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Giving Gifts in Chinese Culture

Chinese people have their own, somewhat strange at times, culture when they buy gifts to give to friends or relatives.

In the case of a new-born baby, often a jade or silver bracelet or necklace would be considered suitable, particularly the ones which make the pinging sound when the baby moves. Alternatively, baby clothes, shoes or gloves would be a good idea. For older childen, some toys or stationary would be ideal.

Most often for old people, something very practical or luxurious should be considered. A walking stick could be welcome or some valuable food such as bird's nests or Chinese mushrooms would be highly appreciated.

For prospective parents-in-law, something more valuable would be a most favourable option, such as some good vintage wine or a meaningful gift, such as a vase, some Chinese dining sets or pictures.

If it is not a special occasion giving some fruit such as apples or oranges would be satisfactory. If you wish to give your friends some fruit, don't forget to buy an even number of them because odd numbers are deemed to be bad luck. So you should buy ten apples instead of nine.

It is also important to realise that giving someone gifts is not a one-way transaction. Courtesy requires reciprocity. The person who receives the present should seek a chance in the future to return the favour by giving back a gift of similar value. Don't do it too soon though, leave it at least a few days otherwise things may appear awkward.

There are also some old taboos which must be avoided in Chinese culture. Though younger Chinese don't seem to bother about it so much, it is still necessary to know what would be suitable in any given occasion.

Books are not be welcome gifts in places like Hong Kong or Macau because the pronunciation 'book' in Cantonese resembles the sound of 'loss'. Especially for those people who are frequent horse racing gamblers in race course or other gamblers - They would definitely not welcome this gift idea.

Umbrellas would not be suitable in many places in China because the pronunciation of 'umbrella' resembles separation. Of course nobody likes the idea of separation, particularly concerning your loved ones.

Clocks pose another un-welcome problem, particularly on someone's birthday because the pronunciation of 'clock' resembles termination, as in death. No wonder Chinese people don't like to receive clocks as birthday gifts.

Foreigners may find it strange and awkward when their Chinese friend says 'You don't need to buy anything for me' or 'Keep it for yourself, I have a lot of these already'. The Chinese friend may not mean it! What you need to do is to insist that the friend takes the gift since Chinese people do not usually take gifts immediately. Don't be upset if the gift is not opened immediately. Chinese people think opening the present in front of you is impolite and they will open it later on when you are gone.

These gift ideas are just guidelines. Knowing that you come from a foreign culture with foreign ideas, Chinese people these days are more tolerant to things which are not in step with their culture. So really there is no need to worry too much when you visit a Chinese friend. Maybe your own gift ideas could seem exotic and be a big surprise to them!

This article was written by Yee Lee Wong · © All Rights Reserved