The Art Of Chinese Gift Giving Etiquette: Best And Worst Gifts

Choosing and giving someone a gift can be hard. It could be a thank you gift, something for someone at their wedding, a parting present for someone on their last day at work or a birthday gift. To some of Chinese background, some gifts might be better than others.

Next week is my birthday. About a month ago, my Chinese-Malaysian parents asked me what I want for my birthday this year. That annoyed me – I don’t celebrate my birthday and don’t like attention. But I suppose they want to, and they know I’m a fussy person.

Sometimes when it’s our birthday, we get cake after dinner. Our birthday gift | Weekly Photo Challenge: Dinnertime.

Sometimes when it’s our birthday, we get cake after dinner. Our birthday gift | Weekly Photo Challenge: Dinnertime.

There is much superstition surrounding gift giving in Chinese culture. There are gifts which some believe bring the receiver good luck, and others not as much luck.

In Chinese culture, gifts that are associated with events we don’t want to happen tend to be avoided. Generally, taboo gifts in Chinese culture are tied to “touch wood” circumstances and language we’d rather distance ourselves from. For example, green hats are one such gifts: “wearing a green hat” or 戴绿帽子(dài lǜ mào zi) translates to unfaithful wife. Giving shoes and umbrellas are avoided as in Mandarin they refer to breaking up of a relationship or partnership.

When I was seven, I saw a green-coloured frog clock at a stall at the shopping centre in Malaysia and loved it. My family and I walked past this stall every Saturday, and each time I begged my parents for it, and begged even more when my eighth birthday approached. On my eighth birthday, I eagerly unwrapped my present from my parents to a…pile of Enid Blyton books. In hindsight, fair enough: “giving a clock” sounds like 送终 (sòng zhōng), which translates to “funeral ritual”.

For the typical Chinese person, gifts offering one positive sensory experiences are good gifts. Things that are good for the mind, body and soul make good gifts. Peaches, nuts, seeds and tea are known to have health benefits and considered prosperous presents. It’s probably why my mum comes round to cook vermicelli or claypot noodles on my birthday – not only are they healthy but they symbolise longetivity too.

Just like how each of us like different kinds of cakes, we warm towards certain gifts depending on what matters to us.

Just like how each of us like different kinds of cakes, we warm towards certain gifts depending on what matters to us.

It’s no surprise then good gifts in Chinese culture are tied with traditional customs and old-school trains of thought. Gifts that come in pairs or even sets – except in sets of 4 as the number four sounds like death in Mandarin – are popular, auspicious. Even better if the gifts are new as some Chinese reckon bad luck from the previous owner may be attached to second-hand items.

Practical gifts are favoured as well. Money sealed in red packets is a common gift at weddings and on birthdays. Same goes for porcelain cutlery and crockery with intricate patterns, especially the floral kind. One can choose to spend the money on what they like, and we could all do with a spare set of plates for guests coming over to eat. Now that I am older, my parents present me with a red packet when my birthday comes round – and tell me to put all the money in it in the bank.

On occasions, the more extravagant and expensive the gift, the more the gift giver might impress. But an overly lavish gift given to colleagues in China can be considered bribery, apart from letting one flaunt their wealth and giving them “face” in the world of business.

There is also the act of giving the gifts themselves, and opening them. My Chinese-Malaysian parents always taught me to use both hands to give and receive gifts; it’s a mark of respect. Some of us hesitate opening presents upon being handed them. No surprise since Asians can be reserved about expressing emotion, and traditionally in China people like to open gifts in private though this is changing.

Just as it takes time to make a good cake, it takes time to pick out a thoughtful gift for someone.

Just as it takes time to make a good cake, it takes time to pick out a thoughtful gift for someone.

On my birthday over the last few years, I’d wake up to an empty house. Wander sleepy-eyed to the kitchen for some breakfast…and see a bright red packet propped up atop the piano. Make a beeline for it. How did it get there? Don’t know. But someone remembered my birthday… There’s more to meets the eye when one hands over a gift. As French tragedian Pierre Corneille said on giving:

“The manner of giving is worth more than the gift.”

