I’ve made my share of mistakes regarding etiquette in Taiwan. And I want to help prevent you from making the same mistakes.
To prepare you for social interactions in Taiwan, I’ll cover these situations:
Let’s become social butterflies.
Social Etiquette in Taiwan: Tips & Superstitions
Here are social tips you can use to become a socialite in Taiwan:
- Don’t express anger in public: you’ll lose face
- Tipping isn’t mandatory or expected
- * Avoid refusing gifts when possible
- ** Hail a cab or wave someone over with fingers turned downward
- Avoid comments or jokes about disasters or death
- Blinking or winking at someone is considered impolite
* If you’re not a smoker or drinker, tell the person offering you the gift that you don’t smoke. Or that your doctor said you can’t drink. Otherwise, refusing gifts will trigger the person to insist on you accepting said gift.
** Many Taiwanese may interpret waving someone down or hailing a taxi with upturned fingers as impolite.
Take superstitions into consideration doing anything. In most cases, people may think, “Oh, he’s just a foreigner. He doesn’t know.”
But you will want to consider respecting their traditions. I’ve written a separate guide on Taiwanese superstitions.
Regarding the comments about death and disasters, avoid them if possible. Some Taiwanese may believe the situation will happen if you bring it up. Most people I’ve talked to about both subjects appeared not to care.
Are you visiting Taiwan for business? You’ll need this next section.
Taiwan Business Etiquette: Greetings, Business Cards, & More
For business attire, you will want to dress business formally.
Instead of introducing yourself, wait for a third party to introduce you. If you’re meeting someone alone without representation, then ignore this tip.
After the initial introduction, use both hands to present your business card to your counterpart. Ensure the typeface faces in their direction.
When they pass off their business card, use both hands to grab it.
Don’t put it away yet.
Inspect the business card for several seconds. And avoid writing on it while you’re around your business counterpart.
Following these tips regarding business card etiquette shows that you value the professional relationship you’re developing.
The Taiwanese usually have a laid-back approach to meetings. In many circumstances, they won’t have a rigid structure.
Your actual meeting will vary. Listen to what your company says instead of a stranger on the internet.
During meetings or encounters, avoid saying anything that will embarrass the company. Doing so will cause the business associates to lose ‘face.’
‘Face’ plays an enormous role in Taiwan’s business atmosphere. It helps solidify reputations.
Losing face could negatively affect the business’s (and the counterpart’s) reputation.
If someone invites you to an event outside working hours, accept it. As this will help develop your professional relationship.
Developing professional relationships and friendships is known as ‘guanxi.’ This practice will help build a network in the business world.
If you must depart during a meal, do so during tea time. It’s the most appropriate time to leave.
Here are some quick tips to use when dealing with business in Taiwan:
- Punctuality is critical
- Drink alcohol if offered during a toast
- Ensure you have thorough knowledge when negotiating
- Don’t write people’s names in red ink: it signifies writing someone’s name in blood
Taiwanese are stingy when it comes to negotiation. Ensure you’ve done due diligence and researched the company, its products, and other information that could give you an edge.
When toasting in Taiwan, raise the glass with your right hand and say, “sweiyi” or “ganbay.”
The former means ‘as you please” in Mandarin. The latter translates to ’empty your glass.’
Speaking of dining.
Taiwan Dining Etiquette
If you decide to use chopsticks, keep 2 rules in mind.
Don’t plant them in a bowl of food. Upright chopsticks look like incense. Thus, it could bring bad luck to the restaurant you’re patronizing.
If you’re eating at a restaurant that provides chopstick rests, use them.
Avoid using chopsticks as drumsticks. It’s tempting, but considered rude.
And don’t use your silverware (and chopsticks) to grab food in the center of the table. For instance, DON’T use your chopsticks that touch meat to grab vegetarian foods.
When inviting people out to eat, you will need to pay the bill. If your guest wants to share it, insist a little bit.
When someone refills your glass at a table, it’s considered polite to tap your glass 3 times with your middle finger . I’ve never seen anyone do this. But I don’t usually watch people’s fingers.
When eating food, hold your bowl close to your face. It makes eating easier. And prevents chunks of your food from flying around the table.
Avoid drinking soup directly from a soup bowl. Use a soup spoon instead.
Hold the top and bottom of your bowl. Many consider it rude to hold bowls in other ways.
If you’re full and people insist you keep eating, tell them you’re full. Don’t be passive-aggressive about it. Otherwise, people will think you’re shy.
Now that you finish eating, you may have gifts to give.
Gift Giving Etiquette in Taiwan: Dos & Don’ts
Here are gifts to avoid giving people in Taiwan:
|Gift To Avoid||Symbolism|
|* Clock||The phrase “to give a clock” sounds similar to “attend a funeral”|
|Umbrella When First Meeting Someone||傘 (san) sounds like 散 (Sàn), which means “to separate”|
|Handkerchief||Signifies bringing someone misfortune; since handkerchiefs wipe tears|
|Scissors Or Knives||Symbolizes severing a relationship|
|White Flowers||Associated with death|
|** Gifts In 4s||4 is an unlucky number that sounds like “dead” in Mandarin Chinese|
|Shoes, Sandals, Slippers||You’re telling someone to “go away”|
|Pears Or Plums||In Mandarin, these fruits sound like the word for “leave”|
|Avoid Black & White Gift Wrap||Both colors relate to death|
|Gifts That Are ‘Made In Taiwan’||Apparently it’s offensive|
* Watches and smartphones are fine to gift.
