‘Fruitful’ Idea: An Easy Christmas Gift for Family, Friends in China

Many years ago, I experienced what was, to me, one of my most unusual Christmases. My fear of spending the holiday alone in Hangzhou, as I was single at the time, drove me to purchase a train ticket and flee to the one city where I actually had some close friends: Zhengzhou, in Central China’s Henan province. My old friend and Mandarin tutor Wang Bin connected me with some friends of his, who welcomed me into their apartment, bereft of even a single Christmas decoration, and offered me a guest room.

Even though it didn’t look a lot like Christmas in their home or on the streets, I felt determined to stir up a little holiday cheer on my own. Among my plans? Buying Christmas gifts for my Chinese friends and even host family.

Of course, this led to yet another great seasonal dilemma, one not unique to my situation in China. What Christmas gifts should I buy?

How many times had I grappled with this question in the US during past Christmases, only to face the same issue in Zhengzhou, China.

I still don’t remember what I purchased for my host family, but do recall picking up a few fuzzy scarves for my Zhengzhou friends. I have no idea if anyone liked them, but I can tell you I spent probably way more time and energy than the task deserved

Navigating Christmas in China has grown easier over the years, as I’ve celebrated many Christmases here and gained a better sense for how Chinese people view the holiday.

And now that I have family here, thanks to my marriage to a Chinese citizen, I’ve done my share of gift-giving with them. It’s not quite like doing Christmas presents back in my home country of America, but it’s also a lot easier.

If you have a similar dilemma, such as worrying about what to buy for everyone from Chinese friends or a Chinese boyfriend or girlfriend to a Chinese host family, then let’s talk Christmas gifts for people in China, with an easy suggestion sure to please all ages.

Here are things to keep in mind:

#1: People in China don’t generally expect gifts for Christmas

The good news? In general, people don’t have strong expectations for gifts. The vast majority of Chinese didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas with their families, as it isn’t a traditional holiday here. You won’t encounter people making out their “gift list” to give to others, or announcing what they want in advance. (This holds true for holidays in China where people do traditionally give gifts, like Chinese New Year.)

That takes a lot of the pressure off your shoulders, as you shouldn’t feel like you have to find “the perfect gift”. People in China don’t even aim for “the perfect gift” at Chinese New Year for others, so why should you fret about it for Christmas?

#2: If you’re going to give a gift, make it quality

Here’s the key though — whatever you choose, think quality when you buy. Face matters a lot in gift-giving in China. When you present something to someone else, it also reflects on you and your relationship with them. So as much as possible, aim for the best you can afford.

#3: When in doubt, go for my No 1 gift choice in China (with a Christmas twist)

I’ve done a lot of posts on gift-giving, including The Top 6 Gifts Sure To Please Your Chinese Family published on the Huffington Post, as well as my classic post Giving Gifts to Your Chinese Family – A Modest Guide.

But whenever pressed for an easy solution, I always suggest the No 1 gift beloved by Chinese of all ages — fruit!

Chinese people think of fruit as dessert. It caps off even the most lavish of banquets, and people frequently give it to guests, friends and loved ones as a treat or gift. And when people buy fruit, they have high expectations for taste and even freshness, which means you can find delectable choices at even the most humble of fruit stores. (This last point also explains why I’ve “rediscovered” some fruits here in China — see How China (and My Chinese Husband) Helped Me Love Grapes & Other Fresh Fruit.)

Now you can buy fruit in boxes or cases, or get a fruit basket (see my article 4 Tips for Giving Gift Baskets in China for guidance on fruit baskets). You can purchase these online through the major Chinese e-commerce sites — Taobao (or its English version Baopals) and JD — which are probably one of the best ways to zero in on high-quality offerings in any season. Local supermarkets will also have fruit in boxes or cases, and sometimes fruit baskets. You can always find both at the pervasive fruit stores all across urban areas in China (proof of how much Chinese adore their fruit). If you’re living overseas and want to send a fruit basket to someone in China, try Gift Baskets Overseas (disclosure: I’m an affiliate).

However, if you want to give fruit as a Christmas gift in China, purchase apples.

Why apples? Here’s an explanation from Why Christmas:

People give apples on Christmas Eve because in Chinese Christmas Eve is called “Ping’an Ye” (平安夜), meaning peaceful or quiet evening, which has been translated from the carol ‘Silent Night’. The word for apple in Mandarin is “píngguǒ” (苹果) which sounds like the word for peace.

