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I am from northern Europe, but currently live in China. I was going to be a speaker at this social event at a cafe. I asked a Taiwanese woman if she would like to join me to the event (just me and her). She said she would like to. Later my speech was cancelled, but I asked if she would like to go somewhere else, again she agreed.

First of all, in Chinese/Taiwanese culture, would this be considered a date? If so, am I (the man) expected to pay for the dinner? (I would like it to be a date.)

  • Hi ola, welcome to our site :) While there are some cultural differences on what wording/plans constitute a date, whether or not the other person considers this to be a date is not something we can answer on this site. – Jesse Nov 5 '19 at 3:25
  • Also, the main (etiquette) part of your question is very similar to this other question that was closed for being too broad: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/9645/… I'm not sure if everyone considers this type of question on topic or not but either way perhaps the old answers/conversation on that question may be of assistance. – Jesse Nov 5 '19 at 3:27
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    @Jesse The help page for IPS says that the following is on-topic: "the written and unwritten - but well-established and expected - rules or conventions of behavior in a specific setting (also called etiquette)". This question is different from the one you cite because it asks an etiquette question for Taiwanese culture. – DaveG Nov 5 '19 at 14:03
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    In this particular case I feel that the question is on topic. Mainly because I learned in my Mandarin class that in Taiwan, there's a bit of an "argument" over who pays for the meal as it's considered an honor to do so. I think this question could produce good answers since this is a cross-culture issue on etiquette. – Lux Claridge Nov 5 '19 at 14:23
  • @LuxClaridge I think the "argument" over who pays for the meal extends beyond Taiwan. I have several Chinese friends whose families came over from Hong Kong. I visit them occasionally, and the only way I can get the check is by secretly waylaying the waiter and telling him or her to deliver the check directly to me. – DaveG Nov 5 '19 at 14:59
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I've lived in China for years.

TL;DR: This is not necessarily a date. It's good to attempt to pay for the bill (if given a chance), but I expect it's unlikely you'll succeed.

First of all, in Chinese/Taiwanese culture, would this be considered a date?

I'm not familiar with Taiwanese culture, but I expect it is very similar to China. In Chinese culture, there's several plausible non-date reasons that a Chinese woman would go to dinner with a European man:

  1. In Chinese culture, asking someone out for dinner does not imply "date" like it does in Western culture. I made this mistake when a man asked me out to dinner, but it turned out he was married and he was assuming his wife would come too. He was just being friendly (and he cooked some amazing dumplings!).

  2. She might consider you in a position of power or authority, and perhaps feel it's expected of her. I encounter this as a "teacher" in China: Chinese people will often feel obligated if I ask them to do something, as if they're unable to say "no". Chinese people (and I'm guessing Taiwanese people) consider "face" important; and maybe she fears that saying "no" would cause you to lose face.

  3. She might want to practice English. This happens a lot in China, and it's quite frustrating. I don't know the specifics of your circumstances; you'll need to judge.

  4. She may be one of those "Chinese culture is amazing! Let me show you" types. A lot of people here enjoy sharing Chinese culture with international people, and food is a big part of Chinese culture.

So while it's possible it's considered a date, it's also possible it's not considered a date.

If so, am I (the man) expected to pay for the dinner? (I would like it to be a date.)

Chinese culture includes "fighting over the bill". I recommend attempting to pay for dinner (if you get an opportunity; you might not), perhaps even gently pushing her out of the way if she attempts to pay. In my years in China, I've probably "won" this battle a handful of times.

If she lets you pay, I would interpret that as a medium-strength sign that it's a date. It's not a normal thing to let international guests pay.

If you end up splitting the bill, I would interpret that as a strong sign that it's not a date. This virtually never happens in China (I've done it with large groups, but even then they sometimes don't let me pay).

I expect she'll simply out-Chinese you at the cash register (or at the table via her phone), the cashier will probably ignore you and listen to her, and she'll end up paying via WeChat or Alipay. This happens to me a lot. I would not consider this sign either way, it's just part of Chinese culture and friendliness. There's other non-date-related factors which may encourage her to pay, like coupon apps (which are popular nowadays), and making things simpler for the wait staff.

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The chances are extremely high that your date knows more about Western culture than you know about hers. Western culture is omnipresent - the whole world watches Hollywood movies. She will know that you, as a European, have asked her out on a date.

In any culture, consulting a "guide" to etiquette will give you only generalisations which may be true for a majority of people, but not for everybody - and that subset of people who do not fit into such a generalisation, no matter how small a minority, are just as likely to be offended by you assuming what they thought than if you missed some unwritten rule of etiquette.

On the subject of dating etiquette in China, the website YoYo Chinese says:

The man is generally supposed to handle all the decision making in Chinese dating, and some girls take this very seriously.

If you are able to pay for the date, then perhaps you should make the decision to do so, tell her that you will pay and then see that through. This would at least demonstrate confident decision making and generosity.

On the other hand, the website lovedevani.com claims that Chinese women with "traditional" values or beliefs "tend to date among their own race". The very fact that she has accepted a date with you would, therefore, suggest that she is not "traditional", so perhaps she will have no such expectation that you will take the lead on the date, but it still would not hurt to pay if you can do so because if she is more open to other cultures she is even less likely to be offended if it is not the norm.

When two people of different backgrounds meet, learning more about the other's culture can be an interesting and enjoyable part of the experience, so don't view your lack of knowledge about her culture as a hindrance to the occasion, but something you can talk about.

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