Taiwan Dos and Don'ts: Etiquette Tips for First-Time Travellers

Taiwan Dos and Don’ts: Etiquette Tips for First-Time Travellers

Read about Taiwan’s customs, etiquettes and taboos before you go to ensure a trip that is not riddled with faux-pas.

In Taiwan, the local culture is a curious blend of traditional Chinese practices and modern commercialism, finished off with a hint of Japanese flavour left over from the 50 years of colonial rule. While the Taiwanese are known as some of the friendliest people in the world, a little effort in learning the culture is always appreciated. After all, it’s always a good idea to learn about a country’s customs and etiquettes before visiting, especially in Asian countries where they are considered extremely important. So allow me, a Taiwanese, to help you out real quick!

Greetings

  • Although not common in our own tradition, handshakes are the most usual form of greeting with foreigners. Taiwanese people are not so much into hugging. When friends and acquaintances meet, a slight head bow or a wave and a friendly “hi” will do.
  • We LOVE to eat, to the point of having “Have you eaten?” as our most common greeting question!
  • A few Chinese greeting phrases that may come in handy: “ni hao ma?” (how are you?), “hai!” (hey!), “hao jiu bu jian!” (it’s been a while!) or “chi bao le ma?” (have you eaten?).

Gift giving

One of the most fascinating yet hard-to-believe characteristics of the Taiwanese people is how we still believe in some of the most ancient Chinese superstitions while living in one of today’s most technology-advanced countries in the world. This is apparent when it comes to gift giving.

  • When giving/receiving gifts, always use both of your hands and do not open them in front of the giver. Hold your excitement until you get home.
  • When you offer a gift, it will most likely be declined at first (it is considered as a gesture of politeness). Keep on insisting until the person accepts – and don’t worry, eventually, they will!
  • Avoid giving things that are made in Taiwan. I can’t explain the reason, but I know for a fact that it tends to offend people (unless you know it’s something they’ve been wanting to buy).
  • Things to avoid giving as a gift to Taiwanese people: handkerchief, as it implies that the person may soon have a reason to cry; clocks, as the Chinese phrase of “giving a clock” sounds the same as that for “attending a funeral”. Oh, and never offer shoes as a gift to elder people, it signifies sending them on their way to heaven; and do not give umbrellas as a gift to your Taiwanese girl/boyfriend unless you want to end your relationship, as the Chinese word for umbrella is the same for “break up”.

Dining

Unless we’ve known you forever, Taiwanese people don’t usually invite others home for meals. Instead, we prefer going to restaurants.

  • Chopsticks are placed either on the table or across the top of the bowl. NEVER EVER stick them vertically into the bowl – it is a huge taboo.
  • Remember to use the shared pair of chopsticks when taking food from the plates.
  • Hosts often place food on the guest’s plate. Don’t be surprised and don’t refuse when this happens.
  • Plates remain on the table while your rice bowl should be brought close to the mouth when eating.

Other dos and don’ts

  • Do offer your seat to the elderly, kids and pregnant women, whether it is on the bus, MRT or train. You might get stared at or even scolded if you let a grandma remain standing in front of you!
  • Do always stand on the right side of the escalator, as the left side is used for walking.
  • Do remove your shoes when entering someone’s house, even if they say it’s okay to keep it on.
  • Don’t talk about the Taiwan-China political issue unless you know your friend well. Some will get offended if you imply that Taiwan is China, while others will get offended if you say that Taiwan is an independent country. You have been warned!
  • Don’t tip, whether it’s in restaurants, hotels or taxis. We consider it as an offence. However, you’re welcomed to tip in bars.
  • Don’t step on the extra step (the higher stage that separates the inside and outside of the temple) while entering/leaving a temple.

About Author

Skye Hsiao
Skye Hsiao

From a small beautiful island called Taiwan, Skye is a 23 years old full-time travel addict and sucker for anything blue. She grew up in 4 different countries and have been to more than 30 so far, still chasing stories to tell when she’s old. Follow her steps on Instagram @ballerina12111

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