Cute Taiwan – 可愛的台灣 (Kě’ài de táiwān)

One aspect of Taiwanese culture that I like very much is that many things are designed in a cute way. From the warning signs in the subway to the so often used line stickers (similar to whatsapp gifs), something that is cute seems to be of value to society. Even in more formal group chats (e.g. seminar group chats in which professors also participate) it is quite normal to send cute line stickers.

Chatgroup with our professor. She shared a file with us. Hence, the stickers as a reply.

While I quickly noticed that many things are designed in a pretty way, it was only during my first mandarin lesson that I understood how important the word cute was: It was among the first adjectives we were told to memorize.

Many things in everyday life are cute. While it may be common in many countries for shop signs to be somewhat pretty, in Taiwan even some government-provided warning signs are peppered with cute illustrations.

It seems to me that things gain in value and become more interesting when they are designed in a cute way. Since it looks like “cute” is considered good/desirable from both an official/public and personal point of view, I still discover new ways in which people make life cuter. Just recently, when I asked a friend why many people end their news with “~” instead of “.”, I was told that this would make the news cuter~

What I find very interesting is the fact that even the (spoken) language has been shaped to be cuter. While Mandarin is known to be a rather rough language, Mandarin spoken by Taiwanese is much softer and more tonal than Mandarin spoken by Chinese. And yes, after spending two months here, I can hear the difference most of the time.

As a Swiss, it never occurred to me that cuteness was an aspect that could (should) be added to everyday life.

It is also quite common for people to repeat words (mainly verbs) to emphasize and make the language cuter.

However, my all-time favorite example of how cute language can be is saying goodbye to each other. While Chinese Mandarin speakers would normally say 再見 (Zàijiàn), Taiwanese will usually say 掰掰 (Bāi bāi) while shaking their hands (in a cute way).

Of course, before I realized how present the cuteness factor is in everyday life, I couldn’t react at all. But after I had learned the word 可愛(Kě’ài) I was very quick not only to recognize the cuteness pervading all aspects of day to day life, but also at putting that cuteness into practice myself. I quickly got used to contributing to the common cuteness since I think that this cuteness makes life more fun. 

Hence by now I have not only mastered the art of sending cute stickers via line, but also saying 掰掰 (Bāi bāi) in a friendly and cute way. 

Currently I am working on using ‘~’ instead of  ‘.’, but as with all the cultural habits, it takes some time to assimilate~

As far as I understand Swiss culture, it is of no great importance neither to the public nor the individual if something is cute or beautiful. From my point of view, this can (partly) be explained by Switzerland’s functionality: The way I perceive Swiss culture, it is defined by its effectiveness. Building mostly are grey, warnings and sign are usually very straight forward (mostly pictograms as far as I remember) and shops should be efficient.

I also think this essentially has something to do with different values and perceptions of how to spend money (wisely). I think that people in Switzerland are less willing to spend money on buying fancy things or spending time to add a pinch of cuteness here and there in everyday life than people in Taiwan are. The way I see it, the Swiss need greater financial security to feel safe and comfortable.

As a Swiss, it never occurred to me that cuteness was an aspect that could (should) be added to everyday life. But having experienced the joy of living in 可愛的台灣 (Kě’ài de táiwān), I think that this is a cultural practice I will stick to when I return to Switzerland.

Keeping life as cute as possible simply adds juice to the (at times perceived) bitterness of life. Perhaps I can even improve the joy of living of my fellow human beings, while sharing some cute stickers/ GIFS or emojis~

In the end: Why should we all pretend that life is hard and bitter, when we can make it juicier and more interesting, one cute word/ image/ sticker at a time?

Moris Steiner

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