Giving apples on Christmas Eve has emerged as a new kind of tradition here in China. Even I’ve received my share. And Chinese generally people love good apples, tradition or no, making them a wonderful present.

I highly recommend giving Xinjiang Aksu sweetheart apples (阿克苏冰糖心苹果) for their sugary goodness sure to delight during the holidays. China also has a variety of Fuji apples (富士苹果) that make for delicious gifts too.

Optionally, stores now sell special Christmas Eve apples decorated with Chinese characters just for the occasion, which obviously cost more.

If you opt for a fruit basket, that’s fine too. Look for one that includes apples!

While apples and other fruit make for an easy Christmas gift solution, they aren’t the only possibilities.

For more ideas, take a look at my article The Top 6 Gifts Sure To Please Your Chinese Family published on the Huffington Post, as well as my classic post Giving Gifts to Your Chinese Family – A Modest Guide. And yes, for gift baskets, see my article 4 Tips for Giving Gift Baskets in China.

What do you think is the easiest kind of Christmas gift to give to Chinese loved ones, family or friends here in China?

Your Holiday Gift Guide for 2017

Last month, I received my first-ever gift of Dior perfume from an unlikely source – the wife of one of my closest friends here in China. He is strictly middle-class. Yet for him and his wife, my move to Beijing warranted some luxury fragrances and, somehow, they put together the money to make it happen.

(Their gift to my husband? Two bottles of red wine imported from France that looked just as upscale as the perfume set I received.)

The experience was yet another reminder to me that, in China, gift-giving is serious business.

Since the holiday season is upon us, which means plenty of shopping and plenty of gift-giving, it’s also time for me to once again dust off my advice for gift-giving in China. Whether you’re buying for your Chinese boyfriend or girlfriend, your Chinese in-laws, or even a Chinese host family, I’ve got you covered, as always.

I’m a big believer in keeping it simple. And here’s the thing – you don’t have to shell out for Dior to leave a good impression with your loved ones, family or friends in China.

If you’re stressing about just what to give, I highly recommend giving my Huffington Post article titled The Top 6 Gifts Sure To Please Your Chinese Family a read. It’s a rundown of the best, most straightforward advice I have on this topic. (If you want to view the post that first inspired it, which is a little longer and more involved, see Giving Gifts to your Chinese family – A Modest Guide.)

Now, I know a lot of you out there aren’t doing your shopping in China or Asia. No problem – please see my post titled Gifts to Buy Abroad for Chinese Family and Relatives.

Do you have a Chinese friend or loved one who happens to be a dog in the Chinese zodiac, which is the zodiac sign for 2018? I’m sure they would be delighted and touched if you gave them a gift that will bring them good luck in the coming year. See my post Great Gifts For Your Chinese Zodiac Year (Ben Ming Nian).

Still not sure about the perfect gift? Then why not choose my go-to gift that’s sure to please anyone in China – the fruit basket. Read my 4 Tips for Giving Gift Baskets in China.

Finally, a huge thank you to everyone who reads this blog! Wishing you all a very happy holiday season!

P.S.: If you would like to show your support for Speaking of China this holiday season – at NO additional cost to you – while you shop for gifts, here’s how:

Wishing you all a great start to your holiday season! And thank you for your support!

How NOT to Give Gifts in China

I’ve written a lot over the years on what gifts to give – so much so, the number one post on this site is all about gifts.

But what are the things to avoid? How should you NOT give gifts in China? Here are 4 ideas you won’t want to try:

cheap
Photo from http://www.thebluediamondgallery.com

#1: Give something really cheap

I once came across a foreign woman in China staying with a family during her trip to Beijing. When I asked her what gifts she had prepared for them, she gleefully dug the hotel shampoo samples out from her suitcase. “Won’t these be perfect?”

I mentally cringed at the sight of those sad little plastic bottles, realizing this girl was on the verge of embarrassing herself in Beijing. That’s when I took her aside and clued her in on the reality. That one of the biggest no-nos for gift-giving in China is giving something cheap (or, worse, free).

Think of a gift as a version of your public face. When you give something cheap, you’re saying you don’t value the person or the relationship enough. Not exactly the kind of Hallmark sentiment you were aiming for, eh?

