I come from Taiwan. Taiwan is well-known for its convenient life and 宵夜文化(culture of eating food at mid-night). For example, there are convenience stores that open 24/7 around each corner. Supermarkets also open every day. What’s more, there are Taiwanese night market, where you can find a lot of stand food until midnight.
As a Taiwanese, I relied on these mid-night foods to fill the emptiness of my stomach as well as my soul at midnight. Whenever I stayed up late for my exam or assignment, I could simply walk 200 meters to get something to eat at 1 a.m. As hot soup is my favorite type of Taiwanese food, I always got some soup in the convenience store to warm me up during the winter.
However, when I first came to Switzerland, I was shocked because all supermarkets close around 8 p.m., and they are closed on Sundays, which are strikingly different from the one in Taiwan. At first, I felt so helpless when I felt hungry in the dead of night with an empty refrigerator. What’s worse, soup is relatively rare to spot in Switzerland. To adapt to the life in Switzerland, I found an Asian market and filled my shelves with lots of instant noodles to prevent starvation at midnight. Moreover, I’ve learned how to cook by myself. This experience then motivates me to think about what cause these differences between Switzerland and Taiwan.
I found out that the reason why Taiwan has this “food at the midnight culture” is probably because most Taiwanese work until late at night. According to the statistics, Taiwan’s working hour ranked in the fourth place among 60 countries (2021 hours in 2021.) It’s pretty common for workers in Taiwan to work overtime. The same problems also exist for students. Students in Taiwan often study until midnight for exams or assignments. Therefore, eating something warm after work can be a relief for them.
Another reason contributing to the “food at midnight culture” in Taiwan is the cheap labor cost. Compared to other countries, Taiwan has a relatively low-price level as well as low salary. The minimum wage required by Taiwanese labor law is around 6 Swiss francs per hour (168 NTD). To conclude, it is the overtime working phenomenon as well as the cheap labor force that support so many 24/7 convenience stores in Taiwan.
Obviously, Switzerland is a totally different story. Swiss people focus more on work-life balance. Overtime working in Switzerland is rare to spot. The Swiss workers are entitled better working welfare with fewer working hours. Likewise, the labor force cost is much higher than the one in Taiwan. Therefore, it’s nearly impossible for suppliers to afford the long-running hour stores. To conclude, it’s impossible and obviously, there is no need for Switzerland to offer long-running hour stores.
Although Taiwan has been praised for its convenience and easily accessible food at midnight, what is behind it is a tragic story about overtime work with disproportionately low salaries Even though there exists some inconvenience in my life in Switzerland, at least I will get the welfare deserved as a worker in the future. Everything is a double-edged sword. This is the price we have to pay for sustaining a convenient life in Taiwan.
Yan Rong Chang 張晏榕