With the holidays coming in as fast as the cold fronts, it’s time once again for an update to my gift-giving guide for your Chinese family and loved ones.
A lot of readers have asked about what gifts they should bring their Chinese relatives and/or girlfriends/boyfriends from abroad. So, for all of you wondering what to stash in your suitcase for your next trip to China, this is for you.
Chinese parents, grandparents, or any health-conscious relative
American Wisconsin Ginseng. To the Chinese, this is the ultimate ginseng — and the ultimate gift for anyone, especially those over 50, looking to boost their vitality and reduce inflammation (or “reduce fire,” as they say in Chinese). A lot of companies sell it, but I’m impartial to Prince of Peace for variety and quality (their ginseng tea bags have the best-tasting, most potent kick I’ve ever experienced with ginseng.)
Vitamin Supplements. Nowadays, foreign-made vitamin supplements are just as ubiquitous in China as McDonald’s — but that doesn’t mean you should always buy in China. After all, sometimes the relatives appreciate the cache of foreign-bought gifts.
Sometimes you can score better quality for less abroad. Whole Foods, for example, offers great value with fish oil supplements, multivitamins, vitamin E and more, under their 365 brand. The same could easily apply to many quality supermarkets across the Western world.
Or, in other cases, you find something impossible to get in China. Years ago in Hangzhou, my neighbors begged me to buy Amway’s garlic supplements (not sold in China) during my trip back to the US.
Bath and Body Products. Many foreign brands of bath and body products — particularly body lotion — get rave reviews from Chinese women. Here in the US, Victoria’s Secret is a favorite, and so is Bath and Body Works (green tea and ginger, cucumber and melon, and fruit/herbal scents work great) — but they’re not the only ones worthy buying around the world.
Cosmetics and Perfume. If you’ve ever walked through the first floor of a Chinese department store — with booth after gleaming booth of mostly foreign lipsticks and foundations and whitening creams and perfume more — then you know just how much Chinese women adore foreign cosmetic brands, such as Clinique, Estee Lauder and Lancome. The only problem? A dizzying array of choices (especially if you visit one of those counters at the department stores). If you can, ask family or friends in China for suggestions. Also, check out this article for some suggestions on favorite brands — perfume and cosmetics — in China.
Jewelry. Diamonds are definitely a girl’s best friend in China, because Chinese women — like most of us around the world — love the sparkle of jewelry. But that doesn’t mean China always has the best deals. The US, for example, sells pieces with precious stones for much less than the Middle Kingdom — and that may be true for other Western countries.
Powdered Milk Formula. Have any expectant or new mothers in your Chinese family? In a post-milk-scandal China, moms and moms-to-be will spend obscene amounts of money just to buy the finest foreign powdered milk formulas for infants. Ask your family for recommendations.
Alcohol. If he’s a drinker, consider picking up a foreign brand of scotch, whisky or brandy, such as Jack Daniels, Johnnie Walker or Glenlivet. Chinese men will also love French or Italian wines as gifts.
Cigarettes. Foreign smokes still light up many a Chinese man’s face — as a gift. Consider major brands such as Marlboro or John Player.
Sports Jerseys. NBA and football/soccer jerseys may be cheaper in China, but they’re usually fake and fall apart fast. If he’s a huge fan, consider buying him a jersey. My husband still treasures the Inter Milan jersey my parents brought him from Italy years ago.
Legos. These are more expensive in China — so if you have a special child in your Chinese family, surprise her or him with a lego set.
General gifts for Chinese family members
Chocolates. Chinese love foreign-made chocolates, whether it’s the finest Godiva or just your local hometown brand (in my case, good old Malley’s). I’m impartial to anything in a gift box, especially wrapped in red and gold. But whatever you do, don’t bring them over during the summertime (I experienced a major chocolate gift meltdown in July 2007 — you live, you learn).
Electronics. Things like digital cameras, laptops, iPads and iPhones cost WAY more in China. So if your budget allows it, consider bringing over some electronic goodness to your Chinese loved ones. Note — if you buy iPhones, make sure they’re “unlocked” so they can be used in China. Also, get a reading on their preferences on “Made in China” versus “Made in Japan” — the last thing you want is to present your Japan-loathing brother-in-law with a Toshiba laptop.
Language learning books. Foreign language learners burnt out on the usual Chinese textbooks (think Family Album USA) or hungry to learn idiomatic words and phrases, would love a good book from your country. For example, for advanced English-language learners, English as a Second F*cking Language is a great way to “master the art of swearing” (it definitely helped my husband 😉 ). Another good choice for advanced English learners is Speak English Like an American, which is chock full of dialogues teaching idiomatic language, and comes with a CD.
Name brand shoes. When I lived in Shanghai, I was shocked to find athletic shoes selling at more than twice what I’d pay in the US. So if your Chinese relatives need some Nikes or Adidas or Reeboks, get their shoe size and pick them up abroad.
Starbucks coffee. Starbucks may be in China, but not every Starbucks product is. If you have a coffee lover in your Chinese family, consider getting an exotic blend of coffee they can’t find there.
UPDATE: added in language books, chocolate
What did I miss? What gifts do you buy abroad for your Chinese family and loved ones?
Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China (or in Chinese culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.