7 Taiwanese Gift Giving Superstitions and Rules

In just a little over a month (39 days to be exact), yours truly is celebrating another birthday abroad. Each day that I mark a bright red “X” off my little calendar, moving closer to the date I turn the big 27 (thank god I’m not in Korea anymore, otherwise I’d be 28).

and the connection isI can’t help but daydream of layered cakes with creamy frosting, delicious birthday cocktails, and, of course, gifts, which I buy myself every year to celebrate me.

This year I’m thinking something pretty from CHANEL; it is my golden birthday after all. Yay me! I made it to 27 despite the near death experiences I’ve had with Korean soju, food poisoning in Thailand, and crazy cab drivers in Taiwan.

Ahem. Sorry – back to my point. So now that I’ve been thinking about gifts, I’ve realized that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to gift anything to a native of Taiwan. As such, I don’t have the rules imprinted on my brain the same way I did in Korea.

After a little research and help from my Taiwanese students (they say hello, by the way), I’ve got this whole gift giving business in Taiwan down to a tee. I’m glad I learned these before making a social faux pas á la British minister Lady Kramer. Listen and learn, traveler friends:

1. Taboo Gift: Clocks, watches, and pocket watches

The word for “clock” in Mandarin sounds similar to the word “end,” and giving a clock to another is believed to signify the receiver’s end or death. Incidentally, telling a person, “I’m counting down the seconds to your death!” isn’t exactly the kind of message you want to send on Christmas or a birthday.

If a clock is accidentally given as a gift, the receiver can offer the giver money, which then means they purchased the clock themselves, in order to right the wrong.

Lady Kramer made this small mistake when she recently visited Taiwan and presented the mayor of Taipei with a pocket watch. Lighthearted jokes were made, though, and everyone survived the little slipup…for now. Kidding. Was that joke too dark? My bad.

2. Rule: Never open a present in front of the giver

It’s considered rude to open a present in front of the giver. Unless the person who presented you with the gift asks or insists you open it in front of them, open it at a later time.

Likewise, if you give a gift, don’t be offended if the person doesn’t rip off the wrapping paper and scream in delight at whatever present you gave. Unless you ask, a person won’t open a gift you’ve given in your presence.

3. Taboo Gift: Scissors or knives

It doesn’t matter if you spent a hundred dollars on a single knife at William-Sonoma; don’t offer it as a gift to a Taiwanese person. Sharp objects symbolize breaking a relationship, so don’t give them to people you like or want to keep around in your life.

4. Rule: Give and receive a gift with two hands

It’s considered polite to give and receive a gift with two hands in Taiwan.

5. Taboo: Never give white flowers

White flowers are traditionally present in Taiwan during funerals. They hold a strong tie to the idea of death, so opt for a different color instead – red is a good choice because it’s an auspicious color. Although flowers are nice, I’d recommend going for a delicious fruit basket instead.

6. Rule: Refuse the gift a few times before accepting

Out of common courtesy and tradition, you should refuse a gift a few times before accepting it. If you happen to be on the giving side, don’t give up after a person refuses it once to keep the gift for yourself – you greedy little thing.

Offer the gift as many times as it takes for your friend to finally accept.

7. Taboo: Don’t give gifts in 4s

The number 4 is considered unlucky. It’s best to stay away from gifts that come in 4s. On the other hand, 8 is a very lucky number; you could always double up on the 4 set if you have your heart set on something that only comes in 4 packs.

If you’ve experienced Taiwanese culture before, what gift taboos or rules can you add to this list? Save an expat from an embarrassing moment by sharing your answer in the comment below!

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