Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Gift Giving Fiasco

My husband, children, and I recently went to see some friends who just had a baby. They are Chinese and are returning to China in a few weeks. Like every good American we brought a baby gift albeit a small one as they are moving overseas in a few weeks. They didn't open it while we were there. As we were getting ready to leave, the husband went out to the garage and came back with gifts for my husband and I and gifts for each of our children. We eagerly opened them then and there and thanked them profusely, of course.

Later I googled Chinese gift giving etiquette and found that we had really messed up. There are several different relationships defined by the Chinese. The one between friends is called Guanxi: Throughout much of Chinese history, the fundamental glue that has held society together is the concept of guanxi, relationships between people.

This is the definition of Chinese gift giving between friends:

Gifts are an important way of creating and building guanxi in China.
Chinese etiquette requires that a person decline a gift, invitation, and other offerings two or three times before accepting. It is expected that the giver will persist, gently, until the gift is accepted. Be sensitive to genuine refusals.

Chinese and Westerners differ in the approach to gifts. In the West, a sincere thank you or a thank you note is an acceptable way to extend appreciation. In China, a more tangible form, or gift, is preferred.

Never give a gift that would make it impossible for the Chinese to reciprocate-this would cause a loss of face and place them in a very difficult position.

The Chinese usually do not open gifts at the time they receive them.
When receiving gifts from the Chinese, do not open them unless they insist.

Based on these rules, we must have seemed really rude. Somewhere, in the deep recesses of my mind, I knew we were screwing up. I just couldn't remember on the spot what to do correctly. It is one of those difficulties we face, living in a melting pot society, there are so many more customs to try and remember.


Scheyenne Zigzag said...

you didn"t screw up. You were kind.

Moonaroo said...

Thanks, that makes me feel better. They did send us a nice e-mail thanking us for coming over.