Taiwanese Manners

Since Yanni needed some advice on meeting a Taiwanese mother-in-law, I figured I’d list things that got me into trouble with more traditional family members.

1.  Do not leave chopsticks sticking up in your bowl.  It’s the way food is presented to dead ancestors, so a definite no-no at the dinner table.  (I got into trouble with my grandma over this…  This, and thinking that it would be cool to make the faces she did without her dentures in when she happened to be upset with me because I was a smart-alecky kid who didn’t have proper manners…)

2.  Hold the rice bowl with your thumb at the side and your fingers beneath the bottom.

3.  Do not wear red to a funeral or at all when a relative dies.  Dark colors or muted light colors are fine.  (I was prepared for the funeral, just not the everyday no-red rule.  This resulted in an emergency visit to a boutique for a plain white shirt.)

Other things I’ve heard/observed include:

4.  Give and receive gifts with both hands to show respect.

5.  Gifts are generally opened by the receiver later when the giver isn’t present.

6.  Don’t write names in red pen (this one I first ran into in Korea and then in Taiwan–  apparently it’s either how names of the condemned are written or names of the dead are written, I’m not sure which.)

7.  Apparently giving a gift of a tie to a guy is a very personal thing and would mean you want to “tie” them to you… (the female equivalent is presently escaping me)

8.  Don’t give a gift of a knife– it can “cut” the relationship… Or you can take a coin as a token payment.

Of course, this is hardly exhaustive and I do encourage visitors to add in comments for the gaps I’m sure I’ve missed.

Sometimes in Taiwan, I feel like people seem to expect me to know what I’m supposed to do automatically because I look Taiwanese or my parents grew up here.  However, growing up, considering the only Taiwanese people I knew were related to me and we only saw them on long weekends, there were significant gaps in my education.  Since I have the social grace of an elephant with its foot stuck in its mouth pretty much anywhere, yeah, I wouldn’t rely on me to be a proper Miss Taiwanese Manners.  Most awkward situations are bettered by a sheepish grin.

Good luck Yanni!!!


14 Responses to “Taiwanese Manners”

  1. June 25, 2008 at 5:49 am

    To add to the list of improper things to give… umbrellas and clocks are also nono. umbrellas because it sounds similar to the word meaning “scatter”, implying that the relationship (of whatever sort) will not exactly hold. Clocks.. well, reminding others that the time is going = not enough time. heh.

    These things are silly, but interesting to find out no doubt.

  2. 2 Z
    June 25, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    Not really sure where this could be applied, but avoid the number 4. In Mandarin, not sure about Taiwanese and Cantonese, it sounds like the word death.

    On the other hand the number 8 is viewed as a good luck number. I don’t remember what word it’s supposed to sound like anymore though.

    Example of this:

    My international business teacher was in charge of getting gifts for the Taiwan branch of his company since they’d performed very well. The gift he’d gotten was some nice watches. Like an hour before the presentation ceremony was when he found out about the clock taboo, apparently watches are viewed as just as bad.

    His solution was to run over to a high end department store and get gift checks cut of something like 88,888 NTD or something.

  3. June 27, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Thanks Kalithos and Z! I had no idea about the umbrella or the clock thing. I knew about the number four– apparently it’s the floor that is missing in a lot of hospitals, etc. I thought that 8 was lucky because of its symmetry– maybe because it marks infinity when turned on its side?

    Oh, and one more on giving gifts which I don’t know if it’s just my family, a Taiwanese thing, or something everyone does, but when giving a purse or wallet, seed it with some change or money that can grow!

    And Z, WOW–That’s quite a bonus your international business teacher gave out!

  4. 4 88888
    June 27, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    In Cantonese dialect, the word, “8” sounds the same as the word for prosperity. When I was in college, one of my roommates was from Hong Kong. She told me that in Hong Kong you would have to pay big bucks for a license plate “88888” on your car.

    In Mandarin, the word “clock” sounds the same as “end”. When you sound it out the two words, “give clock”, in Mandarin, it will be exactly the same as “sending off at the end” (Sorry, my computer does not support Chinese characters, or you will be crystal clear of what I am trying to say.) Therefore, it will be very bad to give clock, especially for a birthday!! Since the reason for giving clock as a taboo has nothing to do with the time, giving watch is not really a taboo(I am not aware of it being a taboo), because the sound of “watch” in Mandarin, or Taiwanese is not anywhere close to the sound of “clock” or anything bad.

  5. June 28, 2008 at 4:20 am

    Thanks for the clarification 88888!

  6. 6 amanda
    July 18, 2008 at 12:32 am

    wat does it mean if a guy gives you a coin purse and the guy is from taiwan?

  7. 7 amanda
    July 18, 2008 at 12:33 am

    please help me i tryd to ask him but he had trouble telling me in english so can someone please help me

  8. July 18, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Sorry amanda, I don’t know. I’ll ask around though and see if there are any ideas…

  9. 9 bluefish
    August 12, 2008 at 10:40 am

    I learned about #1 & #6 when I was a kid. It really irritates me when people stick their chopsticks in the bowl. I see people doing it very often when I go to an Asian restaurant.

  10. 10 mike
    March 19, 2009 at 1:51 am

    don’t give shoes as gifts either. i think it means you want them to walk out of your life or something along those lines.

  11. August 26, 2010 at 7:54 am

    SO helpful!!! I am currently living in Taiwan as a Rotary youth exchange student and all these rules really helped clarify the taboos!

    xie xie 🙂

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