My parents eventually bought me that green frog clock, demanding a brand new one from the shopkeeper before parting with their money. Today the clock dustily sits on my shelf amongst the equally dusty books, notebooks and stuffed monkeys, having survived multiple house moves. If I could save one thing from this shelf, it would be the frog clock.

When we give someone a gift, we usually want them to like it or at the very least find some use for it. For the thoughtful among us, we want a gift to be meaningful and if it’s a truly meaningful gift, chances are it will be synonymous with the other person’s culture, beliefs and values. And for those of us receiving the gift, we’ll know it. On being thoughtful, author Wes Adamson said:

“The simple gift of giving becomes an elaborate rich aftertaste of a natural blissful feeling, lingering endlessly in my lifetime.”

Like a decadent slice of cake, a meaningful gift is one that touches us on the inside for a long time to come.

Like a decadent slice of cake, a meaningful gift is one that touches us on the inside for a long time to come.

Last year for my birthday, one of my white friends whom I met not long ago gave me a second-hand stuffed monkey (bought from a thrift shop) which I named Mr Wobbles. I don’t think my mum likes Mr Wobbles very much: a toy isn’t exactly a practical gift for a grown-up and who knows what kind of luck the used monkey brings with it. More than once, I caught my mum vacuuming the house and she pushed the vacuum’s head towards Mr Wobbles, pushing the monkey all around the carpet like trash.

But I like Mr Wobbles. Just as much as the frog clock. And the red packets. When my white friend gave him to me, she said, “I just found out you like monkeys. So here.”

A gift is more than a material object. Behind each gift given is a person thinking of you, coupled with memories spent with each other. When it comes to gift giving, whether we’re giving or receiving a gift, it’s the thought that counts and that’s what we remember.

Do you find it hard to pick a gift for someone?

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276 thoughts on “The Art Of Chinese Gift Giving Etiquette: Best And Worst Gifts

  1. My husband used to say he didn’t like to celebrate his birthday. He liked to use the day to be thankful to his mother for giving birth to him. Is that from some kind of ancient Chinese tale encouraging filial behavior?

    He stopped me from buying a clock for a gift once. I did buy a clock for my sister, though. Even though she’s not Chinese, it probably wasn’t a kind thing to do since she has trouble with punctuality. (Maybe it was a gift for myself in hopes that I wouldn’t have to wait for her so often. Ha ha.)

    I can’t decide whether I like the Chinese way of opening a gift later in private or the American way of opening it right away. Opening a gift immediately, especially when there are a lot of expensive gifts, can seem materialistic. And yet, it’s also generous to share the pleasure with everyone present. Have you ever been to a baby shower? It seems the main purpose of the party is for everyone to have a chance to ooh and aah about all the darling baby clothes and bibs and blankets.

    Red envelopes are a perfect solution to everything.

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    • I actually haven’t heard of celebrating one’s birthday to be thankful to one’s parents. Perhaps it’s an idea that eventuated elsewhere. I hope your sister liked the clock you gave her and didn’t take it as an insult – after all, you are siblings. Then again, there is something called sibling rivalry…

      Never been to a baby shower, and in general am not a fan of parties or get togethers with more than a few people. As you inferred, (a lot of) gifts are rooted in materialism. I often wonder: if someone throws a big party and receives a lot of gifts, what do they do with them all 😀

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      • The good thing about showers is that the recipient usually needs the gifts, i.e. clothes and diapers, etc. for a new baby. Wedding showers used to be popular back in the day when it was more common to get married at a young age and the couple was setting up a new household after having lived with their parents or in a dormitory.

        Also birthday parties for kids … You ask what they do with all the gifts. I think of my seven-year-old grandson who received lots of lego sets last year and spent the next few days putting them together. Ha ha. He seems never to have too much lego.

