I should make it clear that I thought telling the “terrorist” joke was just stupidity, not a cultural difference. (The speaker spent a lot of his adolescence in the US, has worked all over the world, was telling us that in giving a speech, you need to know who your audience is – he really should have known better.) The cultural difference I mentioned is in the fact that no one else I talked to found the joke offensive either. The first person I asked is a male manager, a single guy probably in his late 30s who also spent his teen years n the US – he understood why I was annoyed but said that he hadn’t really thought about it at the time. At that point I wasn’t sure whether the difference was culture or gender, so I asked a woman in my group. She is highly intelligent, thoughtful, very competent, well traveled – she’s been to nearly as many US states as I have and has an aunt and a sister who live there. She didn’t find the joke offensive either, and she’s the one who said it was just meant to illustrate the importance of communication.
So that’s why I think not being annoyed by the stereotyping of wives as nagging shrews is a cultural difference. (Wives, in Taiwan, seem to have quite a lot of power and authority within the marriage – whar I see here is far different than what I hear from my Korean colleague, for example. It may be that they’re not annoyed by such jokes because they’re so confident the stereotype isn’t true.)
Out of curiosity, last night I recounted the whole story to the guys we went out to dinner with – two Americans and one Dutch guy. I thought I knew how the Americans would react but wasn’t sure about the Dutch. The Dutch man (maybe 40, married, small children) and the younger American (early 30s, has a Taiwanese girlfriend) reacted about as I’d expected: a grimace and the pained laugh you give when you do think a joke is sort of funny but you also either find it offensive yourself or know it will really bother other people. The other American (late forties, maybe, married) surprised me with the vehemence of his reaction: he went off on a short diatribe about how obnoxious the joke was and how he’d have expected better of the manager who told it.
Anyway, no real point here, but I didn’t want to give the impression that I think Taiwanese people go around telling sexist jokes all the time.