After being here in Taiwan over 25 years I find that I am needing to examine my views toward certain local customs. The first custom which I would like to discuss is the custom of giving red envelopes to children during the lunar New Year period.
After examining my feelings about this custom, and considering that I am married to a Taiwanese lady and hence have Taiwanese relatives, I find that I am willing to participate, and indeed in years past I have always participated.
However, in examining my feelings further, I come to the conclusion that my idea of what is reasonable is to set some kind of monetary standard, based on my own financial considerations. Hence, if I determine that I can give out a large number of red envelopes containing NT$ 600 each, then that becomes my standard. At the present time, since we have a lot of relatives, (and not too many neighbors with whom we are extremely familiar), so I am just going to adopt one monetary standard, (as opposed to saying NT$ 600 for category A children, NT$ 500 for category B children, NT$ 250 for category C children, etc.)
So, I think that maybe I will have to give out 30 or 40 red envelopes, and I feel that in order to show my cooperation with this type of holiday spirit, I will give these out happily, and with NT$ 600 in each.
However, my wife says that I cannot do this. My wife says that most foreigners do not understand this “giving red envelopes to children” custom, and so she is now going to take it upon herself to teach me. She says that inherent in this custom is the idea of reciprocity. Hence, if the neighbor gives our child a red envelope containing NT$ 1200, we must reciprocate in kind, and give his child A MINIMUM OF NT$ 1200, BUT PREFERABLY MORE. Likewise, if Uncle Lin gives our child a red envelope containing NT$ 5000, we must reciprocate in kind, and give his child A MINIMUM OF NT$ 5000, BUT PREFERABLY MORE.
This raises a lot of thorny issues for me. I would welcome comments from the visitors to this Forum. According to the Chinese/Taiwanese social customs, how do you view my rights/responsibilities in such matters?