Dear Rosanne: My Taiwanese BF called me 'big nose'

Originally published in The China Post (but not online). Read more of Rosanne’s witty and hilarious columns for the culturally discombobulated on her new website:

Dear MeiGui;

My Taiwan boyfriend make a big mistake last night. He absentmindedly called me an “ato-ah” in the Taiwanese language while at my place. I mean, here he is in my own home calling me a “big nose”! I do not call him unkind names like “slant eyes”; not even when we argue. I always call him Tony, his English name, and yet here he is calling me an “ato-ah”. Of course, we both laughed at his remark later, but really, why do Taiwanese people still refer to us big-noses as “big noses”?

Is this a holdover from Japanese colonial rule on Taiwan? Or does size really matter?

I told Tony if he ever calls me that word again, I will tell all my girlfriends how small his “nose” really is! Kidding of course, but you but you catch my drift. Taiwan should outlaw that word “ato-ah” in my humble big-nose opinion.
–Nose-Job Not Required, Planet Earth

Dear Nose-Job;
You have raised some very interesting issues here, as well as sending me on quite the research expedition.

My first discovery came from my Taiwanese-Mandarin dictionary. It defines “atoh-ah” as “Western Ghost” (洋鬼子) – similar to the offensive and deprecating Hong Kong term GweiLou (鬼佬). However, when I discussed this translation with my colleagues, they were affronted and didn’t believe it to be true. They claimed “ato-ah” was simply an old word for “waiguoren” (外國人). Even after I reminded them that the correct Taiwanese translation for foreigner is “goa-kok-lang”, they continued to insist that “ato-ah” was simply a different, and possibly older, translation of the word for foreigner.

Next, I visited a Taiwanese linguistics expert who told me that the correct translation of this word was “protruding-nose one” or “a-tu-zi” (阿凸仔) in Mandarin. She further informed me that there are other experts who link this term to the Mandarin character for “sharp” – “jian” (尖). I also stumbled across a Taiwanese-to-English interpretation of the term as “hook-nosed one”. At any rate, as with all things related to the Taiwanese language – and culture for that matter — there is no simple answer to this question.

I think “big-nose” is too simple a translation of the term. Here’s hoping your boyfriend really does have a big one!

— “Children are all foreigners.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Poet

Dear MeiGui;
I do business with a local man that the girls in my office call the Color Wolf. This guy always insists on holding our meetings in a “jiu dian” (酒店).

I tell you these places are bloody expensive. Last weekend, when we got together to discuss a deal, he order four bar girls to our table as soon as we walked into the place. These girls then ordered a never ending flow of beer and XO.

Next thing I know, this guy tells me he has to split, saying he had a “pressing” engagement with one of the girls. So I get stuck with the 50,000-plus NT dollar tab.

What the heck should I do?
— Busted in SanChong

Dear Busted;
Does the word “sucker” mean anything to you?

— “I don’t get high, but sometimes I wish I did. That way, when I messed up in life I would have an excuse. But right now there’s no rehab for stupidity.” Chris Rock, American comedian


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