Taiwan and other East Asian countries share many cultural taboos/guidelines:
- When handing out or receiving business cards, always use two hands and a modest bend of the head. Receiving a business card with just one hand is very impolite.
- Some Taiwanese are superstitious about anything related to death, and unfortunate things should never be discussed. One thing to keep in mind is that the number 4 (pronounced’si’) sounds like the Mandarin word for death.
- People’s names should not be written in red. This, too, has a morbid meaning. This is not an issue when writing someone’s English name, but avoid writing Chinese names in red.
- At night, do not whistle or ring a bell. This is a “greeting to spirits.”
- Do not point to graveyards or cemeteries. This is disrespectful to the victims’ deaths.
- Taiwanese are not puritans, and they love a drink, particularly the locally produced Taiwan Beer and Kaoliang. However, Taiwan does not have a strong drinking culture, and it is uncommon to see anybody intoxicated on the streets. While excessive alcohol consumption is not a social taboo in and of itself (and some individuals do it at weddings), it is regarded a sign of lack of self-confidence and immaturity, and it will not earn you any respect among Taiwanese friends.
- Before entering a home, you are required to remove your shoes. Visitors should wear slippers, which are available at the entry door. It is probable that the same procedure will apply to restrooms and balconies, where you will be required to remove your slippers and replace them with a pair of plastic sandals (though it is less shocking not to use the sandals by then).
- As you get acquainted with Taiwanese people, you are quite likely to receive little gifts of all kinds. This will include beverages, food, and little things… These are a highly easy method for Taiwanese individuals to lubricate social connections, and are particularly popular amongst friends in their twenties. You should respond to such gifts with something comparable, but it does not have to be quick or tailored to the individual (i.e. keep it simple). As a teacher, you are not required to provide anything in return (for example, in a classroom setting) as long as the relationship remains formal. However, be wary of excessively giving parents who would go so far as to give gifts for thousands of NT$ and then want you to take particular care of their kid (understand that their expectations will be considered as fair in Taiwanese culture).
- Tipping is not required in hotels, restaurants, or taxis, but bellhops may demand 50 TWD or so for carrying your baggage.
- “Saving face” is a significant value in Taiwanese society, just as it is in mainland Chinese culture. In general, you should avoid pointing out other people’s errors to avoid creating significant humiliation, and if you really must, call the person to one side and do it privately, and attempt to do it in a polished way.
- If you need to use a temple’s restroom, bow to any statues of deities you encounter along the route, whether you believe in them or not. While most people will not object if you use the temple’s restroom, they do want you to respect their place of worship. If you want to give gifts (such as basic fruits) to the deities’ sculptures at the temple, it is customary to wash the fruits and your hands before doing so. Furthermore, while entering and exiting a temple, remember to avoid standing directly on the elevated threshold: always attempt to walk over it.
Swastikas, as in other Asian nations, are frequently recognized as a sacred emblem in Buddhist temples. It is categorically not a representation of Nazism or anti-Semitism.
Taiwanese society is divided by loyalty to the two main political blocs known colloquially as the “Pan-Blue Coalition” and the “Pan-Green Coalition,” but there are significant numbers of individuals who are either moderate or don’t care. To simplify a highly complicated issue, pan-blue supporters tend to prefer (re)unification or preserving the status quo with China, while pan-green supporters favor creating an officially separate Republic of Taiwan, among other distinctions.
Although there are some connections, it is very risky to make assumptions about a certain person’s political views based on what you believe you know about their history. Furthermore, this short overview of Taiwanese politics obscures a great deal of complexities.
It is unwise to discuss anything (good or bad) about the present administration, significant personalities in Taiwanese history, Taiwan’s foreign affairs, or relations with mainland China unless you know your audience well. Some political leaders, such as Sun Yat-sen (who is also popular in the PRC and with the Chinese government) and Chiang Ching-kuo, are widely regarded favorably, while others (particularly Chiang Kai-shek, Lee Teng-hui, and Chen Shui-bian) elicit strong emotions.
If you suggest that Taiwan is a part of China, some Taiwanese will be upset. Others will be upset if you suggest that Taiwan is not a part of China. Referring to the People’s Republic of China as “mainland China” (zhngguó dàlù) rather than just China would not upset anybody since the phrase is widely used to exclude Hong Kong and Macau, making it less subjective. Most Taiwanese will be offended if they hear the Republic of China referred to as “Taiwan Province.” In certain commercial settings, the phrase “Greater China” may be employed. However, keep in mind that there are so many nuances and intricacies here that if you start talking about them, you’ve already stepped into a minefield.
However, referring to the island simply as “Taiwan” is acceptable since it is the term used by the people, regardless of political affiliation. Titles like “Republic of China” are exclusively used for formal purposes.
Taiwan is usually regarded as a safe place for gay and lesbian tourists. Although the Taiwanese government does not recognize same-sex marriages, there are no laws prohibiting homosexuality in Taiwan, and unprovoked violence against homosexuals and lesbians is virtually unheard of. Taiwan is also the first East Asian country to pass anti-discrimination legislation based on sexual orientation in education and employment. Taiwan Pride is an annual LGBT pride celebration.
Acceptance among Taiwanese people is modest, and homosexuality is still regarded a societal taboo, especially among the elder generation. Some people may probably look and murmur if you openly show your sexual preference in public. Nonetheless, views are shifting, and homosexuality is becoming more acceptable among the younger generation.
Taiwanese attitudes regarding the Japanese occupation (1895-1945) are more favorable than in most other Asian nations. Although there was significant resistance and killings of both Chinese and Aboriginal people were carried out during the occupation, some elderly individuals who lived through the period of Japanese control sometimes have a certain amount of nostalgia for that time. Nonetheless, many Taiwanese are grateful to the Japanese for modernizing Taiwan, and most native Taiwanese prefer Japanese rule to the following Kuomintang government under Chiang Kai-shek.
Younger Taiwanese continue to aspire to contemporary Japanese pop culture, and Japan continues to have a strong impact on the Taiwanese entertainment sector.