Purchasing a gift is not always easy especially it is for someone from a different culture. This article provides some interesting information if the gift is for a Chinese.
As China is a big place with many provinces, the culture can vary depending on which province the person comes from; but there are some general themes that can be followed to avoid some embarrassments.
What you need to know?
To the Chinese, anything that brings prosperity, longevity or good fortune are fine and anything related or ‘sounds like’ death must be avoided. This rule applies to both numbers and colors that are being used in almost any occasions.
Note: The pronunciation is referring to Cantonese.
Bad numbers – number 4 is the most unwelcome number simply because it has a similar pronunciation as ‘death’.
Good numbers – number 8 sounds like prosperity and number 9 for longevity. Series of 8’s or 9’s such as ‘888’, ’99’ are even better. Numbers ‘168’ and ‘138’ are also very popular for they sound like ‘continuous fortune’.
Bad colors – black and white are usually for ของชำร่วยงานศพ funeral or mourning. Therefore, you should only send white flowers to a funeral and the gift wrapping paper should not be plain white or black.
Good colors – red and gold are for celebrations such as birthday and wedding.
Items to avoid – sharp objects such as knives or scissors as they would ‘cut-off’ a relationship. Umbrellas resemble separation. Clock sounds like “attend a funeral”. Handkerchiefs are for mourning. Books are not for Cantonese people who love gambling because it sounds like “loss”, otherwise is fine.
Exceptions: although wearing black or white to a wedding is not a tradition, it is acceptable if the wedding ceremony is held in a church which follows the western style.
Do not be offended if your hosts do not open the gift in front of you as it is not polite in the Chinese culture unless you insist. Also, they do not normally accept your gift immediately in case you feel they are greedy.
What are the popular items?
Cash can be used in almost all occasions. For happy occasions, it should be put inside a ‘red envelope’ that has some words of blessing pre-printed on it. Red envelopes can easily be found at most Chinese grocery stores; always check with the staff to find one for the occasion you want if you do not understand the Chinese characters on the envelope otherwise you might give away one for the wrong occasion.
The amount inside the envelope should follows the numbering rules as mentioned before i.e. use even numbers except number 4. Also, if you are a couple then you should give two envelopes instead of one to cover for both.
If it is used in a funeral, which is normally used for donation to the charity or assist the grieving family financially, you can put small amount of cash in ‘odd’ number in a normal ‘white envelope’.