going to Taiwan? faux-pas


If you’re planning on going to Taiwan, you will definitely need to know what things to avoid. Really, it’s mostly common sense. Don’t point and stare, don’t laugh, don’t cut in line, don’t be loud on your phone, don’t act like foreign things are stupid, and so on and so on.

But there are some things that even common sense wouldn’t tell you. For example, a thumbs up in America means, “Good Job!” right? But in some countries, it’s as offensive as the middle finger. So what about Taiwan?

Taiwan has a few things I noticed – I’m sure there are many more that I’m unaware of, but here are a few common mistakes to avoid.

  • Ever play “Little Bunny Foo Foo” with a child? Well, that hooking action with your finger means “death” in Taiwan, or something similar. A crazy woman once ran after some friends of mine in Taiwan doing that and yelling curses. Not pleasant.
  • If you want to gesture to someone to “come here,” do it palm down. Holding your palm up or just using one or two fingers is equivalent to calling a dog. The proper way in Asia is to hold your hand out palm down and bring all four fingers in – like a wave, but downward.
  • Shaking or jiggling your legs is another no. I heard various reasons as to why. One person told me it’s a come-on from a woman, so you’ll appear loose if you do it. Another person told me that Taiwanese consider the legs to hold luck, so if you shake your legs, you’ll be unlucky. Either way, don’t.
  • Talking on your phone on the bus or train is not really a faux-pas as much as downright rude. But you will see some Taiwanese doing it. It’s very uncommon though, and you’ll probably see anyone talking doing so in a low voice with their hand over the mouthpiece. If you need to use your phone at all, do it discreetly.
  • If you’ve ever traveled in Asia, you’ve probably encountered the rule of “don’t stick your chopsticks upright in a rice bowl.” The reason behind this is that the chopsticks look like the incense used to honor the dead.
  • If you’re a teacher, it’s important to remember never to write a name in red. Writing in red means you want death upon the person named, and it’s bad luck. Maybe just avoid red pens in general…
  • If you’re a tourist fond of taking pictures, make sure you don’t snap any shots of funerals or graves, at least when there are other people who might see. This is considered very disrespectful to the dead, and many Taiwanese would be scandalized.
  • On a related note, whistling should probably be avoided as much as possible, but especially at night. Many Taiwanese thinks that whistling at night will bring spirits to the whistler, so take care!

Whew, what a list. A lot of these things surprised me or caused me a bit of trouble. I’m a leg-shaker, so it took a lot of conscious effort not to shake my legs when I was on trains and buses. It was also hard to learn how to beckon someone a different way, and there were plenty of times when I or my team-mates accidentally used the old way.

But hopefully with some practice you can overcome old habits and learn the Taiwanese way of doing things. Oh, and did you know that there’s a whole system for one-handed counting signs? One to ten on one hand using a method I’ve never seen. I should do a post…



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