Sound Off! – Interruptions

At one time or another, everyone gets interrupted while speaking.  This is an annoyance that we must put up with in a free society.  Sometimes, people cannot hear you and they mistakenly start to speak over you because they didn’t hear you.  This, I can understand.  But, there is another type of interruption that I simply cannot tolerate.

It is the type of interruption that occurs because I am speaking a language that is not understood by the person who is interrupting.

I’ve been around people speaking foreign languages for most of my life.  I’ve understood from an early age that people who speak languages other than English are communicating nonetheless.  I’ve also developed the patience required to wait for a person to stop speaking before I speak, even if I do not understand what they are saying.  Even more patience is required if you are speaking through a translator.

Recently, I’ve found myself being interrupted more and more often by people who do not understand English.  For example I will be speaking with my wife in English while another person grows impatient and just starts talking to her in Chinese, right over me.  Normally I will cut that person off by saying (in Chinese) “Excuse me, but we were talking.”  Sometimes this makes the point, but I am appalled at the times it does not.  When people interrupt you on purpose, they are making a clear statement that they do not consider your conversation to be important.  In muli-language environments this happens all too frequently.  Just because someone is babbling on in (what sounds like to your ears) gibberish, we must be considerate and respectful of them.  So, while I am ranting about being interrupted myself, I take care to make sure that I do not do that to anyone else.  Sometimes though, a person may pause in conversation and we may mistakenly interpret that as a stop and end up talking over them as they resume.  All you can do is excuse yourself.

One of the most frustrating examples of what I am talking about often happens when my wife and I are engaged in our profession.  We will be at a factory discussing something with a Taiwanese boss who does not speak English.  Hui-chen is an excellent technical translater and since there are many points that I am able to make better in English, she and I will often speak in English during such meetings.  Usually I am making a point in response to a question or statement by the Taiwanese boss, and while in the midst of speaking, the boss will start a new line of conversation, completely ignoring the fact that I’m communicating with him and that he needs to shut the hell up and wait for me to finish.  I find this kind of interruption incomprehensible and very hard to recover from as it usually requires me to start over from the beginning.  But at least I know that the boss really isn’t interested in what I have to say, and that information is useful.

Please feel free to relate your own personal experiences with being interrupted as I’m sure we would all enjoying hearing them, as well as any practical suggestions on how to handle such situations.

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  1. I find that here in Taiwan, interrupting others seems to be ingrained in people from a very young age. It doesn’t even need to be when 2 different languages are being spoken – it happens regularly when 2 people are speaking and a third interrupts in the same language with something completely irrelevant.

    It annoys me a lot more when I see children do it, because I know they’re doing it because no one has ever taught them that it’s rude. It’s not the children that annoy me, it’s the parents and to a lesser extent, teachers, who have never taught their child basic manners and courtesy.

    cfimages’s last blog post..2008 CIHL Taipei Cup International Hockey Tournament – more photos

    1. cfimages » in my neighborhood, the local kids come over and interrupt the adults by yelling “Daddy” or “Mommy” as loud as they can. the adults always seemed surprised when i say stuff like “i’m talking with your Daddy, so please wait.” it’s as if that thought never occurred to them before. Craig, my mother would have slapped the taste out of my mouth if i interrupted her so rudely. so, yeah, i know just what you mean.

  2. MJ. Haoppens all the time here as well when us teachers will be talking in staff room about anyhting relating to classes, lesson or just in general and very often you will have a Thai teacher interupt you in mid speech and start speaking about something that doesn’t concern you.

    I remember a new teacher from America was really frustrated at this as he had only been here in Thailand and at our school for a few months when we were talking about a topic envolving our year 12 class and a Thai teacher walked in and started to speak to me at the same time he was.

    It was easy to see that he and I were talking but the Thai teacher just cut in with no “excuse me, I am sorry, just a minute” or anything like this. It wasn’t a one off thing but this particular teacher does it all the time.

    He just said “God damn it. You cannot do that shit! It is so rude. Don’t you have any manners”. The Thai teacher’s mouth hit the floor and I tried not to fall off my chair laughing.

    I can tell you now that the Thai teacher is much more polite now when interupting.

    Good post MJ.

    Brunty’s last blog post..Thailand. Opposite sex students cannot live together. Thai government department law.

    1. Brunty » as you know i’ve spent a lot of time in Thailand and yes, that happens regularly as even though Thais are “polite” it’s all a smoke screen. that kind of behavior only shows that the person is focused totally on themselves and isn’t thinking about anyone else for even one second. thanks for the story!

  3. MJ, I”m a very process-oriented person who also hates to get interrupted midway through. My take on this:

    Most folks in Taiwan run at a faster pace than we do. Also, as my Taiwanese friend Craig once put it when I was complaining about all sorts of daily affronts I was tired of dealing with: “You know True, a lot of Taiwanese just don’t get much of an education in the social graces. They simply don’t know how to interact politely with people, and are often nervous and awkward.” To wit, I don’t think there is a conscious decision to discount the importance of your conversation being made here. I think people just don’t realize what they are doing, and probably deserve a little forgiveness.

    Just a few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my daughter as we took a rest from our bike ride, and some yahoo I’d never met took it upon himself to butt into our conversation to ask me a bunch of personal questions. Ticked me off, and I was rude to the guy, who walked off with a goofy grin on his face, and probably no idea why I wasn’t happy to stop talking to my daughter and deal with him.

    Shoot, living in Taiwan, this country I enjoy so much, I feel irritated to no end from time to time. It’s normal. You’ll get past it. Either that, or you’ll have to educate these folks who interrupt you all of the time. And that takes more patience than just forgiving them.

    BTW, I send you a private message through the only way I could find on the site to contact you–Now Public, and I haven’t heard anything back from you. Is there an easier way to contact you?


    Truett Black’s last blog post..Culture Shock: ?Look at the foreigner!?

    1. Truett Black » your points are well taken. i agree that it’s not a purposeful attempt to mess with people; it’s just a lack of social graces. but still, there are things that shouldn’t be let to slide, such as that yahoo who interrupted you. i’ve often said “excuse me, i was talking to [him/her]” but that only makes the point about 50% of the time. but as you also pointed out, I love Taiwan so it’s just part of the Taiwan Experience. Thanks True!

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