Respecting Taiwan Culture

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Culture

Taiwan shares several cultural taboos with other East Asian nations.

  • Some Taiwanese are superstitious about anything connected with dying – unlucky things should never be mentioned.
  • Do not write people’s names in red. This again has connotations of death. When writing someone’s English name, this is not a problem, but avoid writing Chinese names in red.
  • Do not whistle or ring a bell at night. This is an “invitation to ghosts”.
  • Do not point at cemeteries or graves. This means disrespect to the deaths.
  • There are numerous taboos dictating that certain objects shouldn’t be given to others, often because the word for that object sounds like another unfortunate word:
    • Umbrellas, which in Mandarin sound the same as the word for “break up”. Friends should therefore never give friends umbrellas. Instead, friends will euphemistically “rent” each other umbrellas for a tiny amount (NT$1, for example).
    • Clocks. The phrase “to give a clock” (“song zhong”), in Mandarin, has the same sound as the word “to perform last rites.” If you do give someone a clock, the recipient may give you a coin in return to dispel the curse.
    • Shoes. Never ever offer shoes as a gift to old people, as it signifies sending them on their way to heaven. This is acceptable only if by mutual arrangement it is nominally sold, where the receiving party gives a small payment of about 10 TWD.
    • Knives or sharp objects, as they are made for or could be used to hurt the person.
  • The Taiwanese are certainly not puritanical and enjoy a drink, especially the locally brewed Taiwan Beer and Kaoliang. However, Taiwan does not have a culture of heavy drinking and is rare to see anyone drunk on the streets. While over indulging in alcohol is not a social taboo as such (and some people do so at weddings), it is considered a sign of lack of self-confidence and immaturity, and doing so certainly won’t gain you any respect among Taiwanese friends.
  • You are expected to remove your shoes before entering a house. You will find some slippers to be worn by visitors next to the entrance door. It is likely to be the same ritual for bathrooms and balconies where you will be expected to remove your slippers to wear a pair of plastic sandals (though it is less shocking not to use the sandals by then).
  • In public places, especially in Southern Taiwan, physical contacts of any sorts should be avoided.
  • As you will get along with Taiwanese people, you are very likely to receive small presents of any sorts. This will be drinks, food, little objects… These are a very convenient way to lubricate social relations for Taiwanese people, and are specially commons betweens friends in their 20s. You should reply to any such presents with something similar, but it does not need to be immediate, or specific to the person (i.e. keep it simple). As a teacher you are not expected to offer anything in return (i.e. in a classroom environment) as long as the relationship stays formal. However beware of the sometime overly generous parents who can go as far as offering presents running in the thousands of NT$ and who will then expect you to take special care of their child (understand that their expectations will be considered as fair in Taiwanese culture).
  • You are not expected to tip in hotels, restaurants and taxis, though bellhops may still expect NT$50 or so for carrying your luggage.
  • If you should need to use a temple’s washroom, bow to any statues of deities you see on the way whether or not you believe in them. While most people will not mind you using the temple’s washroom, they expect you to treat their place of worship with respect.
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~ by flerick on June 8, 2009.

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