Taiwan – Business Cards & Travel Etiquette Guide

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Taiwan – Business & Travel Etiquette Guide


Address a person using his or her family name only. The family name comes first and is usually one syllable. For example, in the case of Lee Teng-hui, Lee is the family name and Teng-hui is the given name. Or in Lai Pan Fu, Lai is the family name. In some instances, Westernized Taiwanese might reverse their names when visiting and sending correspondence abroad. Therefore, it is always a good idea to ask a native speaker which name is the family name. Western given names have become increasingly common with the younger generation in Taiwan, such as Eric Lai, or Joy Cheng.

For business purposes, it is traditionally acceptable to call a Taiwanese person by the surname, together with a title such as “Director Wang” or “Chairman Fu.” Avoid using someone’s given name unless you have known him or her for a long period of time. Formality is a sign of respect, and it is advisable to clarify how you will address someone very early in the relationship, generally during your first meeting.

The Taiwanese way of greeting is a nod or a slight bow. However, when interacting with Westerners, Taiwanese often shake hands. Keep in mind that a soft handshake or lack of eye contact does not necessarily indicate a lack of assertiveness or sincerity in a Taiwanese person. It only implies that the person in not accustomed to the firm handshakes or direct eye contact commonly used in the West. Do not try to become too friendly or informal too soon, and do not insist that they call you by your given name. The American pattern of quick informality should be resisted.

Business Meetings

In Taiwan, it is assumed that the first person that enters the room is the head of the group. Americans should observe this convention so as not to confuse their hosts. Important guests are usually escorted to their seats. If the meeting room has a large central table, the principal guest is likely to be seated directly opposite the principal host.

When exchanging business cards, hold out your card with your right hand with the writing facing the recipient. Cards should always be exchanged individually (one-on-one). Never toss or “deal” your business card across the table, as this is considered extremely rude. Receive a business card with both hands and scan it immediately for the vital information. Then lay the card in front of you during that first meeting. It is demeaning to put someone’s card directly into your pocket without looking at it first.

Meetings begin with small talk. Resist the temptation to get down to business right away. Avoid telling American-style jokes, because jokes sometimes do not translate across cultures and can cause confusion or hurt feelings.

Social Events

At a formal banquet, be prepared to give a short, friendly speech in response to the host’s speech.

When inviting Taiwanese to a party, serve a “real” meal rather than snacks and drinks.

When invited for dinner, it is polite to sample every dish served. Your host may serve some food for you, and it is nice to reciprocate if you feel comfortable doing so. Always leave something on your plate at the end of the meal or your host might think that you are still hungry.

Gift Giving

It is appropriate to bring a gift, particularly something representative of your town or region, to a business meeting or social event. Gifts indicate that you are interested in building a relationship. A gift should always be wrapped, but avoid plain black or white paper because these are the colors of mourning. Present the gift with both hands as a sign of courtesy and always mention that this is only a small token of appreciation. Do not expect your gift to be opened in your presence. This indicates that it is the thought that counts more than the material value.

Never give a clock, handkerchief, umbrella or white flowers, specifically chrysanthemums, as all of these signify tears and/or death. Do not give sharp objects such as knives or scissors as they would signify the cutting of a relationship. Never give a handkerchief as it suggests tears or parting.

Lucky numbers are 6 and 8 (especially in a series, such as 66 or 888). An unlucky number is 4.

Survival Tips

Bring a large supply of business cards. You may meet many people than anticipated.

Keep in mind that in Taiwan and virtually all other countries 3/6/00 means June 3, 2000. When sending correspondence, avoid confusion by writing your date in full.

As a health precaution, it is advisable for to drink bottled water, even in hotels and restaurants.

If a Taiwanese person gives you a compliment, it is polite to deny it graciously. Modesty is highly valued in Taiwan.

The Taiwanese point at objects with an open hand instead of the index finger. Beckoning to someone is done with a palm facing down. Avoid beckoning with your index finger facing up.

Do not try too hard to “go Taiwanese.” Taiwanese do not expect you to know all of their etiquette, and they make allowances for foreigners. Keep the above guidelines in mind, but above all, be yourself.

Not all Chinese in Taiwan wish to be called Taiwanese. About 24 percent migrated from Mainland China in the late 1940’s.

Do learn a few words of Chinese. This shows an interest in your host’s language and culture. It is also a very good icebreaker.

Useful Chinese Expressions

Hello . . . . . . . . . . . . . Nee Hao
Hello (honorific) . . . . . .Nin hao
Thank you . . . . . . . . . .Shay shay
Cheers (toast) . . . . . . . .Gan pei
Goodbye . . . . . . . . . . .Jai jian

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