Adventures in Internationalization

Chapter 1: Pepsi Please!

I love to travel to Asia. The people are so warm and thoughtful. For a few years, I visited an office in Taiwan about every 6 to 9 months. On my second visit, it made an impression on me that they remembered I like to drink Diet Pepsi. (Actually, it is called Pepsi Lite in Taiwan.)

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The first few years I traveled to Taiwan, the drink was not so easy to get. It wasn't available in vending machines. To get a can, I needed to leave the building and find a convenience store that carried it. In case you are wondering, why they would remember that about me, I never made a fuss over not having the drink. They are just thoughtful people.

So let me get to the story. I land in Taiwan in the afternoon and go to the office. The office administrator, greets me and tells me they remembered my affection for Pepsi Light, and she has put a 6 pack in the fridge just for me. Very thoughtful!.

I arrive the next morning for a 9am meeting with several engineers. They ask if I want tea or coffee before beginning. I reply, "Actually, I will take one of the Pepsi Lights from the fridge." The senior engineer says "If that's what your having, that's what I'll have.". The other engineers chime in with "Me too!". So 6 of us march off to the fridge, each grabbing a can, and return to the meeting room. I set up my laptop to project on a screen and the meeting begins.

Now, I probably cannot do justice to this scene: Try to picture the 5 skinny guys sitting at the meeting table. Their stomaches are used to tea in the early morning and not used to carbonation at any time of day. The other information I need to give you is that in many parts of Asia it is not impolite to belch. Ten minutes into the meeting, I am standing up at the head of the table, explaining something about whatever is on the screen, when someone belches on my left. No "excuse me" or "sorry". It's just out there. About 60 seconds later, another burp erupts from a different engineer, with the same lack of comment. I had known it was not impolite to burp, so I wasn't insulted. In fact, as burps start coming more frequently, it is all I could do not to break out laughing while I was speaking. No one is commenting or mentioning the belches, they are all listening intently (it seems to me).

I was reminded of the cartoon "Alice in Wonderland" and the scene at the Mad Hatter's party. Tea kettles and other devices were making lots of noises and whistle all around the party table. I am trying to continue speaking with a serious demeanor. Belch. Burp. Ripppp.

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