Custom of Giving Gifts


Steamers and other implements used to create a dragon for a Chinese New Year display

I don’t think I’ve ever told this story before here, and indeed they visited before this new blog started up in 2012, so it would be unlikely that I ever wrote it down, but it’s a meaningful story to me on some of the insights it sheds on culture, and it’s a story I remembered today when I caught myself thinking about what kind of presents I should bring while visiting someone’s house.

Now, you may or may not know that I have some family in Canada, specifically in Toronto, and 2012 was one of those strange years where two bits of that Canadian family decided to visit at once. Interestingly some of my family who are over there come to study over here (albiet in Melbourne) which was why one of these ‘bits’ came in the first place, visiting their daughter who was here studying and taking a tour of Australia while they were at it.

More interestingly though, is that a lot of my cousins actually married Caucasians over there in yonder Canada, something I wasn’t aware of until then although I suspected from the meagre number of photos I’d seen of a newborn cousin-once-removed (I still don’t get these terms). You’ll have people like my mum saying that my cousin ‘probably wanted a lovely Asian girl but couldn’t find one’, but I like to think my cousins aren’t as close minded as my parents are, though I’d really love to talk to them sometime about how they achieved it. If you’ve been following, this of course means that my cousins-once-removed are Eurasian, the lucky buggers.

Chinese New Year Celebrations at Belmore Park

In any case, the family whose daughter was studying in Melbourne came up to Sydney to stay for a couple of days, and naturally they came up to our home to visit us and visit her mother (or my aunt) who was staying with us for the month (as if she couldn’t visit her mother in her own country, haha).

My mother is the kind of person who will put on a pleasant and charming face when there are guests about, but will then rip into things in private with a vengeance.

Naturally she was the pleasant host while all the guests needed to be entertained, joking with the loud only-English-speaking Mr Brown, and chatting to their kids about their studies, and even their significant others (nobody thought to ask about mine by the way, although I had just had one for a couple of days by that point).

Expensive fruit, and sour, but lucky!

But once all the Canadian relatives were on their way to their next destination, she commented about how angry she was that the visiting family had not brought any presents when visiting our home, even though we had prepared gifts for them when they were the ones visiting!

Bringing gifts when visiting another’s house is customary, in fact, let’s allow this other website to explain it more clearly to you:

When visiting someone […], especially if you are a guest in their house, it is imperative that you bring a gift (whatever the monetary value) to show respect to the host.

Not bringing a gift when visiting is like a slap to the face, I don’t respect you or your home. Gifts brought when visiting don’t have to be big, in fact they could even just be a packet of biscuits you can pick up anywhere for a couple of dollars. But something so small is a polite gesture, even if all that happens is you end up eating them all together.

To make matters worse, when my dad took then out for a meal they allowed my father to pick up the bill for everything which was just another slap to the face because it’s yet another custom for Asian people to fight over who is paying the bill, that is to say it is natural for us to offer to be the one to pay even if we don’t end up being the ones who pay. It’s the intent that matters. My mother vowed that if we ever visited, we would bring them nothing.

Would they even notice?

The next time we visit this subject of cross-cultures, maybe I’ll write about how it’s important to give red packets to your elders when visiting them in other countries. Talk about a strain on the budget…