Fu Laoshi


Titles are very important in Taiwanese society. It is incredibly impolite to call someone by their given name, unless you are close friends or colleagues. Even then a nickname might be more common among friends and surname-plus-title among colleagues. Another option is to say the full name: surname + given name.

My Chinese name is Fu Ke-en (傅可恩). My efforts to get people to call me Ke-en generally fail. Generally, I end up getting called either Mr. Fu” (傅先生)or teacher Fu” (傅老師). The best I can do now that I am a college professor is to insist on the less formal teacher” as opposed to professor” (教授). So, that is how I normally introduce myself: teacher fu.”

Today, when a colleague introduced me to the owner of her favorite bubble tea stand, the owner asked me how she should address me. I replied, as usual, teacher Fu” (傅老師). To which she replied: Oh, Professor Fu. Too bad, you’ll never become a full professor!” The joke being that Professor Fu” sounds exactly like the term for associate professor” (副教授). That’s what you get for ordering bubble tea near a university!

Postscript: An interesting exception to the no given name” rule is among those with greater English proficiency. Such people will use adopted English names even among Chinese-speaking friends.

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