Anytime you make a business trip abroad there are many things to consider: travel plans, arranging paperwork, gathering the presentation. Sometimes, with all of this going on, it’s easy to forget that there are other matters just as important. Such as knowing a little something about the area you’re visiting and the local customs. Some people don’t realize how important etiquette, protocol and manners are until the lack of them costs the business deal.
The best time for planning a business trip to Taiwan is between April and September since many people take vacation during the other months. January through March are particularly good times for vacations in the region. Business hours are usually 8:30 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Some businesses are open on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to noon.
Many Taiwanese take a nap between 1 and 2 p.m. Scheduling appointments will be in your favor if they are made in late morning or mid-to-late afternoon. The nightlife plays a big part in the Taiwan culture and many business people are out until the wee hours. Because of this you may want to avoid early morning appointments.
As with most business meetings dress conservatively but in Taiwan, avoid colors of red white and black. Modesty in women is very important. A woman showing a lot of cleavage or wearing very short skirts will not earn as much respect here.
Conversations can range from family to business to culture. Compliments are not taken with a simple “thank you”, but instead, you should insist you are not deserving of the compliment. This is the proper etiquette for this region. Modesty is everything in Taiwan. Topics of politics and Communism should be avoided if possible.
The Taiwanese have a honored respect for titles such as “doctor”. These titles are used whenever possible but when one doesn’t have a title “Mr.”, “Miss”, or “Mrs.”, along with last name, will suffice.
Gifts are often exchanged with business colleagues, in Taiwan, so take a selection with you. If you’ve been given a gift you’ll have one with which to reciprocate. It’s not unusual to receive a gift during your very first meeting. Be sure to choose gifts that are not manufactured in the area. It’s the custom of the region to decline a gift at least 3 times before finally accepting it. You should do the same. To do otherwise will make you seem greedy. To receive a gift hold out both hands with palms up. Gifts are not opened in front of the giver or in front of others. If giving flowers give an even number. Avoid wrapping any gift in black, blue or white wrapping and choose yellow, red or pink.
Numbers have great significance in this culture. The number 4 symbolizes death. Do not mention this number or give things in sets of four. Six, however, is a lucky number. Another lucky number is eight but avoid anything to do with the number thirteen. Besides numbers some other items are unlucky or symbolize negative things in this region. Avoid giving anything sharp, such as knives or cutting tools. These represent the severing of a relationship. Do not give clocks, towels, handkerchiefs or straw sandals.
Have business cards printed in English on one side, Mandarin Chinese on the reverse. Be prepared to hand out plenty of cards, preferably printed in gold ink. Be sure there is no red colors on your card. It’s rude to accept someone’s card and toss it aside. Take a moment to look it over and handle it with respect. After the title, the first name that appears is usually the person’s last name. Present cards with both hands with the Chinese language facing upwards.
Business relationships in this culture are often base on personal feelings. Take the time to build a rapport before expecting business to proceed. Elders are very much honored and respected so having an older person on your sales team, or simply traveling with you, will be seen in a positive light.
Modesty and humility are everything with the Taiwanese. Allow elders to pass before you through a doorway. Never pass through a doorway unless invited to do so. Never seat yourself unless offered a chair. If someone pays you a compliment, insist that you are undeserving. Doing otherwise will make you seem lacking in modesty.
Do nothing that will cause a business associate to “lose face”. Embarrassing someone, losing your temper with someone or making a joke about someone can cause that person to lose face. Causing someone to lose face will likely be the end of your business dealings here. Do not gesture a lot with your hands. Hand gestures are simply not done in this culture. Avoid using the words “no” and “not”, which are considered rude. “Maybe” is a better word to use when you mean “no”.
Signed contracts in Taiwan don’t necessarily mean the deal is sealed. Negotiations may well go on past signatures and time lines. Do not complain about these delays or add-ons since this will cause someone to lose face. Any show of aggressive behavior is taboo. Avoid being loud but remain controlled at all times.
If invited to a home for dinner do not take a gift of food. Expect to remove your shoes upon entry. Slippers are often provided for you. Praising the food while eating is a custom done by all in the area. Wait for the host to ask you to partake before helping yourself to any food. Sample each food so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings. Place bones and shells on the table or in a special dish provided specifically for this reason – never put them back on your plate. Never set chopsticks parallel, on top of your bowl, since this is a sign of bad luck. Do not stick them straight up and down in a dish, either. If no chopstick rest is provided simply lay them on the table. Hold your bowl up to your mouth to eat – something not usually done in the western world.
Third party introductions are very important. Never just walk over and introduce yourself to someone that you’re wanting to meet. Arrange for someone you have met to introduce you. In some cultures conversation is made at a very close personal distance but in Taiwan, make sure to stay at least two arms length away while conversing. Avoid physical contact while conversing as well as hand and arm gestures.
Never point with one finger but use the entire hand, palm down, instead. In most cultures a person points to their chest when referring to themselves but in this culture people point to their noses. Do not wink at someone, even in jest, this simply isn’t done in this culture. Don’t put your arm around someone in commaraderie; this is unacceptable behavior and a breach of protocol. Never pat a child on the head – considered bad luck for the child.
Feet are considered unclean and should never be used to scoot or point at something. They should also never point at anyone, making it advisable not to cross your legs, particularly by placing one ankle on the opposite knee.
The best way to fit in while doing business, or even visiting Taiwan, is to keep your composure at all times, be respectful of the elderly and those in high positions, and keep gesturing to a minimum. Develop a friendship with your associates before expecting business deals to be finalized.