If you were to ask any foreign travelers that visited Taiwan about their experience with Taiwanese people, most of them will say Taiwanese is one of the most friendliest people that is warm-heart, friendly, and courteous.
Taiwan is one of the top travel destinations for many foreigners not only for the delicious food or tons of things to do but also their passionate, heart-warming people. As a collectivist culture, they value family & friends, have tight bonds with their social circles, loyal to their company, hard work, and showing respect to others.
Through my numerous travels to Taiwan, I learned that Taiwanese are very modern, but at the same time, still very traditional and conservative in some ways. It’s best for a foreigners to be open-minded, learn, and comply the Taiwanese Manners and etiquette when visiting this beautiful country.
Taiwanese Manners and Etiquette You Should Know:
How to greet people
In Taiwan, it’s appropriate to greet people with a simple nod, a smile, and sometimes handshake for males.
Many people misunderstood Taiwan from Thailand, please learn that you do not bow for Taiwanese, that’s for Thailand.
When greeting the other person, you can say “ni-how” as in “hello”.
“Ni-how” is used for same age or people younger than you. For elderly, you would use “nin-how” for the more polite version to greet. Notice that regular greeting is “ni-how” polite version is “NIN-how”. “Nin how” can be used for business, customers, clients, and elderly. If you add in “ma” at the end of the sentence, it’s made the sentence into a question. So if you want to ask the other person, “How are you?”, ask in Chinese “ni-how-ma?”, in polite version “Nin-how-ma?”.
Another common form of greeting in Taiwan is to ask if the other person has eaten yet, the phrase is: “Chī bao mei?”, meaning “Have you eaten yet?”. This phrase is commonly used because Taiwanese people value the well-being of the other person, and it’s a good phrase to understand the feeling and state of mind of the other person.
Handshakes are commonly used with men when they meet, but for women, it will depend on the women and the other person.
Women can shake if they feel comfortable, but not obligated. Most people just nod their head and greet the other person with “Ni-how!”, “Ni-how-ma?”, or “Chī bao mei?”.
How to dress appropriately
Taiwan is mostly hot year round, with colder winter in Taipei to Taoyuan, Kaohsiung is very hot in summer time, but very pleasant during winter time. For work, professionals still dress professionally with button down shirts, dress pants, and ladies wear business casual. Mostly, a lot of companies, businesses, even schools have uniforms. Taipei people dress up very stylish and often very well.
Other than students who just got out of school, a lot of girls tend to be very stylish with some makeup on. You rarely see people wearing flip flops in the city and the people are usually dressed pretty nice. People tend to dress down and casuals in the countryside or suburbs.
The flips flops are used occasionally when you run to the convenient store for quick shop or morning markets, but anywhere else, it’s best to wear shoes or sandals with straps or shoes.
In the metro
Whether you are in Taipei or Kaohsiung, anyone enters the metro gate are strictly prohibited to eat, drink, or smoking. Eating any food even just chewing gum or drinking any beverage such as bottled water are strictly PROHIBITED, any violators can be fined up from 1500 NTD to 7500 NTD ($48 ~ $243 USD).
Be sure to acknowledge where the priority seats are, if you are sitting in it, you are expected to give the seat to the elderly, pregnant mothers, injured, or those with special needs.
Learn the community rules
If you live in Taiwan, most likely you will live in condominiums, apartments, and community buildings. While most of the buildings have a trash collection areas with appropriate bins, garbage can, and disposable containers for different items such as perishable foods, batteries, cardboard boxes & papers, recyclable bottles & plastics, as well as regular trash.
It is resident’s responsibility to throw trash in appropriate containers. Some buildings do not have their own collection site, and the resident would have to collect their trash and wait for the famous Taiwan musical garbage truck to come to give them their trash. Other community rules include borrowing the key and check in for the gym, pool usage, meeting rooms, entertainment rooms, or other available services the community building offers.
Also, a lot of the tall community buildings have securities at the gate, any guest you invite must be registered at the front gate in advance in order for the security to let them in the building.
Being a guest in a Taiwanese house
When you enter a Taiwanese people’s home, you will be asked to take your shoes off and change to an indoor slipper. After you take off your shoes, organize it nicely so it does not get in the way of the entry.
As a guest, you can compliment on the home decor, the taste, the color, or even the scents. It is advised to always bring a gift when you are a guest in someone’s house. When handing over the gift, make sure you hand over with both hands, with humble gesture saying it’s a small token of your heart.
