What is appropriate to send, say or do for a Taiwanese girlfriend who has just lost a member of her family?
Hold her hand. Give her a bit of extra care (making tea, cooking, washing up…).
Don’t necessarily expect to be invited to the funeral. If you are, try and linger in the background and watch what other people are doing. At some point at Chinese funerals they usually bow three times to a photograph of the deceased. Everyone bows each time as someone says “Yi jugong…er jugong…san jugong”. Don’t be surprised if you are given a towel - in theory it’s for wiping away the tears but you don’t really have to use it. I have been to three funerals in Taiwan - two Christian ones and a political one. I can’t really comment on the Buddhist/Daoist kind.
Traditionally Chinese people wear white sackcloth at funerals, but these days it tends to be more Western style with black clothes or at least black armbands. Red and other cheery colours are to be avoided, but yellow flowers are suitable.
My wife’s father died a few weeks ago. I just happened to be in Taiwan on business and was able to spend time with her and her family. I was not able to stay in Taiwan for the funeral, but I was there for the ceremony where they placed him in the casket. I just hung around in the background and tried to be supportive. There were some rituals that I was asked to participate in and at other times I was told that I needed to leave the room. I didn’t understand what was going on most of the time (and neither did my wife). It was a Daoist ceremony, but the family tends to lean more towards Bhuddism. After the ceremony we went back to the family’s house and I cooked dinner for us.
Yes, thanks to both of you for your replies. Unfortunately I am in America and cannot afford to move back to Taiwan to be there for her in person. I am sending her a letter of condolence and I call her several times a day. I would also like to send a gift of some kind- for instance, when my grandfather died his neighbors came around with home-cooked casseroles and the like. Do the Taiwanese do anything like this or would gifts be inappropriate? I would ask my girlfriend, but she thinks this is the sort of thing I should know without having to ask.
If you aren’t in Taiwan, all you can do is to call. I would say that you sending gifts and calling a lot will go down well, unless she’s so uptight that she can’t fathom cultural differences.
I have only been to one Taiwanese funeral. I was not asked to leave at any time, and when I said that I was there, I mean all the time and then some. (I was sort of honorary son in law). Your knees will be very sore. Practice bows beforehand.
I only attended one funeral, that of my grandmother-in-law. I don’t think gifts of prepared foods are popular. There are companies in Taiwan that sell specially arranged towers of beer and such, but from outside of Taiwan, I think all you can do is be there for her emotionally as much as possible. Sounds like you are doing that.
A white envelope at the funeral is customary. Other than that, words of comfort, even prayers or devotions from other faiths are appreciated. My sisters-in-law and mother-in-law were really touched when I showed them all the mass cards from my parents and all the parishioners at their church.
For food or anything edible you might plan to send, be aware that a lot of Taiwanese subscribe to vegetarianism for 49 days during the process of the funeral. Usually the food that is given is home cooked though, not really so much a gift as an act of relieving you from the distration of having to cook during your time of grief.
Not responding to the OP, but just commenting.
The father of a girl in our office died recently and we were each asked to pitch in NT$500 to give her. So today she gave each of us a box with a small towel in it. Strange custom.
Cookies at weddings, towels at funerals, really bad cake and biendangs at the birth of a baby; they’re all just ways of saying “thank you”.
You’re supposed to wash before doing or going anywhere after a funeral. Thus the towel.
And whatever you do, don’t look at or listen to a funeral when you pass one on the street (and if your child’s in the car when you drive past, consider covering his/her ears when you pass). THAT I learned from my wife.
My first month in Taiwan, we went to Hsinchu with some Taiwanese friends. My Japanese roommate and I thought the procession was just a religious parade and video-taped it. The video is at home, and now I understand what the Taiwanese friends were saying in Chinese… they didn’t know how to tell us to stop pointing the camera at the “parade”… oops…
heard about not looking but never not listening. think i’ll still have to listen on the sly, i like that crazy music.
A funeral for a family member of mine is likely imminent. And yet somehow, in all my years of life, I’ve never been to one. Not even back in the states.
I’m afraid to ask anyone in my family, because that would remind them that this is the end. But I feel a need to prepare myself, because…well, I just know it’s gonna be horrible, and I’m gonna have a bad time.
I think it’s going to be a traditional affair. My family is culturally Buddhist/Taoist. Can anyone give me an idea of what to expect?
Yeah, I have done this a few times. What is supposed to be done is so complicated it will be likely be designated to someone who knows.
If you are part of the family, you will be expected to stand at a certain point on a certain date and bow at a certain time. There could be more like fetching bits of bone remains with chop sticks. Try not to drop the remains of what might be a part of the skull after cremation.
Yeah, done that twice, sister in law and mother in law. Sister in law died of cancer and had the guy speculate on the cause of death since the bones seemed to indicate chemotherapy.
I knew it was gonna involve some kind of awful shit that would end up seared into my brain. It’s like some of these rituals are purposely as devastating as humanly possible.
I wish we could just celebrate the person’s life…
A few things…
Regardless of the deceased or their family’s religious belief, Chinese funerals are very rigid and do NOT object when told to do anything that may seem weird to you.
It seems the tradition is, when bodies are lowered into a coffin, or if a coffin is lowered into the ground (for traditional burials, which seems rare in Taiwan), you will be told to turn around and not look. The belief is if you look somehow the misfortune that led to the person’s death would somehow transfer to you.
If you are the family of the deceased, you will be expected to hold incense or the deceased picture. It depends on your relationship with the deceased. For my grandparents I had to hold the picture because I am the eldest grandson of the eldest son of my grandparents. Things like this mean a lot in a traditional Confucian family. If you are the foreigner you will likely be told to sit in the back, especially if you have little to no relationship with the deceased.
At the end of every funeral, you do not bid farewell or say goodbye. The idea is you do not want to meet them under similar circumstances again (basically at a funeral of someone else).
Do exactly as you are told, follow the funeral director to the letter. They are professionals. Failing to do that can be seen as disrespect, and while younger people may not care as much, the old ones will, and you will lose relationships this way (as people tend to follow their parents without question here).
If you have any questions, ask. The best thing may be that you are not invited at all, because funeral is a big deal here, and messing it up can really hurt you badly. Add in “100 year of humiliation”, “foreigner pick on Chinese people”, and this could turn ugly FAST. If you are invited come well prepared and make sure you’re up to speed on the traditions that family follows (it varies with each family). They will probably cut you some slack if you don’t know but make sure the rules are followed to the letter.
Oh I don’t think so. People always make allowance for the ignorance of foreigners in these kind of situations. Obviously you don’t want to do anything too out of line, but I wouldn’t worry. Just follow along and as TL says, do what you’re told.
One thing, probably obvious to you, but don’t wear red.