Asian-Caucasian Issues

Guide to Weddings in Taipei

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.

Couple and balloons

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.

1. Arrival

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:

  1. whether or not you are going to attend the wedding,
  2. how close you are to the bride or groom,
  3. how many people you are bringing,
  4. where the banquet is being held, and
  5. 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.


Categorised as: Taiwan


7 Comments

  1. Sophie says:

    About the red envelope, I usually prepare NTD 2000 for my coworker’s or friend’s wedding banquets and NTD 1200 if I do not go. In my opinion, NTD 1200 might be too less for joining a wedding banquet in Taipei. If you think your friendship with the groom of the bride only costs NTD 1200, then maybe you should consider not to go. A suggestion is to ask other attendants (for example, other coworkers) how much they prepare before going to the wedding banquet. Some people may tell, and some people may not. But it is still a good way to know how much you should prepare.

    The amount of red envelope also depends on where the wedding banquet is held. If it is the places like Grand Hyatt Hotel, NTD 2000 is the least amount if you decide to attend.

    If you are single and you are very close to the groom/bride, NTD 3200 is a good choice. You should avoid NTD 3600 because Taiwanese custom says they should return a larger amount when next time you are married, and the next proper amount of NTD 3600 is NTD 6000.

    Besides, I heard that ’8′ is not proper for weddings as well because the the pronunciation of ’8′ is similar to separation (別).

  2. mike says:

    Thanks for your comments, Sophie. The gift amounts I have are relative to my experience and pay grade. Honestly, though I have to say that it disturbs me that the money I give would be perceived as a reflection of the worth of my friendship. Perhaps that’s just the reality of modern Taiwanese life?

  3. Sophie says:

    I think the custom is from the old days. At that time many people had financial difficulties to prepare a wedding, so the red envelope was a way that their relatives and friends could help them. So this time you help your friend (via the red envelope), and the next time your friend should help you in return.

    Nowadays almost everyone is rich and can afford the wedding cost. Some newly wed do not care how much is in the red envelope, but some still do, especially the elders (e.g. their parents). Marriage in Taiwan is a business of two families, not only of two people. It is not easy to know if they really care of it, so the safest way is following the custom.

  4. Fiona says:

    What happened to dress change #2?

    This is awesome. :)

  5. mike says:

    Oops, total 3 dresses — 2 dress changes. Edited.

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