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, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, Burkina Faso, Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Cuba, Mexico, Paraguay, Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, Burma, Nepal and the Philippines 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 and Thailand don’t give purple flowers as gifts because it is unlucky, while the Cuban give yellow flowers to express dislike to the recipients. Similarly, Koreans and Chinese avoid giving white chrysanthemum as gifts because it is a funeral flower in Korea and in China. People in Spain don't give chrysanthemum of all colors as gifts, either, because chrysanthemums are also funeral flowers. In Thailand, people avoid giving flamingo flowers as gifts because they symbolize death.  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 and the Spanish 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, Peru, Cuba and Argentina, 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. Similarly, clocks are common gifts for new homeowners in Argentina.

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, Spain, Cuba, Peru and Argentina  avoid giving money as a gift because it might be offensive for the receiver.

When it comes to the symbols of colors, people in different countries have different interpretations of the same colors. For example, yellow flowers in Cuba are given to express dislike for the receivers. Also, actors in Spain and Argentina avoid wearing yellow costumes performing in theaters because yellow is the symbol of bad luck. On the other hand, yellow is symbol of happiness and good fortune in Peru. During new year celebrations, the Peruvians wear yellow clothes, give yellow flowers as gifts, and there are yellow holiday decorations everywhere.

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 February 13, 2017

Copyright © 2007-2018

Culture Quiz: Giving & Receiving Gifts

Vocabulary Exercise: Giving & Receiving Gifts


Blogger Hala said...

Very interesting and authentic indeed!!
This is a great lesson for your students!
Can I use sometime with mine?
Way to go!

February 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM  
Blogger Nina said...

Dear Cora,

Very nice and good job! It's definitely very useful and certainly authoritative information to study. I am impressed with your well organized research of the material and creativity you've worked with. I am sure your students will enjoy reading this and completing the assignments.
I've done that with great pleasure and do hope to get your permission to add the link to my blog in order to give my students the opportunity to learn with yours.

Nina Lyulkun

February 23, 2007 at 7:22 AM  
Blogger Mônica said...

That was really interesting, and certainly relevant to all of us! You did a great job and I'm sure your students will love the quiz and the survey!
Um abraço,
Monica Veado

February 23, 2007 at 8:08 AM  
Blogger Dennis said...

Hi, Cora.

What a wonderful blog entry! The material shows how varied something as commonplace as gift-giving can be in different places and cultures.

We can all learn from this very interesting post. I'm sure it will be both interesting and instructive for your students and for anyone who visits your blog.

Best wishes!

Dennis in Phoenix

February 23, 2007 at 9:00 AM  
Blogger Berta said...

Hi Cora,
What an excellent theme for intercultural reflection, something as commonplace as gift giving and receiving.

Cheers and thanks for sharing this creative material,

March 5, 2007 at 12:26 PM  
Blogger Nina Liakos said...

I loved your post about gift-giving and learned several things I didn't know before.
Nina (MD)

November 18, 2008 at 7:05 AM  
Blogger luoyan788 said...

Thanks for the selfless shares learned from you Teacher Cora.
Cami/Yan luo

March 25, 2011 at 6:44 PM  
Blogger Samar Khader Farah said...

Hi Cora this is very useful for me because i am doing a material development project based on an intercultural perspective so do you think i can use this article and cite it with your name . I will then create both during reading and post reading activities based on your article. So Can i be permitted to use it?

December 20, 2014 at 12:13 AM  
Blogger Cora Chen said...

Hi Samar Khader Farah,

Thanks for your interest in using my article for teaching! Sure, you are welcome to use this article and cite it with my name.

December 20, 2014 at 11:30 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home