Taiwanese Gestures

taiwan menu 2Let me wind back the clock to 2008, just after I had first arrived in Taiwan. I had learned enough of the language to understand about 35% or less of a menu, so that I could at least guess what kind of animal I was eating. A menu would have a bunch of items with characters I didn’t know, so I would order the “something something cow something noodle” and hope that it would come out of the kitchen with both beef and noodle (and not intestine, for example).


This was my usual method of deciding what to eat in Taiwan. I would always try to order what I could read the most of and say to the waiter in Chinese, even when I had no idea what I was asking for.

So one day, I was in a restaurant I had never been to, and I looked at the menu. “Ok,” I thought. “I can read that one.” (三杯雞販 or “three cup chicken rice”) It was all words I knew, but didn’t know what they meant exactly when they were together.

So there I was, proud at my ability to order a meal without having to point and say “那個” (“that one”). This time I had confidently ordered in a full sentence and sat there awaiting the look of understanding and nod from my waiter.

This was going to be a smooth and easy interaction, I was sure of it!

My confidence was short-lived. The waiter didn’t nod understandingly. He didn’t even really look at me. Instead, he just made this gesture:


We don’t really have this gesture in the United States, so I thought that must mean that he wanted me to pay.

“How much?” I asked.

To which he more urgently replied:

“Uh…So, how much is it?” I was confused now.

He looked very frustrated, and made the gesture even faster and said “沒有啦!” (Essentially, “we are out”.)

“Oh!” I thought. “Well why didn’t you just say so?” I thought.

Of course, he had said so. I just didn’t recognize the differences in gestures to understand him until much later. Instead, I ended up looking like the “dumb foreigner” and feeling embarrassed.

So I ended up ordering a “something something beef something rice” to go, which luckily turned out to have both beef and rice in it.

Then I hurried home to ask my Taiwanese friend to explain to me what had just happened.

Test Your Reading Comprehension

Question 1

When I ordered "three cup chicken rice," I thought the waiter would:

Question 2

What does this sentence mean? "My confidence was short-lived."

Question 3

What did I think the waiter's gesture meant?

Question 4

What did I do in the end? (Check all that apply.)

Question 5

What percentage of a menu could I read and understand?

Question 6

How would I choose an item off of a Taiwanese menu? (Check all that apply!)

Question 7

What does "wind back the clock to 2008" mean?


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