How much does the quality of your gift matter? Let me put it to you this way – Chinese would rather spend less on themselves just to buy the perfect gifts for their friends, family and valued business partners. It’s that important.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shop around for a good deal. As I write this, I’m currently doing my shopping for Chinese New Year gifts. And trust me, I always hunt around for the best deal. But for me, the bottom line is a good price on quality gifts. It has to be quality, otherwise I won’t buy it.

So ditch the freebies and samples, and go for quality, name brand goods.

Photo by pheezy
Photo by pheezy

#2: Make your gift look sloppy

Growing up, I struggled with the art of wrapping Christmas and birthday presents. My corners bulged. I never seemed to be able to fold the edges without them getting unnecessarily wrinkled. And I used way too much tape. Sometimes, the result looked as though the box had fallen down the stairs a couple of times.

In other words, they were sloppy. Really sloppy.

I got away with sloppy gifts because I was a kid. But in China, if your gifts look sloppy, you may not get the same pass.

How your gift looks matters in China. It’s so important that, during Chinese New Year, most new year gifts include neat little gift boxes or bags. They’re usually a sturdy red plastic, embossed with golden characters and festive décor (such as the year’s Chinese zodiac animal). How cool is that?

Let me tell you, I adore those gift boxes and bags. Not only do they make the gift look gorgeous, but they also mean I don’t have to wrap anything. I’m better off staying far away from wrapping paper – otherwise I’ll end up with a sloppy and totally embarrassing gift.

CC0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30910804
CC0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30910804

#3: Give a gift that reminds people of funerals or death

Chances are, you’ve probably heard the advice to avoid white colors or clocks . Why? Because white is the traditional funeral color, and the Chinese words for giving a clock (songzhong) sound like sending someone death. (Yikes!)

Let’s face it – invoking death and funerals is not exactly the best way to show you care. Apart from joke gifts or Halloween paraphernalia, I’ve never met someone in the US happy to receive, say, a miniature coffin or a tiny gravestone with their name on it. Why would it be any different in China?

So how do you avoid this trap? Simple. Besides the general moratorium on white or clocks, I’d also avoid sending anyone a wreath of multicolored flowers. Folks in China place them on gravestones.

Photo by Muffet Greed
Photo by Muffet Greed

#4: Be stingy

If you’ve ever attended a banquet in China, then you’ve probably left thinking, “What a waste of food.” Yes, most banquets mean ordering ungodly amounts of food – so much that nobody in their right mind could possibly finish it all. I’ve left many a banquet shocked by the amount of leftovers.

But there’s a reason why hosts will ply their guests with more delicious food than anyone could possibly eat. In China, it’s important to be generous with what you give to others. (This explains why my mother-in-law always tries sending us home with heaping bags of vegetables from her garden or freshly made tofu.)

This idea of generosity is also true for giving gifts. Which is why being stingy with amounts will always get you into trouble.

Whenever I buy gifts, I generally opt for larger sizes or larger amounts. I want to give them an abundance of goodness, whether that’s a heaping basket of extra-fresh fruit or a case of imported French wine. There’s no better way to show you care than with a little more.

What are your gift-giving don’ts for China?

P.S.: Need some suggestions on what to give your friends and family in China? I highly recommend reading my Huffington Post article The Top 6 Gifts Sure To Please Your Chinese Family. You can also peruse my Holiday Gift Roundup post, which includes my most popular post, Giving Gifts to Your Chinese Family – A Modest Guide.

Pub’d in the HuffPost: The Top 6 Gifts Sure To Please Your Chinese Family

The Top 6 Gifts Sure To Please Your Chinese Family

The Top 6 Gifts Sure To Please Your Chinese FamilyThe Huffington Post just published The Top 6 Gifts Sure To Please Your Chinese Family, an article inspired by my classic post Giving Gifts to Your Chinese Family – A Modest Guide. Here’s an excerpt:

Buying gifts for someone else never ranked as one of my top 10 most fun things to do. Not even back in America, where I grew up.

But after moving to China and marrying a Chinese local, it became even more of a headache. After all, China is a country that takes gift giving seriously, complete with its own gift-giving customs and etiquette. Now I would have to navigate all of these cultural rules to buy for my family in China, the people I’d be seeing every single year.

Cue the panic attack.

Fortunately, after years of experience in buying gifts for my Chinese family, I’ve learned it’s actually a lot easier than I thought. And sometimes, it can even be fun – if you know what to buy.