** E.g., 4 plushes or 4 smartphones. Giving 8 items is considered lucky. Since “8” is a lucky number in Eastern Culture.
With such a high number of gifts you shouldn’t give, what will Taiwanese people like?
It depends on the person. In general, Taiwanese people seem to appreciate gifts like:
- Food: can’t find whether country of origin matters
- High-quality alcohol
- Red envelopes filled with money (no specific amount)
- Items made in your home country: e.g., bourbon whiskey produced in Kentucky, U.S.
Don’t open gifts in front of the person giving you a gift, it’s considered rude.
If you accidentally give someone one of the unlucky gifts, give them NT$1. Then it’s considered a purchase. Thus, you’re technically breaking the “curse.”
Always give and receive gifts with 2 hands. Ensure your palms face toward the gifter. It’s considered polite.
And before receiving a gift, decline it 3 times.
Now that you’re exhausted from gift giving, let’s relax in a hot spring.
Taiwan Hot Spring Etiquette
Here are tips to remember when using hot springs in Taiwan:
- Wear swimming caps & swimsuits in public hot springs
- Don’t take photos or record video: respect people’s privacy
- Shower: no one wants to soak in your grime
- Stay in public hot springs for 15 min. max
- You can reenter hot springs 3 times max.
In some cases, public hot springs in Taiwan will have naked people. Check out reviews before visiting.
Pay attention to whether hot springs are unisex to avoid awkward encounters with old guys going commando.
Otherwise, drink water or electrolytes to keep yourself hydrated and relax.
If you’re attending a wedding in Taiwan, you’ll need the following tips.
Taiwan Wedding Etiquette: Your Role as a Guest
To offer the new couple good luck and prosperity, you’ll want to consider filling a red envelope (Hong Bao) with NT$2,000–NT$3,000 ($60–100).
A Taiwanese person told me the most common amounts in Taipei are NT$1,600 or NT$2,200.
The amount you’ll want to give varies by how long you’ve known the bride and groom. I couldn’t find concrete examples. So you’ll want to refer to the above examples.
DON’T give people money in increments of 4, 5, or 8 (e.g., NT$8,888). “4” signifies death. “5” sounds similar to “dragging each other.” “8” sounds like bye.
8 is usually a lucky number, but I’ve had conflicting information whether it’s a bad amount to give at weddings. Don’t do it just in case.
Otherwise, arrive at the wedding, sit at an assigned table (if that’s the wedding type), and enjoy the show.
If you notice a wedding occupying an entire street, don’t walk through it. Though it’s annoying, try to find a detour. If it’s your only path, consider asking someone if you can pass.
If you’re looking for a special someone, you’ll want to know how not to mess up your date.
Taiwan Dating Etiquette
There’s no common etiquette that you’ll need to follow when dating Taiwanese people.
Since everyone’s personalities differ, you’ll need to tailor how you act during dates based on the person you’re dating.
Here are some general tips you’ll want to know:
- Family opinion may influence your relationship
- Many Taiwanese girls are shy
- Many Taiwanese men will take charge of dates
- Don’t make the person you’re dating lose face
- Don’t be a dick
Sometimes, the person you’re dating’s family may disapprove of your relationship. Hence, the family may try to get them to break up with you.
Brace yourself in case this happens. In most scenarios, the person won’t likely break up with you. Unless they’re very traditional.
Practice common sense when on dates. The person you’re meeting isn’t an alien. So act the same around them as with other people.
You’re almost done. You just need to learn how to greet someone.
How To Greet Someone in Taiwan
Greet the oldest person (or most senior) person first. When greeting your counterpart (no matter the person), maintain eye contact.
In formal and professional situations, slightly bowing your head will suffice as a greeting. The degrees at which you bend your head doesn’t matter.
Don’t initiate handshakes. They’re not common in Taiwan. Wait to see whether the person you’re meeting extends their hand before shaking. And when shaking someone’s hand, don’t break their hand.
Slightly loose handshakes are your best bet.
When addressing people in professional and formal settings, only use formal titles. Examples include ‘doctor,’ ‘Mr.,’ and ‘Mrs.’
You’ll want to use surnames plus titles when addressing doctors and teachers. If your doctor’s name is Lee Long Zi. Refer to them as Dr. Lee.
If you’re greeting Taiwanese friends, there’s no need for special greetings.
FAQs: Taiwanese Etiquette
The following sections will cover frequently asked questions about ways to act in Taiwan.
What Is the Meaning of Blinking in Taiwan?
Blinking (or winking) at someone is considered impolite.
When dealing with formal and professional situations in Taiwan, there are many superstitions and forms of etiquette to consider. For instance, accept business cards with both hands and inspect them for a couple seconds.
In every other situation, the way you act doesn’t matter too much. Just practice caution when choosing a gift to buy a friend or relative.
Whether you’re moving to Taiwan, I have many guides that’ll help you prepare and blend in.