Taiwanese Mandarin is the Standard Mandarin spoken in Taiwan. Its standard lect is known in Taiwan as Kuo-yü (Guóyǔ in Pinying; literally: "National language"). The official Guoyu is almost identical to the official language of Mainland China, called Pǔtōnghuà, with the exception of their writing systems. Taiwanese Mandarin uses traditional Chinese characters, as opposed to the simplified Chinese characters on the mainland.
Using English in meetings
English is a common language of business in Taiwan. However the reality is that communication in English can be very challenging. Although most Taiwanese have studied English since middle school, many may have had little practice using the language, especially when it comes to verbal communication.
Often, Taiwanese may not let on that they have not understood and in fact, will frequently act as though they have (to save their own face but also to save yours). Moreover, some are able to speak relatively fluently those phrases they have learned that one can be deceived into thinking they understand much more than they actually do. You can help reduce miscommunications by:
- Speaking patiently and slowly (no need to speak particularly loudly, though)
- Avoid using the ‘or’ structure. Break things down to a question that require a yes or no answer.
- Use simple short words if possible
- If you are speaking to more than one person, give them time to translate and/or explain to each other what you are saying.
- Repeat key points several times, rephrasing a little if possible.
- Write key points if you can since most Taiwanese read English quite well.
- Find a diplomatic way to have the person repeat/paraphrase what you’ve been saying.
- Learning some Mandarin Chinese – especially key words that you would use in your business. No need to become fluent, but key words and phrases can only help you do business more effectively and easily.
Working with Interpreters
You wouldn't ask a student to represent you in court up fill out your tax returns so why ask someone to be your interpreter simply because they are from that country. Many New Zealand businesses fall into the trap or relying on the other sides interpreting staff, or find the cheapest option. Below are a few rules for working with an interpreter:
- Hire a well-briefed professional interpreter. Though this is likely to be expensive, it will be money well spent.
- Have your own interpreter available, even if your counterparts have one for their side. With your own interpreter, you should also be able to get some post-meeting feedback concerning the nuances of what was said (and – just as importantly – not said).
- Try to involve your interpreter at every stage of your pre-meeting arrangements. The quality of interpretation will improve greatly if you provide adequate briefing on the subject matter.
- Ensure your interpreter understands what you are trying to achieve.
- Speak clearly and evenly with regular breaks for interpretation.
- Don’t ramble on for several paragraphs without pause. Your interpreter will find it hard to remember everything you have said, let alone interpret all your points.
- Conversely, don’t speak in short phrases and unfinished sentences. Your interpreter may find it impossible to translate the meaning if you have left a sentence hanging.
- Avoid jargon, unless you know your interpreter is familiar with the terminology.
- Listen to how your interpreter interprets what you have just said. If you have given a lengthy explanation but the interpreter translates it into only a few words, it may be that they have not fully understood, or they may be wary of passing on a message that is too blunt and will not be well-received by the audience.
- Make sure that your message is getting through clearly and in a tone that will not cause resentment.
Taiwan Cultural Tips
The people of Taiwan value hard work, patience, humility, friendliness and respect for others. They are highly motivated and centered around the extended family, their most important economic resource. They dislike loud, showy and unrefined behavior. Bringing shame on anyone ("loss of face") brings shame to the entire family.
Meeting and Greeting
- A nod of the head or a slight bow is considered polite for the first meeting. Handshakes are generally only for males who are friends.
- Introductions are important. Do not introduce yourself. Instead, have a third person introduce you. At a party or business meeting, wait to be introduced by the host.
- Do not touch anyone, especially a baby, on top of the head.
- Affection for the opposite sex is not shown in public.
- Never use your feet to move an object or to point at an object. Feet are considered dirty.
- Place your hands in your lap when sitting.
- Men should not cross their legs, but rather place both feet on the floor.
- Putting an arm around another's shoulder, winking and pointing with your index finger are all considered rude gestures. Point with an open hand.
- Palm facing outward in front of face moving back and forth means "no".
- Placing your right hand over your left fist and raising both hands to your heart is a greeting of respect for the elderly.
- Punctuality is appreciated, but being a few minutes early or late is acceptable. Businesspeople might be late or even miss a meeting.
