25 September 2008

Culturally Confounded in Taiwan, Chapter One

Over my past nearly-two-months in Taiwan, I've come across a few baffling "what the..." revelations about Taiwanese culture. These things would happen to me or around me that were totally unlike what I'm used to at home, but I would have no idea why. These aren't those "people eat snake meat" or "take your shoes off when inside" type things that you either notice quickly or people take you aside to tell you. No, these things are much more subtle than that, and you can go on living with it for two months before you realize what exactly is going on.

Chapter 1: Receipts
Business cards are a very popular thing in Asia right now. You meet someone somewhere and talk to them for more than three minutes, and you will walk away one business card richer. The way that you exchange business cards is rather formal; it is customary and polite to accept business cards with both hands while slightly bowing (at least nodding your head). This is one of those things that's pretty easy to notice, and I know this was explained to me before I went to Asia for the first time.

Now, Katie, why did you make the heading "Receipts" if you were just going to talk about business cards? Well, every time you buy anything-- from a can of Coke at the 7-11 to furnishings for your whole apartment at IKEA-- the cashier will formally hand you your receipt. They don't ask if you want one, and act somewhat surprised if you don't take it. I always assumed this was just an extension of the business card behavior... someone hands you a piece of paper, however trivial, and you politely accept it and move on with your day.

But nay! Apparently, at the top of every receipt, there is a 10-digit numerical code. These codes are all lottery numbers of sorts. A certain government website updates with new numbers every month, and you can win a prize if you have the winning number. But you have to be able to produce the whole receipt. Which means keeping all of your receipts for at least a month. This behavior is to encourage people to want receipts, thus encouraging companies to keep track honestly of their transactions. If you ask me, though, save me the clutter and save the world the paper, I'm not winning the lottery any time soon.

Now as proof, even 麥當勞 is serious about its receipts. (As a side note, I only go there for the 冰旋風. And maybe sometimes fries.)


Dalbanese said...

If you save your receipts but don't want the money, give them to me!!

To date, I've won $1,000 NT total on receipts ($30 rebate for cokes?!?) and I have yet to check my July/August mountain that the numbers came out for last night.

Last year a number of ETAs won money, including someone who walked away with 4K from one receipt.


AnnaR said...

i see oreo on there!!!

good no matter what country you're in :)

Cressy said...

Haha, awesome post. It's a little different in Shanghai, where most receipts have a lottery number AND an instant win scratch card part. So, though I have never won the lottery, I have won various other things like scarves, umbrellas, or an extra 10-20 yuan. Sounds like a good deal to me. I wish they did something like this in the U.S. ;)
Hope things are back to normal with the passing of the typhoon and all. Taiwan is famous for having those days... Take care~~~

Aluishus said...

Hey Katie,

My theory is that the whole receipt lottery thing is designed to get people into the habit of issuing receipts so there's less tax dodging.

All the people I work with collect them and check their numbers religiously.I usually save them up for my colleagues. Personally, I have better things to do with my time.

If you teach kids, it works a lot better than rewards cards... or so I'm told.

Alternatively, lots of places have charity bins to drop off your receipts, but I'm sure you're onto it.

Thanks for the post. It's something I've been meaning to blog, but never got around to... I'll just link this.

Take it easy,


PS I noticed they've just started putting the numbers on page two of the Taipei Times