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        • Birthday parties for kids are always fun. I think kids tend to find joy in practically every single gift they get. The thought of a gift usually is enough to get them all excited. Lego is a great gift. I love lego. These days aside from big pieces of legos, there are miniature pieces – for adults 🙂

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  2. I have some Chinese friends back home and remember that when one of them got engaged, her family gave her at least two sets of everything. The jewelry they gifted her with was lavish and had to be matching sets. I guess that counted as dowry.

    I used to have difficulty picking out gifts for family, friends, and colleague. Sometimes, it was because there were too many nice things to choose from; sometimes, it was because I did not know a person well enough to guess what that person might like; and last (and perhaps the one that makes choosing most difficult), it was hard to pick out a gift for someone who has everything already. In such case, what does one give to someone with all that money can buy?

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    • I like how you break it down on choosing gifts for others. Out of the three, I agree with you that the last one is probably the most challenging when it comes to giving gifts. I suppose in those instances, giving money would be a good idea. Or perhaps you can try outright asking if there’s anything they want or take them out for a meal 🙂

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  4. poor mr. woobles 😦 choosing the right gift for someone can be challenging. one rule for me is get the person what she or he wants rather than what i want for him/her. for some family members, i find it practical to give money so they can buy what they really want. 🙂 lovely pictures as always! 🙂

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  5. You put a lot of thoughts into this article, Mabel. Happy B-day! 🙂 It reminded me a Japanese family we knew. I was overwhelmed by their traditional etiquette. I guess each country has its own. China is such a big country, each region probably has its own etiquette, I am guessing. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Amy. My birthday this weekend will be ordinary, just another day with my sidekick Mr Wobbles 🙂 In many Asian countries, it is customary to bring a small gift when visiting someone’s house, or when catching up with someone you took the trouble to come see you (from afar). The Japanese family you know sound very hospitable 🙂

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  6. Hi Mabel, awesome post! It’s interesting to hear your culture’s superstitions surrounding gift giving. Some of us Canadians also don’t like used items for the same reason. I don’t have a problem with thrift shopping and vintage clothing. As for gift giving, whether I find it hard to find something depends on the person i’m buying for. Some people you can find just the right thing at the time you’re not even looking (like a stuffed monkey for Mabel 🙂 Other people you can search forever and still doubt you’ve picked the right thing. It says a lot about our relationship with that person, perhaps?

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    • Thanks, Lisa. It’s always nice to see you drop by. Like you, I don’t have a problem thrift shopping for myself. But when it comes to buying gifts for someone else, probably not. Then again, Mr Wobbles was second-hand… 🙂

      I think you are right. I think when we have a good and meaningful emotional (and physical) relationship with someone, we just know what to get them 🙂

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  7. Interesting as usual, Mabel. My daughter’s best friend is from Taiwan, so I knew something of this before, but you have given me many more thoughts…I always try to think of the one who is getting the gift. That this person will like the present and understand my thinking with it. That I want it to be the right thing…I remember when I was a child, I sometimes bought things for my mother and grandmother that I myself would have liked to get…but mostly I made things to give away. Still, today, I think those presents are the most precious ones for me…the ones that are hand made, made with love and effort, taking time from the person who made it.
    Used things, like Mr Wobbles, I never give away. Second hand clothes sometimes, but never things. Unless you count antiques – glass or ceramics or furniture – antique things are very popular with my children (and myself).
    In Sweden we do not have anything in gifts connected to “good or bad things might happen”. The only thing I can think of is that old people avoid giving white flowers, because that is connected to funerals.

    I do not want to celebrate my birthdays either, Mabel. I’m no party person and no person for inviting more than 6 people. My absolute conviction (from real life and experience) is that you cannot really speak to and enjoy that many people for such a short time. Discussions, deep thoughts and reflections are best done in pairs or in the company of fairly few people.
    Happy, delightful birthday, Mabel!

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    • You are very well traveled and acquainted yourself with quite a few cultures. Such a good thing. “this person will like the present and understand my thinking with it” This is the way I think when I give someone a gift. A gift can speak a lot about a relationship, but I suppose you (and I) want the other person to feel loved…even if it’s just for a moment.

