Being here for a few years, I’ve just attended what has to be at least my tenth wedding here in Taipei. Though each wedding has its nuances, just about every wedding I’ve attended save one has followed a simple formula. I’m writing this guide as a record for myself and also as a tip sheet for others who are less familiar with weddings here in Taipei.
I should first stress that I draw a distinction between weddings here in Taipei and weddings elsewhere around Taiwan (read: the south). Weddings down south are a whole other animal and I’ve only been to one so far. Even though the one I went to was pretty tame, from what I’ve heard, they can get wild and crazy (strippers, pole dancing) and are completely different from your average ceremony in Taipei. That’s another blog post and one I’m not “qualified” to write.
0. Dress Code
What should you wear? Well, traditionally in the West, weddings would require your best suit. In Taiwan, it’s more like smart casual or even just casual. I went to my first few weddings dressed formally, until it just seemed to be overkill. Now I just dress smart casual.
OK, so you’ve received a wedding invite from a friend or colleague. If you can read Chinese, you’ll notice that it specifies a time to arrive. Nobody ever arrives on time. If it’s says the 入場 (entry) is 6:30pm, you don’t need to sit down until 7pm.
2. Hong Bao (“red envelopes” / cash)
How much do you give? (Many thanks to Sophie for her insight into how much to put in the hong bao) Well, this depends on five factors:
- whether or not you are going to attend the wedding,
- how close you are to the bride or groom,
- how many people you are bringing,
- where the banquet is being held, and
- lucky / unlucky numbers
First off, if you’re not going, but you’ve received an invitation, you should still give a hong bao. How much? Well, I’ve heard anywhere between 600 and 1200 NT. This may depend on the next factor: closeness.
Obviously the closer you are, the more you may be inclined (or expected) to give. My friends say 1200 NT for acquaintances, 2600 – 3200 NT for close friends.
If you bring somebody else, add at least 600 NT to what you plan to give.
If the banquet is held in a very expensive (or cheap) venue, be sure to factor that in to your gift as well, since this gift helps the bride and groom cover their costs.
Finally, as with any major milestone in a Taiwanese person’s life, superstition rules, so never give odd denominations (1300 NT, for example) and no amount containing a 4 (considered unlucky because it sounds like 死 (si3: death). As Sophie states in her comment, even the old go-to number 8 can be considered bad luck since it sounds like 別 (bie2: separation).
So, you’ve prepared the money, now who do you give it to? Well, you need to find the table at the front just before you walk in. One side will be the groom’s, the other the bride’s. Give it to the side that you have a relationship with. Write your name on the book (in Chinese or English) and grab some of those wedding photos / glamour shots that look like trading cards. You are set to walk in.
3. Sitting down / Short video sequence
If you’re a foreigner, it’s likely that they’ve arranged for someone to escort you to your table. Take a seat and within a few minutes, the room should darken and a video will be projected on the wall. This video (probably between 5-10 minutes long) will show, in chronological order, pictures of the about-to-be-wed couple: as kids, how they met, pictures of them during their courtship and finally, the present day.
4. Newlyweds entrance
After the video is over, the couple is ready to enter. You may be provided bubbles or those little plastic snap-pop things that spray a little confetti to “welcome” the lucky pair as they walk up the aisle between tables. The MC will introduce them, ask for applause and then the couple will sit down.
5. Meal time
Once that formality is over, the real reason why everyone’s there makes its entrance: the 9 or 10 course meal. Make sure you pace yourself and take it easy. It’s a long meal and there is normally way too much food.
6. Dress Change #1 / Activity
About 15-20 minutes into the meal, the bride and groom will disappear and the bride will change into a totally new outfit. They make another grand entrance, everybody claps again and then turns their face back to their plate. Normally, entertainment of some sort happens at this point. First a short speech from the newlyweds, thanking their parents for all they’ve done for them, etc. and then perhaps a game, or some sort of activity where the bride and groom invite their single friends up to the stage for an embarrassing, awkward “chance” to meet other singles, or even a performance. I’ve seen couples sing songs at this point, and recently, the groom even brought his rock band on stage for a live two-song set. Whatever happens, the patrons may or may not watch, perhaps more interested in their meal.
7. Toast the bride and groom
Once the entertainment is over, the bridge and groom and both families go from table to table, toasting their guests. Most of the time, the groom is drinking grape juice, but I’ve been to a wedding where the groom drank anything and everything. This is usually not the case, as your average Taiwanese guy is a weak drinker. Be sure to fill your glass with the house wine that is on your table, stand and tip your glass to the newlyweds when they make it to your table. This marks the beginning of the end; it’s safe (and not rude) to leave after this point.
8. Dress Change #2 / Farewell
After all guests have been toasted, the bride and groom will disappear once more, the bride to change once again, this time into a gown to bid you farewell with. After they change, they will wait by the door to say goodbye, take photos and probably present guests with a small gift. This is your chance to congratulate the lucky couple and make your escape, if you’re able to even walk after the heavy meal.
Congratulations, you’ve survived a wedding in Taipei, with a full stomach and some grog in your belly. Any thoughts? Have I missed anything or gotten anything wrong? Let me know and I’ll update this post.