Imagine some white guys in a fairly large U.S. city open a restaurant named “Mr. Taiwan Slant-Eyes Asian Cuisine.” And imagine that this restaurant specializes in distinctly Americanized dishes such as egg foo yong, fortune cookies, and California wraps. Now imagine the response. Isn’t this fun?
OK, now imagine a different situation: In Taiwan’s fifth-largest city some locals open a place specializing in Taiwanized Western food and dub their restaurant “Miss UK Cafe Pointy-Nose Foreign Food.”
As you’ve probably guessed, the second scenario is real. The “Miss UK Cafe ??? ????” (Miss UK Cafe a-tok-a yìguó m?ishí) recently opened not far from my apartment in Banqiao.
A-tok-a (???) is Taiwanese for “pointy nose” (i.e., Westerner), though perhaps the common translation of “big nose” conveys the spirit a little better. As Tempo Gain explains in the Forumosa thread on this word, “the initial ‘a’ often preceds names, and the final ‘a’ often is attached to nouns like the Mandarin ‘zi’ haizi, chezi, etc.”
Although most foreigners I know in Taiwan find the use of a-tok-a offensive to some degree, reactions are usually tempered by the knowledge that the word is very seldom used intentionally as a pejorative. It’s just the word most Hoklo speakers would use for “Westerner,” and they mean nothing bad by this and perhaps even see it as “cute” in a favorable way. So since I’m certain the restaurateurs didn’t intend any insult in choosing this name, I’m not going to carp about this any more than I already have — which is not to say that I will ever buy anything from that restaurant.
It’s still an interesting name, though. (Actually, this is probably two names: the standard one (??? ????), which is for most people, and the English one (Miss UK Cafe), which is probably there in an attempt to look modern/foreign/cool.)
For those keeping count, that’s three scripts and as many languages on just one sign.
- Miss UK Cafe: English, in the Roman alphabet
- ???: Taiwanese, in a mixed script of zhuyin (?) and Chinese characters
- ????: Mandarin, in Chinese characters
The mixing of scripts in “???” is representative of the sad fact that most people in Taiwan are unsure how to write Taiwanese. Here are some of the ways this word gets written, along with the number of Google results and Baidu results for that exact phrase.
- ??? Google 555 / Baidu doesn’t recognize the ?
- ??? 3,440 / Baidu 1,320
- ??? 6,730/ Baidu 13,400
- ??? 11,300 / Baidu 2,810
- ??? 12,500 / Baidu 24,700
- ??? 12,500 / Baidu 24,700 (Google and Baidu apparently refuse to differentiate ? and ?)
Also interesting is the use of yìguó (??) instead of the more common wàiguó (??), for “foreign.”
- “??” Google 1,510,000 / Baidu 14,700,000
- “??” Google 6,420,000 / Baidu 46,500,000
Yìguó m?ishí, however, is more common than wàiguó m?ishí.
- “????” Google 41,100 / Baidu 26,400
- “????” Google 114,000 / Baidu 152,000
This, I suspect, is because yìguó m?ishí “sounds fancier” because of how relatively common the word waiguo is.