Gift Giving From The East To The West

Things I wish I had known before giving a gift to my Chinese friend.

Written by Emily Everswick, PREP student advocate

As you’re entering a season of gift giving you will most likely encounter giving and receiving of a gift from your Chinese student. While this gift exchange is not required, it is often a part of the Christmas season that we’re entering into.

I recall a time when my family and I lived in China for a summer. I became friends with a woman living near us because she had a daughter the same age as my daughter.

Before we left to come home I wanted to give my new friend a small gift to thank her for her kindness and friendship. I vividly remember handing her my small wrapped gift and she quickly took it and walked out of the room for a minute and returned empty-handed. The situation confused me. I was sad because I made the assumption that maybe she opened it in private and perhaps she didn’t like it.

I was baffled.

I explained the exchange to an Asian friend and she said that my exchange was normal. She went on to explain that it is customary for gifts to be opened in private.

Most times, Chinese people will not open a gift immediately unless they are requested to do so.

They believe that opening a gift immediately will mean that they value the gift more than the person visiting with them.

If I had known this, I would have avoided my brief confusion and hurt feelings. Below is a list that might help you as you consider giving a gift to your host student.

Things I wish I had known before giving a gift to my Chinese friend.

  1. If you give your student a gift, he might resist it a bit. It is customary for a gift recipient to decline a gift until the giver has insisted that he take it.
  2. Chinese people value well-wrapped gifts. Red gift-wrap signifies happy occasions. White and black colors represent funerals, and gold and silver represent weddings.
  3. Avoid giving your student a clock. This carries the connotation of death.
  4. Your student will customarily want to reciprocate with a gift back to you.
  5. Gifts are customarily given and received with both hands.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that it’s the thought that counts. Allow your gift exchanges to be an expression of your love and another opportunity to learn and exchange in cultural discussions and learning opportunities with your host student.



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