Food is an integral part of a country’s culture – this is even more applicable in Taiwan where it is common to have four to six meals per day.
- “Have you eaten?” is a common way to greet someone. You’re not expected to reply truthfully. A simple yes is sufficient, no matter the reality.
- The exchange of gifts is very popular in a business context (just like everywhere in Asia). Food is a gift that is greatly appreciated, except if you are invited for a meal at your host’s house. In that case, don’t forget to remove your shoes at the doorway (just like in Japan).
- It is very important to excessively compliment the food when one is invited, and try to serve yourself at least a little bit of everything.
- You are permitted to raise your bowl to your mouth. You must refrain however, from taking something out of your mouth (for example a bone) and placing it on your plate. It whether needs to be put on a plate that is assigned for that or directly on the table.
- Never refuse when you are offered tea, and always participate when there is a toast.
- Conversations are important for your partner to get to know you personally so that he can trust you. Food is a subject that you can discuss, as well as sport, art and culture. Taiwan is particularly renowned for being rich in artwork and cinema productions. Political topics are to be avoided.
East-West cultural differences are not the only things that you need to take into account. Although the Chinese, Taiwanese and Cantonese mostly originate from the same Han roots and many share the same language, religion, ethnic traditions and dynamic culture, there are a number of differences between these groups. For example, the Taiwanese passion for baseball, for which the mainland Chinese people are not very keen, results from the influence of the Japanese colonisation that lasted for half a century.
Chu and Chan (2008) have looked into the differences between Taiwanese, Cantonese and Chinese consumers. Among others, they have discovered that the Taiwanese respond much less to promotions that aren’t based on price, unlike the two other groups. They also noted that the factors that positively influence consumers when faced with the image of a company differed from one group to another. Brand names, product packaging, labelling and how easy the product is to purchase are the factors that the Taiwanese consider the most, while Cantonese put more attention on the availability of the goods and product presentation (display shelves, window displays, etc.).
In a world where few communication barriers remain, culture is more and more subject to various influences. What characterises a nation today may not be the case for future generations.
Sources : CHU, K-M et CHANG, H-C (2008). “Cross-cultural Consumer Behavior of General Merchandise for Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, Taiwan”, The Business Review, Cambridge , Vol. 11 , No. 1
TAO, S-P (2003). “Life Style and Consumers in Taiwan and the United States; A cross cultural comparison of Activities, Interests and Opinions (AIOs)”, Thesis, University of Minnesota.