When using the restroom at someone’s house, observe if their toiletries and trash are disposed of in a trashcan next to the toilet first or not. A lot of Asian countries dispose of their toiletries in the separate trashcan instead of straight in the toilet like Americans do. Observe, then dispose of properly.
If you have plastic bottles or recyclable trash you want to dispose of, ask the host first before disposal, most households practice good recycling habits.
Gift-giving is an art, and it involves your understanding of the gift receiver. What do they like? What color do they favor? What foods do they eat? What things would they use? Recipient’s refusal of the gift is commonly seen, usually out of politeness. You can attempt the offer again, observe the body language, and never force the other party if it’s out of their will.
If it’s your first time visiting Taiwan and wants to give a gift for your Taiwanese friend, there are few rules and guidelines that will eliminate embarrassment or taboo.
Taiwanese usually loves food, and the food is usually the safest gift to give.
Food items like gourmet food, food gift basket/box, fruits, high-end alcohol/wine, or delicate cakes are pretty good choices. Other gift items to consider would be your home country novelty items, local specialties, or high-end lotion.
The safest gift to give is fruit basket; almost anyone can eat & loves fruits.
The taboo gifts to give to Taiwanese:
Candles – Candles are usually used to pray to ancestors and the deceased, best not to give anything that relates to death.
Clock – Clock is pronounced ‘Zhong’ in Chinese, it is the same sound with the word that means pass away. Watches kind of falls in the same category, while some people might not care, it’s probably best to avoid it.
Shoes – Shoes is pronounced ‘shi-ey’, it also is the same sound with the word that means evil, so try to avoid giving shoes for someone.
Umbrella – Umbrella is pronounced ‘yu-san’, the second-word ‘san’ is the same sound as the word that means to fall apart, again, gives that negative connotation, best to avoid the taboo.
Scissor/knives– Giving sharp objects that can cut things may be unlucky and can symbolize the gift giver want to ‘cut/sever’ the relationship.
When it comes to picking the color for gift wrap and boxes, note that red, yellow, and pink is usually the safest color to pick.
Chinese people think red is a lucky color, they often use it for the wedding, ceremonies, and events. White, blue, and black are the unlucky color for that it relates to mostly death and funerals.
When giving gifts, do not give items with 4 things whether it’s food or object. The number 4 is pronounced ‘shi’ which is the same sound for the word death. Chinese people often favor the number 6 and 8.
As you present the gift, make sure you use both hands to gift for politeness, don’t use one hand.
In America, it might look weird or even cause some chaos if you see a person wearing a face mask, but most Asian countries like Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Thailand, China, Hong Kong, wearing face mask is very common.
People who wear a mask for various reason like cold/flu, air too dry, air pollution, driving mopeds, cold wind, etc.
If a person is sick, it’s best to cover their mouth with face mask so that they won’t cough airborne bacteria and infect other people.
In Taiwan, the food is usually prepared in a large plate and is placed on a round Lazy Susan round lazy Susan in the center. It’s common to see these type of round tables in restaurants.
The best advice is to observe how other people proceed and act while you are joining the meal together. The manner is to let the elders go first to select the food and place in their own plates or bowls, but if a guest is present, the host will usually give the first opportunity to their guest.
If you don’t know what to pick, just pick the dish that’s closest to you, and say thank you and pass on the opportunity to others to turn the table.
Commonly used round tables.
If you are going to turn the lazy Susan to get the food yourself, make sure no one else is in the middle of getting the food.
When someone offers to pour you a drink, use both of your hands to place the cup closer to them so they can pour it for you, politely thank them for pouring is done.
Best not to refuse food or drinks given to you, it’s considered disrespectful or possibly made the other person who offer you food ‘lose face‘. If you cannot drink or eat it, simply thank the host and let them know a good reason like you are allergic to it, lactose intolerance, or training athletes.
It’s best to learn how to use chopsticks, but if you still cannot handle it well, ask politely for forks and spoons.
While it’s encouraged to slurp your noodles in Japan, it’s considered rude to eat your food loudly in Taiwan.
Put the chopstick on chopstick rest after each use, NEVER EVER stick the chopsticks in a bowl of rice and let it sit there, it resembles incense bowl in the funeral and the gesture is very insulting.
These are just some of the everyday manner and etiquette used in Taiwan, hope you find this guide useful!