Photo: Edifice of Musée Picasso
Before going to France, I was working as a sales representative in a software company in Taiwan so I had lots of chances to work with international clients. I visited my partners in person or we met in some international information exhibitions, like Computex in Taipei or CeBIT in Germany. Of course, some of them came to my office in Taiwan to discuss our business project. However, our face-to-face meetings were not frequent. Skype and email were our main way of communication. For me, the connections among my clients and I were not so strong, and my understanding to them was not deep enough in terms of personal or cultural perspectives.
Not until I lived in France did I have a deeper understanding of many other nationalities. Although I encountered some foreign students while my first graduate studies in National Taiwan University, the number was limited. During my studies in Paris, there were almost twenty nationalities out of 54 classmates in our class. Also, I had my internship and job in a French company. We had many Asian colleagues in our office. My stay in Paris provided me an opportunity to get along with many foreigners, surprisingly many young Asian expatriates as well. The focus of the article will be my observations on the young Asians living in Paris.
There were not a few of my colleagues from South Korea in Paris. Before working them, my impressions on them were Gangnam Style and Girls’ Generation. Even though K-pop was so popular in Taiwan, my brain had not had any updates. After working with Koreans, I observed that they are very willing to share and help other Koreans. They are quite united in a foreign country. As westerns’ stereotype of Asians, Koreans often stay in their Korean circle in Paris. But, they are not away from French people. Their French competence is pretty good in average.
As one of the developed countries, South Korea embraces modern life and high salary. Nevertheless, they need to strive extremely hard for gaining a “good” social position. If they want to get a better salary, it is for sure to graduate from a renowned Korean university and then work for giant Korean companies, like Samsung or LG. In the preparation of their promising path, high school students go to the private educational institutions after school every day and afterwards go home at midnight. Once they succeed to study in a prominent university, it means that they get an entrance ticket to big Korean companies.
If you think that is the end, you are wrong. Working in a world-class company in Korean, it is very likely to work overtime and to sacrifice the life quality. Many young Koreans take the advantage of the gap year to postpone their start at work and travel around the world. They are clear that their future work life will be utterly stressful and they will be occupied and unavailable to family. Besides, graduation from an outstanding university abroad does not guarantee a good job any more because many Korean enterprises prefer their employees to be “disciplined” not to be critical. Obedient employees are more welcome in Korea and also in Taiwan. But, in contrast, candidates with an international diploma in Taiwan are still more likely to be hired than those with a domestic diploma when they have similar advantages. When I discuss with Koreans their future, they are not so optimistic. High life cost and pressure suffocate them. So, some of them would rather to stay in France despite of a job with a lower salary.
In Taiwan, it is often to hear that Chinese young people are like wolves. It means that Chinese are very aggressive. Once they aim the target, they will try their best to get it. Although I worked with Chinese before, I had not felt the same. My previous colleagues were from Chongqing. It is said that Chinese people from this region are not so ambitious and they want work-life balance. Life and food are very important in their lives. Therefore, some of my Chinese colleagues in Paris show me how wolf they are, which overturns my impression on them. They are super efficient to achieve the goal. They use their unique mobile application “wechat” to contact our Chinese partners and respond promptly. They also request our French colleagues to reply in a short time interval. If any slip, they become very bravely expressive of their unsatisfactory, which is different from the image of silent and polite Chinese students. An anxious mind can make the politeness upside down. Comparatively, Taiwanese are not so fearless and determined in execution. Behind the Chinese people is the booming economy. A stable environment makes Taiwanese slightly less aggressive.
Young Japanese and Taiwanese people share the same sense of loss to their future. Both of their parents’ generations were rich. Japanese acquired so many real estates in big cities, for instance, New York. Taiwanese stock market skyrocketed in that time. The older people worked hard and invested significantly. They earned much money. However, the young generation even work hard. They realize that it is impossible to gain more in turn. Although both of they are unsatisfied with their current situation, undoubtedly their lives are not so dreadful concerning quality and safety.
Based on my past experience, I already knew that Japanese are highly demanding. I thought that they have a high standard towards themselves but in in fact also towards people around them. Many Japanese mothers need to dress up well before bring their children to a park in the neighborhood. Housewives have to prepare good looking and tasty lunch boxes for their husband and children. Provided that they do not pay attention to their appearance to go outside or unable to make a good lunch box, they would be criticized and their children would face the peer pressure too.
I heard that Japanese normally have a pre-agreement (打ち合わせ/uchiawase). Everything will be decided before the real meeting. Participants talk to related people to reach agreement and the meeting is just a formal way to announce the results. In the real context, my Japanese colleague do not do in this way but immensely participate in the meeting. He might criticize or give opinions even to other market fellow. Products of other markets also represent the image of the market. He takes the responsibility to get involved. They are quite conscious of others’ behaviors and opinions.
In this article, my observations (from the viewpoints of a Taiwanese) on young East Asian expatriates in Paris from South Korea, Chinese and Japan are very subjective. You could not generalize every country’s young people in this way. For example, many of the young Chinese I met in Paris are from wealthy family. They are absolutely a part of Chinese. For certain, you can understand a part of each mentioned culture but not all of them.
Living in Paris for two years, Jerry Chen is currently back to Taiwan and focuses on writing articles.