      Mr Wobbles waves back at you. He really likes it that you will never give him away had he ended up with you 🙂 It sounds like you have a lot of cherished possession there and they remind you of memorable moments – and you keep them for others to enjoy.

      I have given gifts away in the past, but that was because the friendship/relationship with that person soured or because I didn’t think the gift sat well with my values (think religion, outlook on life).

      My birthday is this Sunday and I will be spending it with Mr Wobbles. Simple as that. Thank you for the well wishes and lovely comment, Leya. You always say the most insightful things.

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  8. First of all – a gift.. starts with intention, act of kindness.. real one, which you can’t fake it.. If I knew.. I would send you a postcard from Ireland 🙂 Enjoy!

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  9. There’s a lot of superstition there! It can make it difficult for a foreigner to give appropriate gifts to a Chinese person (stick to the tea!). I’d probably give shoes, an umbrella and a clock…
    Who gives away a green hat? You must be Irish to do something like that!

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    • Exacly. Who gives a green hat? Green is a hard colour to pull off in day-to-day wear..Khaki is so much more easier to pull off…but that is also a shade of green I suppose…

      I am sure you are very thoughtful in your gifts, Cardinal.

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  10. I’m finally on the computer – I cannot seem to comment when I’m just on my phone. I find it terribly hard to buy a gift for friends sometimes. Sometimes it’s so easy, because I know them so well, but other times I really want to buy friends special gifts that mean something to them – but I’m a bit afraid that they won’t like it. I don’t really like giving safe, impersonal gifts either.

    Therefore, sometimes the Chinese way of giving ang pao is the best!

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    • I too find it hard to comment on my phone! I’m like you – I like to buy friends gifts that they will remember and make them feel special and loved. It can be hard but at the end of the day, I just hope for the best. But, yes, ang pow is the easy way out and there is nothing wrong with that!

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  11. Mabel, I enjoyed reading the story behind your frog clock and it touched my heart that you would always keep you from move to move… I am well-known in my family for finding the “perfect” gift to give people… but I find that it has become a lot of pressure at birthdays! So, it’s a good and bad thing… 😉

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    • It sounds like you always put a lot of thought in your gifts, and I’m sure they are always much appreciated. I find that if a person really likes a gift that I gave, it’s hard to top the next time round and the pressure is on then 😀

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  12. very nice information..personally gift giving is just a way of expressing happiness..and the superstitions attached top it affect those who believe in it..like if someone thinks that it is lucky to get a certain gift then they will definitely get lucky..but for those who don’t believe in superstitions, it will not work..it is actually a psychological condition..
    anyways, thanks for sharing..
    enjoyed reading

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    • I like your way of thought – gift giving as a form of happiness and sharing it around. Superstitions can either make us love gift giving or dread it. Personally, I think they often add an element of fun to it all. Hope you haven’t had too many bad experiences with this 😀

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      • I don’t believe in superstitions. And yes I haven’t had any bad experience but I have seen many around me. People take too much pressure due to these superstitions. And you said it right, it is good only till it is taken in a fun sense and not too serious. Have you had any such experience?

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        • Like you, I’m not big on superstitions, especially when it comes to gift giving. I don’t have a bad experience with this and not really many bad experiences with gifts in general. Though I must say it is very hard to please me since I am a fussy person who doesn’t like surprises 😀

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  13. I missed your birthday! Happy belated birthday!!

    Great post, Mabel. I had no idea there were numerous restrictions in gift according to Chinese tradition. Indonesian has it too, but I can’t recall because we have so many ethnic groups. One common thing was not to gift watches for a birthday because it symbolizes with time and it could be meant to limit someone’s age. If someone already gave you a watch as a birthday gift, then you could “buy” it by giving small amount money to the gift giver.

