Are you planning on visiting Taiwan?


4 Rules to Follow


By David Kopel


Asian Avenue magazine, May 15, 2007


Rule number 1: Congratulate yourself on your good fortune. The people of Taiwan are very nice, and Taiwan is probably the most pro-American country in the world. People will be very happy to meet you. And will be exceptionally safe, since Taiwan has an extremely low crime rate.


If you enjoy vibrant big cities such as New York, Chicago, or London, you'll love Taipei.


Rule number 2: Take business cards. Lots of them. An exchange of business cards is almost mandatory when you meet someone in Taiwan. Even if you're not going on business, it's nice to have a card to give to someone with whom you strike up an acquaintance.


Even better, have some two-sided cards printed, with English on one side, and Chinese characters on the other. These can be useful in all sorts of unexpected ways


For example, when I visited Taiwan in last January, I went on a tour of the Confucian Temple in Taipei. In one of the courtyards of the Temple, a group of men and women were practicing calligraphy with their sensei. One of the calligraphers struck up a conversation with me, and I gave him my two-sided business card.


The calligraphers, who were full of pre-New Year's enthusiasm, started a project of making some scrolls for me, and including my Chinese name in the scrolls.


Rule number 3: Bring some portable presents. Gift-exchange after a first meeting is vastly more common in Taiwan than in the U.S. My father is a musician, and I always carried a few gift-wrapped CDs of his in my jacket pocket. It was nice have one handy to give the Confucian calligraphers, as a thank-you for the beautiful scrolls they made.


Rule number 4: Learn Mandarin, to the extent you can. Everyone who goes through the Taiwan education system learns some English; but not everybody is conversationally fluent in a language they studied fifteen years ago in high school. Moreover, Taiwan's test-centric education system emphasizes English grammar (which is readily testable), so you will likely encounter many people, including taxi drivers, with no more than minimal English conversational skills.


With language practice tapes, you can quickly learn some basic courtesy words, such as "thank you," "please," and "good-bye." And it won't take too much longer to learn a few handy phrases, such as "I am an American" or "I would like a beer, please." The people of Taiwan will be predisposed to like you, and if you learn a little bit of their language, they will like you even more.

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