- Business cards should be printed in English on one side and Chinese on the other. Make sure that the Chinese side uses "classical" characters, the written form of Chinese used in Taiwan, and not "simplified" characters, which are used in Mainland China.
- If possible, bring a team of two to four people (one senior person with decision-making power) to Taiwan. This enhances the status and image of executives and reflects on the seriousness of the meeting.
- Businesspeople in Taiwan are hard bargainers and may try to gain concessions by wearing the other party down. Be patient. Do not push too hard or too fast in business.
- Allow your counterparts in Taiwan to set the negotiation pace. Don't set deadlines; if you do, don't disclose them. Decisions are made collectively and thus are slow, particularly in the early stages. Once facts are established, agreements can sometimes be reached quickly.
- People in Taiwan often state their ideas clearly and without hesitation. However, they will generally not say a direct "no." Instead, they may say, "We'll try." "Yes" may mean, "I understand."
- Friendship is valued in business. Taiwanese businesspeople will want to know you personally before they do business with you. Show commitment, sincerity and respect for Taiwanese counterparts. Visit often and invite business counterparts to New Zealand.
- Guang-xi means connections/personal relationships. Guang-xi is vital for business success in Taiwan. It is developed over a long period of time and influences social, political and commercial relationships.
- Lawyers are not part of negotiations. Conflicts are expected to be settled by arbitrators and not in the courts.
- The spoken word is the contract.
Dining and Entertainment
- Entertaining is required to be successful in business in Taiwan and should never be regarded as a waste of time. Choosing the right restaurant and entertaining well can greatly enhance your chances of success.
- Dining in Taiwan can be elaborate and exhausting with as many as twenty courses at a banquet. Business entertainment can last late into the night. Reciprocate with a dinner of equivalent value.
- Be sure to arrive on time or early for a banquet.
- Do not discuss business at dinner unless your hosts bring it up.
- Toasting is common. Toasts are often made before and during meals.
- Toasting is done with wine or liquor. The host starts by raising his/her glass with two hands, one hand supporting the bottom of the glass.
- The glass should be drained after the toast. Turn your glass upside down to show you have drunk the entire contents.
- If your Taiwan hosts drink a toast to you and pass you an empty glass, it will be filled by one of the hosts. You are expected to toast your hosts and drink the contents of the glass.
- Pace your drinking. The drinking and toasting can go on for hours.
- The guest of honor samples any dish brought to the table first. Be sure to taste the food immediately as everyone else will wait for you before they eat.
- The hosts will place food on the guests' plates. Each person helps him/herself to additional food by placing a small amount of food from a variety of dishes in his/her individual rice bowl.
- Leave some rice in the bowl when you are finished. Always leave a little food on your plate when finished.
- Place your chopsticks together on the table or on the chopstick rest when you are finished.
- Don't be surprised if the Taiwanese spit bones on the table or floor. This is considered more sanitary than removing them with their fingers.
- Never place bones or seeds in your rice bowl. If a plate is not provided for this purpose, place them on the table.
- A belch may be considered a compliment at the end of a meal.
- Tea is served at the end of the meal. This signals the end of the party. Leave even if your host, out of politeness, invites you to stay longer.
- The host (person who invites) always pays the bill. It is polite for the guest to offer to pay, but don't insist.
- Men should wear suits and ties. Men often remove jackets during meetings.
- Women should wear conservative suits in blue or gray, dresses, pantsuits, blouses and skirts.
- Gift giving is common in business. Suggested gifts: scotch, ginseng, desk attire.
- Present and receive a gift with both hands. Gifts are not opened in front of the giver.
- Recipients may refuse a gift to be polite. Politely persist until the gift is accepted.
- Custom requires people to reciprocate with a gift of equal value.
- Gifts should be wrapped with great care. The container of the gift and its wrapping are as important as the gift itself.
- Speaking even a few words of Chinese is greatly appreciated.
- Revere the elderly. Hold doors, rise when the elderly enter a room, give the elderly your seat, etc.
- Refer to the People's Republic of China (PRC) as "Mainland China."
Especially for Women
- Western women generally can do business easily in Taiwan, though it may take time for some businessmen in Taiwan to accept women in business roles.
- Most Taiwan businessmen will invite a businesswoman to dinner, but normally not to after dinner entertainment