Culture Note

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Culture Note:





Giving & Receiving Presents

We often think about getting presents for our friends abroad when we travel to visit them. It is important for us to learn about the different cultural expectations about giving and receiving gifts, and learn how to give the right presents in the appropriate ways in their countries.

People in different countries have different ways of giving and accepting gifts. When you give a present to someone in China or Iran, don’t be surprised if your offer is declined, because it is expected that the person who is getting the present should “decline” your offer two or three times before he/she finally accepts your gift, and it is also expected that you should continue to offer your present until this person accepts it. This ritual “give-and-take” shows that the person to whom the present is given is very polite and not greedy. Like people in Denmark, Germany, Turkey, Ethiopia, Mexico, Paraguay, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, the Chinese also use both hands to give or receive presents to show their mutual respect. In Muslim countries, people use only their right hands to give and accept gifts. In many other countries, people use either the right or left hands to give and accept presents.

While people in many countries open their gifts right after they get them, people in Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, Burkina Faso, Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Cuba, Mexico, Paraguay, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and China open their gifts later. If one opens the gift right after he/she gets it, one might be considered impolite or greedy.

In some countries, people avoid giving certain things as presents because of cultural or linguistic factors. For example, people in Brazil don’t give purple flowers as gifts because it is unlucky. Similarly, Koreans and Chinese avoid giving white chrysanthemum as gifts because it is a funeral flower in Korea and in China. Also, Koreans don't give a handkerchief as a gift because it implies the breakup of a relationship and the handkerchief is for wiping away tears. Similarly, people in Mexico don’t give a handkerchief as a present because it might turn friends into enemies. In China, people avoid giving a clock as a gift, because the Chinese pronunciation of the word “clock” shares the same phonetic sound of the word "death" or “the end”, which might imply the end of friendships or death. Similarly, people in Ukraine avoid giving a clock or a watch as a gift to young couples because it might cause the breakup of their relationships in the future. In France, if a woman gives a watch to her husband, it will also cause the breakup of their relations. In Algeria, if a woman gives cologne to her boy-friend, it will lead to the breakup of their relations as well. In Korea and in China, spouses avoid giving new shoes to each other, because it is believed that he/she will run away with these new shoes on and that will lead to their breakup. In Vietnam, people avoid giving towels or candles as gifts because they symbolize bad luck and might bring the receiver hardships in the future. Also, many people in Vietnam believe that if someone breaks a glass at the wedding reception, the newly-wed couple will have bad luck. That's why the Vietnamese avoid giving wine glasses as wedding presents. In addition, some people 
in America would not give cosmetics or beauty products as presents because these might imply that their friends don’t look attractive and they need to improve their appearance. It is a good idea to avoid giving roses to someone you do not know very well because the color of roses can mean so many things and you do not want to offend anyone. Also, some Americans avoid giving scissors or knives as wedding gifts because they symbolize destruction of the union between man and wife. Similarly, people in Denmark don’t give knives, needles and scissors as presents to avoid the risk of cutting, and these items symbolize bad luck. Also, people in Ukraine avoid giving knives as gifts because knives represent the cause of many problems. In Korea, people avoid giving knives as gifts because they symbolize breakup and extinction. In Spain, you should avoid giving a deodorant because you are implying that the person you are giving the gift to smells bad. In general, people in many countries think that you shouldn't give really personal things to people who are not close to you, for example, underwear to a colleague. Similarly, perfume and hygiene products such as a toothbrush or a deodorant should not be used as presents.

When it comes to gifts, people in different countries often have different interpretations of the same items. For example, a clock is a gift that symbolizes bad luck in Ukraine and in China, while in the U.S. a clock or a watch is a popular gift given at retirement parties to someone who is retiring, because a clock or a watch represents all the time a retiree has spent working at that job and possibly the time he/she will enjoy during retirement.

The Danes give a bag or a purse that should always contain a small coin to bring wealth. Similarly, a gift that contains cash (often in red envelopes) symbolizes good luck in China. On the other hand, if you give cash as a gift in other countries, your friends might think that you don’t care about them because you are too lazy to buy and wrap gifts for them. People in Turkey avoid giving money as a gift because it might be offensive for the receiver.

Understanding different cultural expectations about giving and accepting gifts can help us to develop friendships with people from different cultures and enrich our lives.


updated on November 16, 2013

Copyright © 2007-2014



Culture Quiz: Giving & Receiving Gifts







Vocabulary Exercise: Giving & Receiving Gifts