Chinese Gift-Giving: What Not to Buy
While giving a gift is much appreciated and it’s the thought that counts, there are some gifts that are absolute no-nos in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Avoid these Chinese gift-giving blunders.
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.
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.
Towels are usually given out at funerals, so avoid this gift because it brings sad memories of funerals and death.
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 (sì, four) sounds like 死 (sǐ, 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's 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.