    yes, I find it hard to give a gift..even if I know the person so well. In the Netherlands, people are so easy with gifts and they are very rational. You can give gift coupons or something weird stuff PLUS include the receipt inside the gift package. This way then the receiver can exchange the gift if they don’t like it. Can’t you believe it? I was trembling when the first time I opened a birthday present from a Dutch friend just to found a receipt of how much it cost..I thought I had to pay back the money 😀 😀 hahahaha…but later on I realized it is a Dutch tradition to include the receipt so then we can exchange it.. imagine if it happens in Asia! (when writing this, perhaps I should make a post about this weird Dutch tradition that shocked me 😀 )

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    • That is such an interesting tradition of giving gifts in the Netherlands. In Asian culture, you would never include a receipt with the gift and you aren’t supposed to ask how much the gift costs – it’s rude 😀

      Hahaha, I am sure you were relieved when you realised you did not have to pay back the person. But, including the receipt does make sense if the gift doesn’t suit your taste or fit you well.

      It reminds me: last year one of my friends gave me my stuffed monkey Mr Wobbles. I asked her how much it was and where she got it from – she is still no telling me one year on. I even asked her on my birthday last week, and no luck 😀

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  14. Happy belated bday, M. Hope it was a good one even though you’d rather have stuffed it under the rug, LOL. A very wise, sassy woman (the principal who once hired me for her school) said in her family they said, “You either have a birthday or you don’t” (so be glad for each one)! Just don’t ever send me a green hat for mine.

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    • A friend managed to drag me out on my birthday. I was meek and went along with it, lol. Your principal is certainly a wise woman. Might as well just grin and bear it when our birthdays come around. Once a year.

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  15. Indeed Mabel. Gifts are such a wonderful part of any relationship. Though many things needn’t be expressed materialistically and it is good at keep it in words but sometime giving gets the charge that gets missed in our expression of words. Indeed it is the feelings and the thoughts that is behind the gift that truly matters and not the gift itself. The timing and the person who gave us makes so much difference rather than cost of it, the surprise element and the way it is given adds the power of gifting, it is not a mechanical process that we have come to invited occasion and we have to give some gift. Many times without any occasion and giving something and giving it at a time when somebody needs it is what matters and this comes with our observation and our engagement.

    Yes, in each culture, the custom of giving and taking gift differs and there are so many aspects which can go completely wrong in another culture and the meaning makes the gifting totally against the norm. We need to be careful and be cognizant of the words, the number and the color that is chosen in gifting. I agree parents have so much concern for their children and they have their way of gifting us and we keep demanding and they have their gifts ready for us and they keep surprising us and for them we always remain as child and as grown up we get some gifts which we discount but they count on us…

    The way we converse is a gift by itself and it needs no items to be given to be shared to make it more powerful, the power lies in the thought and the understanding we have for each other, the appreciation and the connection of thoughts, makes it really magical virtual gift.
    Hope you are having a lovely Sunday.
    take care!!!
    😀

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    • What an incredibly thoughtful and poetic comment, Nihar. I am really blown away from your response and you gave me a lot to think about.

      “Many times without any occasion and giving something and giving it at a time”. Yes, we do not need to wait for an occasion to give someone a gift. We can give whenever we want to, whether if it’s something material or something simple like buying someone a meal on a random day. Genuine gifting comes when we feel like it, when we mean it.

      Some parents will be parents, I suppose. There is always joy in giving a gift, and joy in seeing someone happy when they receive a gift. You never know how a gift, no matter how small it is, can change someone’s life.

      And leading on from that, each conversation is truly a gift. Each moment we spend with each other is precious, just like how we chat on here. It certainly is magical – gifting is often by chance and a twist of fate 😀

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      • Yes Mabel gift is a wonderful expression of acknowledging each other and the relationship could be in any form and any stage, it is intangible rather than the tangible that makes a more powerful statement. Just take the case our lovely conversations, I don’t think any gift would have ever matched such joy we get in exchanging ideas and thoughts and giving such pleasure in interaction. Gifts of life lies in such small and intangible things, many times we are ignorant or avoid in accepting and reflecting such magical engagement we keep doing but not realizing its significance in our life. On occasions we expect and we get but not during the occasion and when we don’t accept and get these little gifts in forms of gestures, words and appreciation makes a huge difference in our daily life and the way we make our day count with such feel good factor…