Head on over to the Huffington Post to read the full piece and discover my top gift picks. And if you like it, share it!

4 Tips for Giving Gift Baskets in China (+ Exclusive Holiday Deals)

What should I give to my loved ones/family in China? I’ve received hundreds of e-mails from people around the world, asking me for advice on this. And believe me, I understand. How many times have I struggled to come up with gifts for the family here in China? (Especially for my husband’s dad, who is the ultimate tough-to-buy-for kind of guy!)

Of course, over the years I’ve discovered there can be a very simple answer to this question – the fruit basket, or even a well-chosen gift-basket.

If I had known this a long time ago, I could have saved myself tons of trouble and money. (I shudder to think of all the cash I’ve thrown away on gifts that didn’t hit the mark.)

Today I’m sharing four tips for giving gift baskets in China, along with some recommendations of gift baskets from Gift Baskets Overseas (scroll down), where you can send a nice gift basket to China from anywhere in the world in just a few easy clicks.

(Disclosure – yes, I’m an affiliate. However, I only recommend products and services that I believe in. Plus, Gift Baskets Overseas has an A-rating from the Better Business Bureau and is rated excellent by customers on the independent review site TrustPilot.)

#1: When in Doubt, Make It a Fruit Basket

Are you totally stumped on what to give your friends or loved ones in China? Meet your new best friend – the fruit basket.

Fruit is one of the most beloved and universal gifts in China. It’s also the number one gift idea among my own family members in China. We always give fruit when we’re visiting someone for a special occasion, or seeing someone in the hospital, or even just want to show we care. Everyone loves fresh fruit, from grandma right down to my four-year-old niece.

You’ll never have to wonder if it’s the right gift. And even better, you can send the fruit basket as a gift to the whole family.

#2: Think Fine, Imported Wines

Did you know China is the world’s top consumer of red wine and the world’s largest wine market? Even my husband’s family traditionally drinks a little red wine on holidays and special occasions. But if it’s an imported wine, you’re sure to make a great impression.

So why not send a fine, imported wine in your gift basket? Reds, whites and even champagne will surely please any of your Chinese family, friends or loved ones, no matter where they live.

#3: Don’t Forget Decadent Imported Chocolates and Cookies for Younger Folks

My online supermarket here in China – which caters to young, middle-class Chinese – has an entire virtual aisle loaded with imported chocolates and cookies. I’ve watched them sell out of mouthwatering French truffles and Belgian darks in a flash, which tells me they’re a perennial favorite among the younger set in China. And like wines, imported is always better.

If you’re buying for younger, middle-class and urban Chinese, consider including imported chocolates and cookies in your gift basket.

#4: Pay Attention to Packaging

Yes, the thought does count (as my dad has always reminded me). But in China, so does the packaging.

It wasn’t until I came to China that I realized how elaborate packaging could actually be (in the most extreme cases, it even overshadows the actual gift). That’s because people care a LOT about presentation for their gifts. How the gift appears says as much about you as the gift itself.

That’s right – your slap-dash home wrapping jobs (where you end up wasting an entire roll of scotch tape on one present) just won’t do here.

Instead, always get it boxed or presented in a nice basket. Red and gold is the traditional good-luck color combo, but honestly, any colors will work as long as the packaging is attractive.

What are your tips for buying gift baskets and fruit baskets for your Chinese family and loved ones?

Want to buy a gift basket from Gift Basket Overseas to send to China? I’ve hand-selected the following options – you’ll find fruit baskets, gift baskets with wine, gift baskets with imported chocolates and cookies, and even beautiful presentations.

Ask the Yangxifu: Holiday Gift Roundup for Chinese Friends & Loved Ones

To make your holiday to-do list a little easier, I’m rounding up all of my gift-giving advice in one easy post. Includes ideas for your Chinese friends and family, as well as hosts and even business associates. (photo by Christy Thompson)

(UPDATED February 3, 2018)

“What gift should I give?” It’s the number one question in my mailbag — and chances are, with the holidays coming, the number one thing on the minds of many readers.

To make your holiday to-do list a little easier, I’m rounding up all of my gift-giving advice in one easy post.

7 Great Chinese New Year Gifts Sure to Impress Friends, Family and Coworkers. While the focus is Chinese New Year, this latest post is an excellent guide for great gifts you could give all year long.

Giving Gifts to Your Chinese Family – A Modest Guide remains one of the top 10 posts for this site. It’s not exactly my favorite post of the bunch — which I guess is bound to happen when it’s your first stab on the subject.

