When I arrived in Taiwan for my “year” of teaching and travelling, the man who picked me up at the airport told me something that would become one of the most important lessons that I would learn while living here:
No matter how long you stay or what you choose to do, your reputation will either make or break you.
The advice he gave was probably more of a warning as he knew full well that the atmosphere in the workplace was going to be very “foreign” for an expat and that if I were to mess up at work or in my personal life, the entire company would know.
I remember quite clearly my first experience with workplace gossip - I had been here for a few months and had started dating a coworker who happened to be doing her masters degree in Teaching Chinese.
Not long after we had started dating though she was held back by a manager who asked her if we had ever kissed while at work.
It was something that never happened and after explaining the impossibility of such a thing to the manager she was told: "Don’t tell Josh about this. He won’t be happy".
Unfortunately for the manager I was waiting outside and when my girlfriend came out she looked really mad. After a bit of prodding she told me what had happened.
Like the manager thought, I was really irritated that someone would make up a story like that and decided that I would confront the person who said it.
By doing so, I ended up making an enemy for life.
Since then there have been some pretty fantastic stories ranging from having several girlfriends (and boyfriends) at the same time as well as having an affinity for children and animals.
I do love my dog. He’s my bro. But its not that kind of love guys..............
Recently, my support for marriage equality legislation in Taiwan has created a bit of a target on my back for opportunistic people who spread it around town that I’m gay - as if there would be anything wrong with that.
Over the years I have come up with several ways to combat this - I rarely post anything of a personal nature on social media and I rarely talk about my personal life with others.
I’ve figured out that the less access people have to you, the less they can say about you.
While I’m open to sharing my own personal experiences with this type of behaviour, it seems like it has become an all-too-common complaint for expats who come to live in this beautiful country.
Facebook groups and expat message boards are full of threads asking and discussing how to deal with gossipy co-workers, friends, neighbours, etc.
Expats complain that they find it really difficult to become close with local people due to the fact that there’s always the fear that if you say something openly that it will be used against you in the future.
They also complain that friendships or relationships of any real substance are hard to come by because in a lot of cases there are preconceived notions of you as an expat that prevents people from really opening up or because they use these preconceptions to believe anything their hear about you.
So what is one to do to solve problems of this nature?
Should we get angry and confront people for spreading rumours? Or should we just ignore it and let them happily continue what they’re doing?
I don’t think there is any right answer in how to deal with this. I can't even say that the way I have dealt with it over the past few years by distancing myself is really the best answer.
I often wonder why people do it - What kind of satisfaction do people get when they spread rumours about others? Does it make them feel better about themselves? Does it fill a void in their own life to cause others unnecessary grief?
I'm not a psychologist. I'm sure there are much better minds than mine who have psychoanalyzed this type of behaviour..
The most frustrating part of all of this is that gossip causes others who have never even met you to have preconceived notions of you which prevents them from actually even bothering.
The problem I see with this is that when people form opinions of others without even making an attempt to understand that person, they are likely going to miss out on the chance of forming a life changing friendship.
I used to worry about this kind of thing - It bothered me that other people thought about me negatively due to some gossip that they’ve heard.
I’ve come to the conclusion though that if someone is going to form an opinion of me without ever meeting me or attempting to get to know me, then they are not worth the effort nor the headache that worrying about it causes.
All I can say is that each and every person on this planet should try their best to be compassionate, respectful, honest, helpful and friendly to others.
Real people will see these qualities and those are the people who are worthy of your friendship, your respect and your precious time.