Earlier, I wrote about how happy I was that my boss doesn’t have racist hiring practices (as nearly every boss I’ve met in Taiwan does). Far from the outpouring of, “that’s great!” comments that I was expecting, commenters generally attacked all kinds of side topics in my post. Nobody was impressed or even seemed to think it was good that he interviewed an American of Asian ancestry or that he was willing to hire black teachers, both of which are big no-nos at many schools on the island. One topic that came up was the fact that my boss won’t hire “fake ABCs”.

All over the greater China region, the term ABC means “American Born Chinese”. I’m not too fond of the term. First off, it implies that “Chinese” is a race, which it most definitely is not. Beyond that, the term is used to separate foreigners based on their ancestry. Can you imagine Germans calling me an “American Born German” and then not really considering me a “true foreigner” despite the fact that neither I nor my parents have ever set foot on German soil? Extending it a step further, can you imagine if the German government made special regulations so that “ABG”s could get residence and work visas more easily? I can’t; but in effect, this is what the Chinese do with the term “ABC”.

What’s a “fake ABC”? A fake ABC is a Chinese (in the case of my example, Taiwanese) person who studies abroad in America. After some period of time, this person returns home and tells everybody that he or she is an “ABC”. I’ve had a couple of co-workers at English schools of this type. One, who I’ll refer to as “Jenny”, was such an gutsy liar that it was shocking. She was barely comprehensible to me. Despite the fact that she had a large English vocabulary, nearly every sentence she uttered had both pronunciation and grammatical errors. When I asked her where she was from, she replied “I am come from Meesooree in Amereeka”. Sure enough, she had studied at a college in Missouri, come back and retroactively became an “ABC” in her own eyes. Her English was terrible, but since it was better than the boss’s, nobody else at work ever knew she was a fake. I think some of the local teachers (who earned half what she did) had their suspicions, though. I felt pretty conflicted about it at the time, since her kids and her boss were obviously getting ripped off. Not wanting to make any waves at the time, I kept my mouth shut.

The way I see it, the whole situation is caused by one critical problem. Way too many bosses who run English bŭxíbāns can’t speak English themselves. It’s for that reason alone that Fake ABCs able to pull it off at all. Since so many bosses are incapable of evaluating English abilities of their applicants, the only way they can be sure their employees can speak English well is to hire native speakers. Thus, ABC is a title that will get a teacher higher paying jobs, and some less scrupulous local people will start telling people they are from other countries.

The results of the “fake ABC” phenomenon are bad all around. Bosses get tricked, students get short-changed, and teachers willing to lie get higher paying jobs than their more honest peers. Worst of all, it makes it tougher for real ABCs to get jobs. My (Asian-looking) friend Jack, who is from the same state and attended the same college that I did back home, is constantly questioned by his students’ parents. Despite the fact that his English (and Chinese) skills are pretty much identical to mine, they’re worried that he’s a fake.

For the record, my boss would love to get employees like Jack. He just won’t hire people like Jenny.