One of the most difficult things to get accustomed to in a different country is the differing standards of politeness. Something that is OK in Taiwanese culture might seem offensive in American culture and vice-versa. How can you avoid being offended or making a horrible faux pas? Just keep these three tips in mind during your travel to Taiwan.
1. Don’t be offended by personal comments
One thing that many foreigners are somewhat shocked and taken aback by is what seems to be bluntness on the part of many Taiwanese. It’s not unusual to be asked how old you are, or to hear comments about your weight and be asked personal questions about your health. This isn’t considered tactless or rude in Taiwan; older people in particular consider it their right to comment on these things. In fact, some claim that it’s a way of showing they care, that they tell you how to improve your health or appearance.
Clothing stall vendors may also comment on your body type, but this is also not meant to be offensive in any way–usually remarks like these are followed by accurate advice on what kind of clothing or color would look best on you. In any case, don’t be offended if this happens. Just remember, they’re being helpful!
2. Watch your feet
Another aspect of culture in Taiwan and Chinese culture that many foreigners struggle with is the attitude toward crowds. While in a crowded area, it’s easy to get pushed or for someone to step on your foot. However, while in America the person would immediately turn around and say something like “Excuse me” or “I’m sorry,” in Taiwan this is considered exceptionally polite. Many people will just keep walking, assuming that because the offense wasn’t intentional, no apology is necessary. Because there are so many crowded areas, like the MRT and night markets, this that can be frustrating and annoying. Some advice: just accept it as part of the culture–these people are usually NOT trying to be rude or offensive, they simply have a different attitude than Americans do.
3. Don’t tip at restaurants
Finally, one crucial and, from the American perspective, positive difference between Taiwanese and American society is that in Taiwan, you are not expected to tip. In fact, trying to tip at restaurants or in taxis will often just result in confusion, especially if you are not fluent in Mandarin. The only time when this might be acceptable is if a bellhop carries your luggage into a hotel, or in some sort of spa. So don’t worry about tips! If a restaurant really wants to, they may add a 10% service charge to your check, but usually only large or specialty restaurants do this.