It’s Chinese New Year and your Asian partner has a surprise — an invitation to their parent’s house for dinner.
You’re nervous. You’ve never met their parents. You want to make a great first impression. As a polite guest, you decide to bring a gift. You hop on the internet to do some sleuthing on “Gift Giving in Chinese Culture.” Within minutes of scrolling through the search results, you quickly realize that gift giving in Chinese culture is a potential minefield of social faux pas and embarrassing misunderstandings. All of a sudden, finding that perfect gift seems overwhelmingly.
But fear not, finding a great gift for Chinese New Year (or any celebration) is doable. With a keen sense of cultural sensitivity, bringing over that perfect gift for the holidays is a great way to impress those future Asian in-laws.
Chinese Gifts to Avoid
Gifts to Avoid Based on Language
An important component to consider regarding Chinese gift giving culture is the effect of language. Certain Chinese characters are pronounced the same but written differently. For example, “giving a clock” (送钟 sòng zhōng) is pronounced exactly like “attending a funeral ritual” (送终 sòng zhōng). This means that gifting your Chinese in-laws a watch (even a fancy one) can send a rather grim message about mortality.
The number four is another example, as the words for “four” (四, sì) and “death” (死, sǐ) sound similar in Mandarin. Therefore, take care to avoid gifts that come in sets of four. Umbrellas are also negative, because the Chinese word for “umbrella” (伞 sǎn) sounds very close to the word for “breaking up” (散 sàn). The Mandarin word for shoes (鞋 xié) is a homophone for evil (邪 xié). Gifting someone a pair of shoes can be interpreted as presenting them with a sign for bad luck.
Gifts to Avoid Based on Color and Symbolism
Certain colors also have negative cultural stigmas. The color white has traditionally been used for funerals and should be avoided. The phrase 戴绿帽 (dài lǜ mào), which means “to wear a green hat,” translates to “a man’s wife is cheating on him.” Unless, the plan is to start the evening with an awkward icebreaker, it’s best to stay away from the color green. Gifts can also symbolize certain negative life events. Sharp objects like knives can be interpreted as a sign that you want to “cut off” relations with the person, a rather poor first impression.
Generally speaking, Chinese people also won’t open gifts immediately in front of the giver. It’s not uncommon for them to accept the gift and set it aside (it’s considered impolite to open a gift immediately). Plus, if the gift isn’t well-received, that potential discomfort can be disclosed in private.
Finding that Perfect Chinese New Year Gift
Despite these cultural rules, there are plenty of options and strategies to utilize on that quest for the perfect gift this Chinese New Year. Generally speaking, if you’re not of Asian descent, the social rules surrounding gift giving will likely be less restrictive. However, a little cultural sensitivity can go a long way to achieving a great first impression.
Handling the Ritual of Chinese Gift-Giving
First, there are some important basic manners to uphold in the act of gift giving. Remember to use both hands when presenting someone a gift (using both hands is seen as a sign of respect). Also, you might encounter a bit of resistance at first, which is perfectly normal. Remember, this isn’t a hard no or a sign of disrespect. In Chinese and many Asian cultures, initially declining a gift is a common courtesy. This initial resistance upon receiving is nothing more than a display of polite manners. Gently press on and they will accept the gift.
The Value of Special Cultural Gifts
A great gift idea is to bring something culturally unique or valuable from your background or hometown. It’s very common in Chinese and Asian culture to seek out the local specialties of an area during travels. Frequently, people who return from a business trip or a vacation abroad will bring back a special gift for their loved ones. And don’t be afraid to bring a gift that isn’t Chinese or Asian if it has special significance to your background. A unique cultural gift will be appreciated (for instance, something Western themed if you’re from Texas).
Get Creative with Your Gift Ideas
It can also be helpful to think unconventionally and creatively. The NBA is currently very popular in Asia (especially China and the Philippines) and something basketball related can potentially be a good gift. A souvenir from their favorite basketball team or the local NBA team are great ideas to consider.
Health and Food Products Are Always Good
Finally, health or food products remain excellent gift choices. Many Asians enjoy gifts that benefit one’s health, such as high end vitamins and supplements. This is especially relevant if the receivers are older and serious about their well-being. A traditional Chinese herb or reputable Western vitamins are great choices.
Bird Nests Are Ideal Gifts for Most Asian Cultures
For example, Golden Nest products are a perfect choice as a Chinese New Year gift. Traditionally an expensive banquet dish reserved for the emperor and other royalty, edible bird nests have remained popular choices at celebratory dinners like wedding banquets. Not only are bird nests instantly recognizable as high-end specialty items within Asia, they are also famous for their health benefits as an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine. Bird nest saliva contains a water-soluble protein that stimulates cell division and muscle repair, which are all key elements to natural healing. These proteins also help bolster the immune system, since it accelerates the body’s ability to produce immune-system cells that fight diseases.
Sourcing is also very important to bird nests. Unfortunately, as the popularity of bird nests has increased, the amount of counterfeit products has also accelerated. Golden Nest products are impeccably sourced, earning A+ Accreditation with the Better Business Bureau.
As a bonus, bird nests are beloved by a diverse range of Asian cultures outside of China, including Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia etc. Golden Nest products come in various amounts, variations and an excellent choice for Chinese New Year.