One of the biggest challenges when living in a new country is getting used to different cultural norms and behaviours. As English teachers living in Taiwan you want to make the most of what the exciting and vibrant culture has to offer without unwittingly committing embarrassing faux pas. Here are some top tips to get acquainted to Taiwanese culture and enjoy your time on the island!
In Taiwan every purchase you make is like playing “Who wants to be a millionaire”, and refusing a receipt can be met with confusion and disbelief. Every receipt has a lottery number and if the last three numbers match the winning one you get NT$200 while matching them all nets you NT$10 million. If you’re not a betting person you can place your receipt in the donation boxes or give it to a local.
Being one of the oldest cultures in the world there are many superstitions. Better to be aware of them so as not to break them.
• Don’t stick your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice! This looks like incense associated with a funeral.
• Avoid the number four. The Chinese word for four sounds like the word for “death”.
• Don’t open gifts as soon as you receive them. Open them privately later.
Eating and Drinking
Bubble tea is a must try drink. When ordering you must choose the amount of ice and sugar. In the summer you may want to go for extra ice to cool down while the locals prefer xiao bing (little ice) as that way you have more tea. Normal sugar may be on the sweeter side for a westerner and it would be better for your waist-line to go with xiao bing (little sugar) or even (wu tang) if you’re already sweet enough.
If you’re a foodie then you’re in luck living in Taiwan with amazing night markets offering a huge range of cuisines and snacks.
When eating street food and walking through the night markets I have noticed it can be difficult to find any bins to dispose of my accumulated empty bubble tea cups and polystyrene. The solution to this is to use the bins within the abundant convenience stores which you can find on any street corner, also there are bins and facilities in any MRT station if you’re in Taipei.
When in a restaurant it is considered rude to call over the waiter or waitress. Just wait a moment and they should be with you momentarily. Sometimes you order, sit, eat then pay. Sometimes you order, pay, sit then eat. Sometimes you leave your cups and dishes on the table when done and other times there’s a rack where you place them when you leave. The best way to find out what to do is to observe what the local patrons do.
When in Taipei you have access to one of the cleanest and most efficient Metros in the world. There are a few rules to be aware of however: no eating, no smoking or chewing gum. Easy enough to follow and they’re posted clearly.
Some less obvious rules are not to sit on the dark blue chairs, designated for the elderly, pregnant or infirm. It would be best not to use these chairs when in doubt. Also be aware of the yellow lines on the ground when lining up to get onto the train and wait for passengers to get off first.
Taiwan’s scorching summer forces a casual dress when outside, while the mild winters means you can be a bit more adventurous. The only faux pas regarding dress would be to go barefoot, so outside of your work time, you have a lot of flexibility when it comes to fashion.
In summary, while there are a few different notes of etiquette to be aware of, it shouldn’t be overwhelming. It may be useful to avoid talking about politics while in Taiwan. There is an extremely complex relationship between Taiwan and the mainland. It would be better not to discuss this with the locals unless they ask you first. When greeting, Taiwanese tend to prefer a nod or a wave and avoid hugs. If you were to greet someone with a kiss as they do in France it would be a major faux pas! While locals like to be physically close over a hotpot, most people still try to respect one another’s space and privacy.
Written by: Thomas (SEST Taipei)
Published by: Head Office