Turn your no-no into a ho! ho! ho!

By Liu Meng and Chen Ximeng Source:Global Times Published: 2015-12-23 19:38:01

Christmas is a holiday for friends to tighten their emotional connections by sending each other gifts. But when it comes to a friend who has a different cultural background, choosing a proper gift can be tricky. Photo: Li Hao/GT

O Henry told this story 110 years ago, but this time it has a tragic Chinese twist. Jack and his Chinese coworker Lili have been friends from some time, and they both wondered if their feelings could go even deeper. Jack knew that Chinese people place a great deal of importance on small but thoughtful gifts and Lili often asks him for the time, so he decided to get her an elegant desk clock. Lili noticed that Jack spends a lot of time and money on his appearance, so she bought him some expensive soap scented with one of her favorite fragrances.

They exchanged gifts and awkwardly thanked each other. But then what seemed like a budding friendship cooled off, with both of them keeping a distance. What went wrong?

Everyone loves getting gifts, but there are some hidden rules when it comes to giving gifts to a person from a different cultural background. To help you avoid derailing friendships, insulting coworkers, or losing out on love, Metropolitan made you a special Christmas gift - 10 do's and don'ts for gifting a friend from another culture.

Expats: Gift ideas for your Chinese friends:

1.Bottled fresh air: The reason foreigners favor this gift for their Chinese friends is simple, clean air is desperately needed by Chinese people, especially if you live in Beijing; the capital issued the first red alert for air pollution on December 7 and the second one on December 18. Don't doubt the popularity of bottled fresh air. A Chinese man who likes to shop on amazon.com said in a message he posted in an online forum that the minute he read "made in Canada" on the inflatable packaging (air bags) in his parcel he could not help opening them and breathing in all the clean air. Nowadays, it is not unusual for young Chinese who travel abroad to bring back bottled fresh air. According to an article in The Telegraph this month, a 7.7-liter can of fresh air taken from a park in the Rocky Mountains sells for about 100 yuan ($15.44), and the first shipment of 500 bottles of such fresh air sold out in four days.

 2. Foreign milk powder: Chinese moms love foreign milk powder; the whole world knows it. With the Chinese government loosening the family-planning policy to allow couples to have two children this year, more mothers will join the purchasing army. Be careful not to speak too loudly and let your colleagues overhear that you will return to your home country anytime soon. Whether you are from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands or the UK, your Chinese colleagues will always have families or friends that want them to help buy foreign milk powder. There have been news reports about supermarkets in foreign countries setting up limited quotas for milk powder buyers. Although they did not say these countries targeted Chinese people, the public felt that it was China's demand for foreign milk powder that triggered the rule. In China, children mean everything to their parents. You cannot go wrong with buying milk powder for your Chinese friends who have babies.

3. Mistletoe: It is the best gift for your Chinese male friend if he is still single. Cheer him up from the whammy he suffered on Single's Day by telling him the secret behind the mistletoe. There are all kinds of reasons for a man to become a shengnan (leftover man) - a lack of courage to express his crush to his beloved is one of them. Tell him to take a mistletoe with him to the Christmas Eve party, walk up to the girl he likes, hold it above their heads, and then he can kiss her. Don't underestimate the difficult situation your Chinese friend is in! According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China earlier this year, by the end of 2014, the population of Chinese males on the mainland is more than 700 million while there are only 667 million females. Do a rough calculation, if the situation continues, about one-third of Chinese men are doomed to a life of bachelordom.

4. Damn it doll: You can get it for your Chinese friend that has a car. The Legal Daily reported this month that there have been more than 17.33 million road rage cases this year. The traffic in Beijing is so slow that there is a story going around about a man whose pet tortoise beat him home and returned to find him stuck in the same spot on the Second Ring Road. An American, who works in Beijing, especially recommended this stress-relieving doll for adults to squeeze when they are frustrated due to Beijing's traffic. Just imagine how lucky your Chinese driver friends will feel when all the other drivers caught in the traffic jam are angrily pressing their horns, and they can squeeze this cute doll to vent their rage. This year, it is expected that evening rush hour on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will stretch from 4 pm to almost midnight, so your gift might come in very handy.