Still, I feel this one does help on several counts. It’s not bad as an overview, and it offers great ideas for anyone doing their holiday gift shopping in China. So there you go. Read it, but remember it’s not my last word on gifts.

4 Tips for Giving Gift Baskets in ChinaWhat should I give to my loved ones/family in China? I’ve received hundreds of e-mails from people around the world, asking me for advice on this. Over the years I’ve discovered there can be a very simple answer to this question – the fruit basket, or even a well-chosen gift-basket.

Gifts to Buy Abroad for Chinese Family and Relatives. This post isn’t just for people with Chinese spouses/significant others and/or extended family on their list. It could be helpful for almost anyone doing their holiday shopping outside of China. When in doubt, stick with the more general suggestions such as chocolate or coffee (or see my final advice below).

Birthday Gifts for Chinese Men. What? Birthdays? Okay, the title sticks out — but the content fits right in. We could even rename this post “Christmas/Holiday gifts for Chinese boyfriends, husbands and other special men in your life.” In addition, some of the suggestions — such as the business card cases, briefcases/messenger bags, and unique electronic devices — could be great gifts for Chinese men and women who happen to be your China business associates.

P.S.: If you’re shopping this holiday season on Amazon.com, you can actually support Speaking of China — at no additional cost to you — by making a purchase through one of my affiliate links. Thanks!

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Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China/Chinese culture (or Western culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.

Ask the Yangxifu: Chinese Wedding Gifts for the Parents

Two rectangular boxes wrapped in red-and-gold heart-patterned wrapping paper, set on a red velvet background
What gifts should you give to the parents for a Chinese wedding? (photo by Klaus Post)

Les asks:

My English son is getting married to a Chinese lady. What would be the right gift to offer her parents?

Okay, here’s a topic that’s long overdue  — what gifts should you give the parents for a Chinese wedding? Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: Chinese Wedding Gifts for the Parents”

Ask the Yangxifu: Why Does My Chinese Family Refuse My Gifts?

Gift box wrapped in silver paper with purple, blue and green stripes and a magenta bow
An American woman wonders why her Chinese in-laws seem upset every time she gives them a gift. Why do they always refuse what she buys for them? (photo by Irum Shahid)

Sam asks:

Recently, while I was at the grocery store, I saw a lovely bouquet of lilies. I thought they would look lovely in the kitchen, and decided to by them for my Chinese mother-in-law. I brought them home and put them in a vase. But when she came home and I told her they were for her, it seemed to stress her. She first tried to get me to say that they were just for myself, and then insisted that they were for the men in the house since Father’s Day had been the week before. We finally agreed that they were for everyone.

I can’t help but wonder if I did something wrong. My husband didn’t think so, but he’s been in the states for over 20 years now and isn’t always in the loop.

I had a similar experience when I came back from a trip. I had bought her a purse that I found on super-sale and thought she would like it. She kept on insisting that I would need it more than she would and that I should keep it for myself. It wasn’t until I told her I had bought myself something similar that she settled down and accepted it.

It is not uncommon for me to see something that I think a friend will like and buy it for them. Several times I’ve seen clothes that I know would fit my mother in law that would look good on her, but I am afraid I’ll terrify her or something. Do you have any insight? Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: Why Does My Chinese Family Refuse My Gifts?”

Ask the Yangxifu: Birthday Gifts for Chinese Men

Birthday cake lit with candles
Chinese men don't usually celebrate birthdays. But a Western woman may never see her Chinese friend again, and wants to give him something to remember her by. (Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian)

foreign friend asks:

My 哥哥‘s birthday is coming up in the first week of March, and I want to give him a gift…. And he’s actually leaving soon, to China…next month as well and I want to give him something that he will remember me by. (I’m just kind of worried that in the future, he’ll forget about me…and just move on with our friendship, because he’s not coming back to our city where we attend school at.)

I know, from reading one of your articles about your husband and celebrating his birthday, is not that big in Chinese culture, but I just am wondering, what’s the best gift? Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: Birthday Gifts for Chinese Men”

Ask the Yangxifu: Gifts to Buy Abroad for Chinese Family and Relatives

Gifts for Chinese family, relatives and loved ones
What gifts are best bought abroad for your Chinese family?

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. Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: Gifts to Buy Abroad for Chinese Family and Relatives”