        It is always such a pleasure exchanging such lovely thoughts with you. It has been quite sometime and both of us have been busy, allowing such forced break is a good way to come with new and fresh thoughts that makes the conversation much for meaningful and truly inspiring.
        So well put each moment we spend with each other is indeed precious and life’s joy lies in such small moments.
        Have a wonderful day ahead.
        take care!!!
        😀

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        • Again, you said it, Nihar. “it is intangible rather than the tangible that makes a more powerful statement”. Such a profound statement to apply to gifting. Certainly life and love can be found in the smallest and intangible of things – and these are the gifts that touches and speaks to us the loudest. These are truly gifts that come from the heart with feeling and much sincerity because, they are natural.

          Our conversations are such a great example. It was very nice a gift to see you pop up and comment on this post, a very nice surprise even though I don’t like surprises 😀 Yes, we are all very busy but it is refreshing to get away and I hope you have been well, my friend. Take care and the weekend is just around the corner.

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          • I agree Mabel, Life’s beauty lies in these small things and when we get it and we don’t expect it, makes things tinge more beautiful. Many times we keep looking at bigger things and bigger gifts but there are so many things around us when forget to appreciate and enjoy. I enjoy the conversations we have and have it with such consistency and with such quality of thoughts, it is itself a gift and therein lies the true meaning of life and sharing things for better society and better human relationships.
            Yes, within the much busy schedule doing things that matters and makes feel better is art of living and blogging and lovely friends like you has taught us that art.

            Everything is fine, hope the same your side. Have a beautiful week ahead and take care…
            😀

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            • Again, you said it so wonderfully, Nihar. Connecting with you as a blogger has certainly been a gift. I didn’t ever expect to find supportive friends through blogging but I am happy to say, yes, I have and you are one of them 😀 Truly a gift indeed. Best wishes, my friend.

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              • I truly value our friendship and it is indeed a gift to me and really cherish the way you share your thoughts and add so much value and wisdom to our conversation. This is what I call true gift and I am so happy to met you in this space…
                Cheers to our lovely friendship.
                take care!!!
                :D:D:D

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    • My birthday was last Sunday, on 1st May. It was a quiet day just the way I like it 🙂 I love how you say in your birthday post that you live for yourself and not for others. You are one strong woman and I like that mentality.

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  16. Would always rather give than receive a gift Mabel, somehow it seems far easier to think hard of the recipient’s likes and characteristics and then search for the perfect fit. Somehow most gifts I’m given simply dissappoint (with some notable exceptions!) -maybe because I spend so much energy when giving gifts. Anyway, as always, a thought provoking discussion and some lovely captures to go with it!

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    • I am like you. Much prefer to give than receive and I am one with very high expectations and a fussy person all round 😀 It’s fun thinking of the recipient’s personality, delving deep into who they are and trying to come up with a thoughtful gift. In the process, you might also get to know the person a bit more.

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  17. happy birthday to you my sweet blogging friend – and I am sending you a virutal red packet b-day gift )(ha!)
    and this was so interesting to read… esp. about the Giving of shoes and umbrellas….

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  18. Wishing a great and wonderful birthday Mabel and may your birthday this year and all the days after that be filled with lots of love, happiness and everything great in your life. 😀

    I also don’t like to celebrate my birthday or that my family should spend money. I always tell them they are my biggest presents and I don’t need anything else. When it comes to gifts, it’s great if you can buy something the other person will use and if unsure, best to give money. Then they can buy what they need.

    Great post and stunning photos as always. Love the one where Mr Wobbles is eating his piece of cake all alone. I do hope he left some for me. 😆

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    • You are very kind, Sonel. I don’t celebrate my birthday but you know, it is wishes like yours and your very big loving family that make me feel loved ❤

      I agree with you. It doesn't seem right someone should spend money just because of one day. I would much rather someone take my out and have a boring day than they buy me a big expensive gift 😀

      Haha, Mr Wobbles was certainly eyeing the cake and having it all to himself. He actually finished it all by himself, but he is very eager to make you a very big one with his own hands ❤

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      • I don’t either and I am glad you feel like that because you are such a special lady and very lovable. 😀

        I totally agree and feel the same.

