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Chinese Gift-Giving: What Not to Buy

Avoid These Chinese Gift-Giving Blunders

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While giving a gift is much appreciated and it’s the thought that counts, there are some gifts that are absolute no-no’s in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Avoid these Chinese gift-giving blunders.

1. Clocks

Clocks of any type should be avoided because 送鐘 (sòng zhōng, send clock) sounds like 送終 (sòng zhōng, the funeral ritual). Clocks also symbolize time is running out; therefore, the end of relationships and life are the messages that are sent when a clock is given as a gift.

2. Handkerchief

To give handkerchiefs (送巾, sòng jīn) sounds like 斷根 (duàngēn), a farewell greeting. This gift is especially inappropriate for a boyfriend or girlfriend unless you want to break up.

3. Towels

Towels are usually given out at funerals, so avoid this gift because it brings sad memories of funerals and death.

4. Umbrella

Offering your friend an umbrella may seem an innocent gesture. However, it means you want to end your friendship with him or her. If it is raining and you are worried he or she will get wet, it’s better for both of you to huddle under your umbrella until you reach your friend’s destination. Then, take the umbrella back home with you.

5. Sharp Objects Like Knives and Scissors

Giving sharp objects that are used to cut things symbolize that you want to sever a friendship or relationship.

6. Cut Flowers Particularly Yellow Chrysanthemums/White Flowers

White flowers are used at funerals, so giving white flowers is synonymous with death.

7. Gifts in Sets of Four

Gifts in sets of four are not good because 四 (, four) sounds like 死 (, death).

8. Shoes, Particularly Straw Sandals

Giving shoes 送鞋子 (sòng xiézi, give shoes) sounds similar to break up. Also giving two shoes sends the message that you want the person to go his or her separate way; thus, ending your friendship.

9. Green Hat

A green hat refers to the phrase in Chinese 帶綠帽 (dài lǜ mào, with green hat) which implies that a man’s wife is unfaithful. Why green? A turtle is green and turtles hide their heads in their shells, so calling someone a ‘turtle’ will get you in trouble because it like calling the person a coward.

10. Anything in White or Black

These colors are often used during funerals so presents, wrapping paper and envelopes in these colors should be avoided.
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