The Taiwanese have a reputation for being some of the most welcoming people in Asia, if not the world. And even though the vast majority of locals speak no more than a few words of English (if any at all), their friendly nature and willingness to help out in any way they can make for a pleasant experience for most tourists. However, as with all cultures, there are some things best left unsaid, so if you don’t want to upset your hosts or new neighbors, these are the things to avoid saying.
Taiwan is part of China, right?
Nope, it most definitely is not. Utter this sentence to a local, and you’ll get a blank stare and a shake of the head followed by a brief history lesson in Taiwanese political history. Yes, many Taiwanese people are ethnically Chinese and can trace their family heritage to China, but Taiwan is, in fact, a free and independent nation. It can get a little confusing for tourists that notice Taiwan’s official name is the Republic of China, which is a little too close to the People’s Republic of China for some. Just remember Taiwan is not China, and you can’t go too far wrong.
Do you have any more of that?
If you’re lucky enough to get invited to dinner, you need to be aware of local dining etiquette. Those dumplings might be the best you have ever tasted, but do not be the one to finish them all unless your host insists. And when they’re gone, don’t ask for more. This can lead to severe embarrassment for your host. The idea is that your host provides you with a veritable feast that could feed an army. If you want more of something and they don’t have it, then they have failed in their hosting duties.
Well, ‘get lost’ probably won’t be too bad, but don’t under any circumstances use any swear words in a threatening or insulting manner. Swearing at anyone is frowned upon in any country, but in Taiwan, it’s actually illegal to insult someone in public. You really shouldn’t be swearing at your hosts anyway no matter where you are, but here you could find yourself with a nasty fine to pay and a warning from the local police.
Answer an English question in Mandarin
Okay, so this isn’t quite true for everyone. There aren’t that many local people that can speak English fluently, but those that can love the chance to practice. So when a local person speaks to you in English, and you reply in Mandarin, they may feel slightly insulted. They might believe that you think their English is so poor that you had to switch the conversation to Mandarin. As a general rule, if someone speaks English to you, give them a chance to practice. They’ll love you for it, and besides, you’ve got plenty of chances to practice your Mandarin with other folk.
Do you have an English name?
This question in itself is bad enough, but when you ask it after someone has just told you their Chinese name, it’s quite insulting. You’ve pretty much told them that you couldn’t be bothered to try pronouncing their name. And if you do try to pronounce it, don’t immediately follow up a lame attempt with ‘oh, that’s too difficult’. On the other hand, if someone is introduced to you by their English name, but you ask for their Chinese name, you’ll probably make a friend for life.
Taiwan is famous for its incredible cuisine, and this includes all kinds of amazing street foods. And if there’s one thing that your newfound local friends will want to do for you, it’s introduce you to all their favorite local foods. This can be lots of fun, but from time to time you’ll come across something that’s just not for you. Stinky tofu is the one that immediately springs to mind, but there are others that you may find a little too much to bear.
But no matter how much you might hate the smell, taste, or even the texture of whatever you’re eating, remember that this is a local dish that your friends/neighbors are very proud of. Of course, let them know you don’t like it (or you’ll have bags of the stuff to take home), but be polite about it. And never ever spit out your food.