        The little rascal! LOL! Now that is very kind of him. Please tell him I would like a salty one, with lots of Feta cheese and spinach in it. 😆

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        • You are a very special lady too, Sonel, with lots of love to give. Don’t every forget that ❤

          Mr Wobbles is confused now. He specialises in making sweet foods and didn't see your request coming. He is happy to give making savoury cake a go, and says he will make it hollow and stuff it with cheese and cheese and more cheese, 8 kinds of cheeses 😀

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          • I am very glad you think so Mabel. Thank you very much. I will do my best to remember that. ♥

            hahaha! That should teach him a lesson. I am very glad to hear he will honour my request. Now I will give him 100 more hugs and kisses, as I love cheese a lot. ♥

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  19. I love the visual of your mom knocking the vacuum into the monkey she didn’t like! I’m enjoying many of your posts related to Asian stereotypes or just customs – very interesting topics.

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    • Thanks for the kind words, Lex. You are very kind. Mr Wobbles is a strong stuffed monkey – each time he gets knocked by the vacuum, he gives it a dirty look.

      Stereotypes are such an interesting point of discussion as there are often so many stories behind them.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Yes, I find it hard to pick a gift. That’s why I’d rather give my friends a treat (to coffeehouses or fast food restaurants) most of the time.

    Having said that, I do give gifts to people who occupy a special place in my heart. When I do that, I make a lot of observations about the “target” (his behavior as a whole–likes and dislikes and favorite stuff are, of course, on top of the list).

    On thOne of the many things that we, Filipinos, acquired from Chinese traders during the early times is the concept of cooking noodles during birthdays. It symbolizes longevity as you said and that’s exactly how we perceive it.

    Some of the “No No” gift items you mentioned are actually the regular items we use as presents for birthday celebrators. That serves as a heads up for me. I would know what to give to you if ever.

    Belated Happy Birthday again, Mabel! Hope you had a blast…

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    • Interesting to hear that Filipinos eat noodles on birthdays too. Our cultures do have similarities. Maybe in Filipino culture some of the above no-no gifts actually symbolise good luck. You’ll know better than me.

      I find it hard to believe that you’ll give someone a non-meaningful gift, whether they are special to you or not. You’ve always come across as very thoughtful and observant in your blog posts, and especially in your insightful comments. I think the time you spend with anyone one on one and even just chatting with you in this blog and Facebook world is in itself a great gift.

      My birthday was a quiet day, just the way I like my days 🙂

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  21. I do find buying gifts a problem Mabel, but only when it comes to finding a gift for a man. I think women are far easier to buy for, whereas men seem to get pretty much the same gift from everybody. At Christmas time it tends to be socks, handkerchiefs or a bottle of wine or other drink.

    Somebody once gave me a cheese hamper for Christmas. They never told me what it was and over the course of a few days, while it was under the Christmas tree, it began to smell really bad and I had to throw it away. I found it a rather odd gift to give, but then saw many other cheese hampers in the shops!

    Belated happy birthday. I am very much like you when it comes to birthdays. I don’t know what all the fuss is about. For me, it’s just another day. I don’t want to be reminded or celebrate that I’m another year older. I stopped doing that when I became an adult.

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    • Growing up, my dad got a lot of handkerchiefs as gifts around Christmas time, especially from year-end parties at work. He also got quite a few face towels and bars of soap.

      So sorry to hear about the cheese hamper. Cheese is suppose to age like a fine wine…under the right conditions. I am guessing the wrapper of the hamper wasn’t transparent or translucent. If it was, then I think you would get the hint and open it right away.

