A scholar from Germany whom I met in the early 80s in Taiwan once made an interesting cultural comparison that came back to me recently. She was talking about the eventual disposition of certificates, like those issued at the end of academic study programs. She said that in her (admittedly limited) experience, Taiwanese people would frame diplomas and hang them on the wall of their living rooms. Americans would do the same thing, but hang them in their offices. The British, she said, would file them in a drawer, and Germans would lose them. 

Of course, like all such comparisons, this was more a “truism” than a truth. And, of course, it was arranged to make one’s own group come out as the most noble. But it came back to me when, a week or so ago, I attended training to become an election inspector in the State of Michigan. Before being allowed to work at the polls for the presidential primary election (conducted on March 10), I had to attend a 3-hour training session, most of the content of which was given to participants in a handbook.  This was for the purpose of certification. Though I’ve seen no certificate, I must now be qualified, because my name was on the list when I reported for work early that morning. 


Way back in 1976, when I first arrived in Taiwan and was teaching in a 6-week residential program for university students, I was surprised at the end of things to be signing “certificates of completion” for a privately, and not very professionally, run course. When I took up permanent residence in 1982 I began, as well, to begin collecting these pieces of paper, sometimes even presented in frames, for things I had done. Eventually just out of interest I began throwing them into a folder (instead of into the trash) which I cleaned out and tossed when I retired and departed Taiwan in 2018. I had laminated certificates from universities where I’d attended some sort of 3-hour cultural program on holiday foods. I had framed certificates from being a judge in a children’s speech contest in a little country town. I had blood donation certificates, and on and on. 

Now I’m a certified election inspector in the State of Michigan. There must be a record of that in someone’s computer, and the sign-in sheet to which I affixed my name at the door when I went in is likely filed in some archives. But as for a piece of paper, I’ve nothing. I wonder, am I ahead or behind?

David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan. 

%d bloggers like this: