Thursday, March 12, 2009

Gift manners in China

Giving gifts in China isn't really like it is back home...

Rocky and his cousin Frank (who both work at the gym where I go) have been behaving like total kids some days before Xmas. Every time they see me at the gym they come running towards me: “You Na, You La! Have you developed the photos from our hometown yet? Have you, have you?!” Up until now I hadn’t but yesterday I finally got myself together and went to the shop and developed 50 photos each for them. When they first heard about this they got both excited and surprised, asking me why I would give them 50 EACH?

“Well maybe you won’t always be in the same city in the future and then it is nice for you to have your own photos, right?!”


I think somewhere around there I turned into a saint in their eyes. Anyways, I am giving them some photos this afternoon and then I am also mailing some photos to the family in Shuang Xi. I was thinking about making a nice little gift package, kind of as a ‘thank you for your hospitality and for showing me your beautiful village’ –gesture, although I am not quite sure what to put in the package? It’s fairly easy to get something for Rocky’s sister, Yang Niu… Some CDs, a cute, girly t-shirt and maybe a thin English book (she wants to learn English), but what do I put in for the mom, dad, grandma and grandpa? Any suggestions?

I always find it tricky to buy gifts for Chinese people. The gift-culture over here is so completely different to back in Europe. In China you mainly give each other money (hong baos) in red envelopes on big occasions like weddings, CNY or during the national holiday. As for gifts, I have been told that fruits, snacks, bai jiu or chocolate is OK to bring if going over to a Chinese family for dinner (we gave Rocky’s family a large bag of cookies during our visit) but I don’t know… it feels so… simple to just give some cookies bought from the bakery?

Also, I find it hard to know what gifts are really appreciated over here because in China, you don’t open the gift in front of the hosts eyes (like we do back home, and go ‘ohhhhhh! Thank you soooo much, but really, you shouldn’t have!’ to show your appreciation) but rather, you put them to the side and open them after the guest have left. When me and my bf first came here and were supposed to meet with a friend of a friend in Shanghai (who was going to help us find a flat) that we had never met before. Too show our appreciation we brought some expensive Finnish glass candle holder (Iittala) and some Finnish snacks, but when we handed it over, the girl almost looked trouble, said ‘thanks’ and just put it to the side. We felt kind of blown-off, although of course I later learned that that’s just the way you do things here.

Anyways, if anyone has any good gift ideas (maybe you have given something to a Chinese friend before that has been really appreciated? Or maybe it has gone the complete opposite way? Share!!) that I can put in a package and send with the mail, please feel free to share. It obviously cannot be anything too over-the-top or too extravagant, but rather something small as a gesture to say thank you (oh, and I will also write a letter in Chinese. Now that’s going to be a challenge because my character handwriting is terrible!).


slushdot said...

You know much about china!

slushdot said...

I think you can write your blog in both English and Chinese!

Anonymous said...

When we traveled to China for adoptions we were told to bring gives for every official involved in the process. Some suggestions were small tool sets, professional sports jerseys/hats or pen sets for men and chocolate or toiletries for women.
I am curious if it is still inappropriate to give a clock for a gift in China (some connection to death?) or to wrap the gift in white paper? I do remember being told to give the gift with two hands and to receive any gift with two hands to show appreciation and not casual acceptance.
I am really enjoying reading about your experiences. Thank you!

Kosmo said...

I have no Chinese friends ... but perhaps they would like some sort of gift that represents the culture of Sweden? Or maybe a framed photo from your trip? Sorry if those are bad ideas.

That's great that you were able to make Rocky and Frank so happy with the photos.

Anonymous said...

No clock. No white paper. White is the color of funeral, and clock in Chinese sounds like The End. Some decoration for the home from Europe, brandy, cigarettes (yuk), food (dry scallop ?), picture book of Sweden..

And wrap in red paper.

Dr Sofea J.Ann Tan said...

clocks and watches or anything to do with time is a big no no - it means time to die ..hahha ..

nothing with sharp ends eg letter opener,cutlery like knive set .. meaning it hurts ..:)

mirrors or any decorative items with mirrors on it.. means telling the owmner to look into the mirror and say he is ugly ..hah ahaha..

those r few tht i can remember.. though thr are many more..he he

mantse said...

This is Chinese manner. If the receiver or their members show a little disappointment to a gift (maybe have already, or any reasons) . when i was young, my mum always told me that never open the give until visitor left. is prevent me to say something wrong.

i suggested that you make a big photos with their family (if have) or make many photos in a photo frame. if you can do some handmakings or writing something in Chinese next to the photos and put them into a frame (let them can hang it on the wall). they should love it so much.

show you still remember them and your gratitude to them is great enough!

Wagner said...

Yeah, it's true not to send gifts like clocks and/or white paper to Chinese, which is regarded to be connected with death or bad luck. Yet, younger generations today care less about it, while older people do.

Wagner said...

I think a better practice might be
1) to ask some friends of the "target" to find out what is his/her favorites;
2)to pay more attention to the aging and the kids of a family. Sometimes it's enough to just bring gifts to the aging and/or the kids; and
3)better to send gifts based on the coming festivals or important days. Say, it's just right to bring "Hong Bao" when CNY is coming. ^_^

Jonna Wibelius said...

SunMingming -both in Eng and Chi? Then blogging would be a full-time job! :)

CQA - chocolate is a good idea.. gives me a good idea to go to IKEA and stack up! :)

Casual observer -Yup, an enlarged photo will go in the package.

I had no idea that it was bad to give clocks in China! Thanks for telling me you guys!

조안나 said...

Spam seems to go over well in Korea... but... I don't know if that's universal (I kind of hope not). Maybe have some fruit delivered? Or flowers?

mochi said...

Great blog.

Giving an umbrella is also a no-no. It means to seperate or to break up.

Usually, some snack or some small toy for kids and scarf or handkerchief for the women would do nicely. For men, cigarette ?

Great blog by the way.

Long time lurker,

Anonymous said...

I think chocolates and also cosmetics for women will be appreciated.

I know this sounds weird, how about vitamin supplements but not from China. My Taiwanese relatives LOVES getting Centrum from the US and things like that.

Alan said...

Also, I find it hard to know what gifts are really appreciated over here because in China, you don’t open the gift in front of the hosts eyes (like we do back home, and go ‘ohhhhhh! Thank you soooo much, but really, you shouldn’t have!’ to show your appreciation) but rather, you put them to the side and open them after the guest have left.

Yes we should all prefer the western "fakeness" ... it is a different culture. They appreciate the gift just in a different and more honest way.