      Thanks, Hugh. It was just another day for my birthday this year. Nice and quite.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think had I been told to keep the cheese hamper in the fridge then all would have been well, Mabel. I just found it a rather strange gift to wrap up a week before Christmas and not to tell who it was being given to that it needed to be kept somewhere cool. For us, Christmas is in Winter so the heating is always on to keep the house warm. You can’t imagine the smell when I did unwrap the hamper because of the odour coming from it. It almost knocked the whole household out. 😀

        I can’t imagine what your father must have thought being given a face towel and a bar of soap as a gift. However, I do get shower gel given to me at Christmas and now I’m wondering if the person who gave it to me is trying to tell me something. 😀

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        • I’m not sure how big the cheese hamper was, but it sounds pretty sizable and maybe if you had known, you might not have been able to fit it in the fridge without unwrapping it.

          I prefer to think that those who gave my dad toiletries wanted to give practical gifts. Recently for my birthday someone gave me shower gel. I’m going to use it tomorrow and see how that turns out 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  22. Hey there, happy birthday…much belated. Your take on birthdays is the same as mine: I wish they would quietly slide on by without any attention. Quiet and forgotten birthdays are my favorite 🙂 Although I must say, a piece or two of chocolate cake can be quite nice. As for gift giving, I’ve never been good at it ~ and when it comes to Chinese gift giving I am atrocious…my Chinese friends telling me “You can’t do that, you should know Chinese culture enough to understand that!?!…” leaving me just shaking my head confused.

    Your two favorite gifts are so perfect, and in a sense is what makes gift giving so hard ~ there is this magical connection between the gift and the receiver that no one could ever fully understand. Mr. Wobbles and the frog clock being perfect examples 🙂 Loved the last photo!!

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    • My parents surprised me with a chocolate mousse cake the day after my birthday this year. My mum also got my a new stuffed monkey and I named him Mr Shiny. They remembered my birthday for another year and the cake was actually very good 🙂 Randy…by now you should know the conventions of Chinese culture…but then again, this is a modern world we live in 😉

      If I had to choose between Mr Wobbles and the frog clock…no, I will not entertain that thought 😀

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      • Ha, ha…good for you not entertaining that thought between your two treasures. I still treat my stuff animals back in the States as if they are conscious beings (and of course they are!). I could seriously go for a piece of chocolate cake right about now before bed, yum. And as for Chinese culture, I could live in China for 300 years and still be lost in the culture ~ I’ve had it easy growing up in the States, 哈哈哈!

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        • I’m guessing your family of stuffed animals are having a party without you when you are away 😀 Cake. As someone said earlier, cake is a universal language. Anyone can enjoy it anytime of the day!

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  23. Happy belated birthday to you. Hope you had a blast. Your post is very informative and I did not know about the Chinese customs you shared. Lovely shots of cakes. They look yummy. 🙂

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  24. Mabel, I am late in here! I’ll go a little off topic here for I could totally relate to what the frog clock means to you. Some of our belongings hold so much value to us in terms of the emotional connect we have with them. Through them we are reminded of our most cherished memories. The feelings and people associated with objects make them priceless possessions even though they may not be of immediate use in our everyday life.
    As for gifts, they do reflect the fact that you know and care about the person. They need not be expensive, just appropriate.
    I hope you enjoyed your birthday Mabel 🙂

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    • No one is every late to my parties, Uday. You can come and go as you wish here 😉

      “Through them we are reminded of our most cherished memories” I think so too. There is always more than meets to eye to a gift. Giving someone a gift, it’s a chance to express how we truly feel and tell the other person we’re thinking of them. My birthday was quite this year, just the way I like it. Hope you are well 🙂

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  25. Hmmm.. The more that I think of things Chinese gift giving isn’t that much different from how Caribbeans gift things.. In general we don’t like secondhand gifts,and some gifts have bad connotations, like lillies, for example, they are associated with funerals. Culture is so complex!

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    • You are so right in saying that culture is complex. Interesting to hear that Caribbean culture has its similarities to Asian culture. We have more in common than we think, and we should all learn to see that.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. Pingback: Gift Giving, Chinese Etiquette – Energy Management

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