Despite being halfway through my summer in Taiwan, I still find myself failing to abide by all of the cultural norms that run deep in Taiwanese society. There are the standard rules such as, “Don’t eat or drink on the metro!” or “Always watch for cyclists and motorcyclists.” However, what I want to talk about are the infrequently discussed faux pas to watch for if you are ever traveling to this country.
Don’t: Set your bag(s) down on the ground.
This was a norm that I learned from my Taiwanese roommates. Of course, you are not always obligated to find a place to set your bag or backpack, but the Taiwanese culture values cleanliness. Restaurants will sometimes even bring you an extra chair to set your belongings on top of while dining. Thus, placing your backpack on the ground is not something that is commonly practiced and might earn you a couple of stares.
Do: Bring gifts for your co-workers during your first week at work!
If the country of Taiwan took the “Five-Love Languages” test, the overwhelming resultant would be that of gift giving. In order to introduce yourself and show respect to your co-workers, gift giving is the chosen practice in the workplace. Unfortunately, this is a lesson I learned a little too late as I did not realize this until week 3 of my internship with the Democratic Progressive Party. Nevertheless, I still brought some boxes of candies and pastries to work and it was, for the most part, well received by my co-workers, who probably gave me a pass as the resident foreigner.
Don’t: Be abrasive or loud; being discrete is key.
For every mainland Chinese stereotype of being loud, direct, and unconcerned with personal space, the exact opposite is true for the Taiwanese. When I first noticed this Taiwanese tendency towards quietness in the metro, I quickly ran through my recent experiences in public spaces, such as the bus, in shopping malls, and in restaurants. I found that I couldn’t recall anyone laughing or being as loud as my friends and I had been. Thus, if you do not want to stand out as a foreigner, in any public setting keep your voice low and do not get too rambunctious.
Do: Ask for help when needed!
The majority of Taiwanese citizens will treat visitors with compassion. If you ever find yourself lost in the city, do not be scared to approach someone to ask for directions. They will usually gladly assist you in whatever capacity they can. Furthermore, if forgetfulness is something you have been cursed with, you needn’t fear. People I know personally have lost their phones, wallets, and laptop chargers in the city but they have all found ways to find their belongings once again.
As I was leaving a coffee shop one day, I was astounded when a random couple chased me down across the street to tell me I had forgotten a pencil back in the shop. These little acts of kindness are very common in Taiwan. Additionally, they have begun to affect the lens in which I generally view strangers and tourists. I want to be able to bring back this habit when I head back to the States, especially regarding the plethora of tourists that come to Washington D.C.