5. Clock: On Reddit, a foreign user recommended clock as a gift for foreigners to send to their Chinese friends. He said it symbolizes how the giver values every moment he or she spends with their friend and how he or she wishes the friendship will last forever. Another foreigner told Metropolitan that he once gifted a clock to a Chinese girl, and the girl was surprised and happy. How lucky is this foreign guy! Usually, sending a clock to a friend is considered a taboo in Chinese culture because the pronunciation of the Chinese word for giving a clock to someone, songzhong, sounds similar to another word that means to attend a funeral. You could try your luck like that foreigner and see what happens. Other foreigners surveyed by Metropolitan dare not challenge tradition by gifting a clock. They said though they have good intentions, their Chinese friends may still not like it. The lucky foreign guy defended his action, saying that China is changing, and it is the thought that matters. While this is true, Metropolitan suggests that you make sure your Chinese friend is open to receiving your "controversial" gift, after all, you don't want to get clocked!

Although it is the thought that counts, there is no harm in trying to give a gift that fits in exactly with your friend's wishes to avoid possible awkwardness. Photo: IC

Chinese: Gift ideas to nix when shopping for an expat friend

1. Panda-related gifts: Many Chinese like to pick up some Chinese-style Christmas gifts to give to their expat friends. As a symbol and the "spokesperson" for China, panda memorabilia rank high on the list of Chinese gifts that suggest a special greeting from China. But be careful they might work the other way. A foreigner told Metropolitan that she received a lot of toy pandas as gifts, and though they are very cute, they are not special. She said everyone can buy one at Silk Market or Yashow Market and they do not have much to do with Christmas. For a Western holiday, some exotic Chinese elements do not receive a good feedback. Besides panda-related gifts, cultural items such as a necklace of jade carvings, Peking Opera souvenirs or a figurine of a kung fu guy are also disliked.

2. Cosmetics: You can never go wrong when giving beauty products to Chinese people. But take a second to think about it before you give them to your Western friends. They might wonder if you are subtly trying to tell them that they are not good enough and need to improve. After once getting soap from her Chinese boss, a foreigner reached by Metropolitan was at a loss. "Did I smell? Was that why he got me soap? But I did not smell that bad, did I?"

Most foreigners do not want cosmetics like scented lotion or deodorant for gifts.

A French woman told Metropolitan that she even got a whitening cream from a Chinese, which she thought was very funny. Chinese people are crazy about using whitening cream to keep their skin white, whereas many Westerners spend several months a year on a beach to get a tan. 

3. Christmas decorations: Much in the same way that Chinese like giving their friends gifts such as stuffed monkeys or a paper cuttings with the Chinese character "fu" (happiness) for New Year decorations, they also like to give Christmas decorations in the hope of adding the feel of Christmas to their foreign friends' home. A foreigner told Metropolitan that this Christmas he got five boxes of balls, three reindeer, seven Santa boxes, two angels and a Santa. Westerners rarely give decorations that go on a Christmas tree as presents. They often give gifts that imbue the Christmas spirit, such as a festive scarf. They do not need to be red and white or have a Santa printed on it, a misconception that some Chinese have of the celebration. Luckily, no one gifted a foreigner with a plastic Christmas tree!

4. Cigarettes: Cigarettes are one of the most popular festive gifts in Chinese culture. Usually, the more expensive it is, the more heart they want to show to receivers. But a foreigner might not take your heart unless he or she is a big fan of it. Many foreigners find getting cigarettes ironic given that Beijing has become a foggy forest under heavy pollution in the winter where Santa Claus could easily get lost on his way to your chimney. In Western culture, giving cigarettes could be interpreted as hastening one's death. Besides cigarettes, baijiu (Chinese white liquor) and Chinese tea are also gifts coveted by Chinese people, but most foreigners do not like baijiu and think it tastes like petrol. Some also cannot get used to the strong and strange taste of Chinese tea.

5. A Christmas party at KTV: If you do not have much time to prepare a Christmas gift or do not know what to prepare, throwing a Christmas party for your foreign friends might be a good idea. But never do it at a KTV. Chinese people like to invite friends or clients for a "very high, happy time" at KTV to release pressure, talk about business or improve relationships in a more intimate atmosphere, but, be cautious, some foreigners might think it inappropriate. Foreigners usually have traditional Christmas dinner at home, and, if they have a party, it is kept at home just like Chinese family reunion during Spring Festival. So, if you want them to feel the Christmas spirit by throwing them a party, think about something intimate and homely, not bright lights, booze, and loud music.

Newspaper headline: Surviving a cross-cultural Christmas

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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