to start a conversation.”
The use of the term in Taiwan surpasses its use in countries like China or Malaysia, which reveals the “unparalleled politeness” and layers of “modesty and shyness” within Taiwanese culture, according to the report.
The article also suggests that the tendency towards excessive politeness and modesty is an aspect of traditional culture and the concept of “face,”which is an awareness and respect for promoting a positive social image of oneself and others.
This aspect of the country’s culture is reflected in the fact that Expat Insider surveys consistently rank Taiwan as one of the friendliest nations on earth.
The full BBC article “The island that never stops apologizing,” can be read here.
Family visiting a temple (Image from Unsplash user Demi He)