Gift Giving Across Cultures

What happens when people from different cultures carry out exchange?
Throughout Lee’s description of the Hxaro exchange, there is a constant emphasis on how the exchanges are never finished. !Xoma said to Lee, “When I find something good I will give it to you, and so we will pass the years together.” There is this implied notion it is not that goods/exchanged gifts itself the bring people together, but it is the process which does.

The value put onto goods exchanged is therefore cultural, as within each society, they have their own goods which are valued or preferred in exchanges. For the Ju/’hoan, it is items from their material culture which they cherish (Lee, 2012:132) while for the Kula exchange, although the article exchanged are arm shells and necklaces, thy also trade other objects which are not formed at home.

However, what happens when gift-giving occurs in a large and highly metropolitan society like ours, where there are heterogeneous cultures? Although it has been highlighted several times in lectures and tutorials that it is the social relationship maintained which matters more than the object exchanged, I think it is crucial to also not gloss over the fact that the item itself really matters if the gift-giving occurs across cultures where different cultural meanings can be placed onto the same goods or actions of exchange.

For example, white flowers are acceptable in Mexico while in Canada, white lilies are inappropriate as they are associated with funerals. The same rule is observed in Japan, where white flowers are also considered as the symbol of death. Therefore, one should be careful when giving gifts to international friends, as we do not want to offend them although our intention is good.
If you want to have a glimpse of some of the preferred or inappropriate gifts around the world, you might want to click on the link below.

The reaction one gifts upon receiving the gift also matters and people act/react differently according to the culture.
This youtube video explains how a Chinese man would react to a gift from another Chinese man. They accept in humbly and do not open the gift in front of the giver so that they do not have to fake a happy reaction upon receiving the gift. This is in contrast to how Westerners do it. They open it in front of the gifter, and hence, are kind of forced to exclaim joy in receiving something which they do not like. The man in the video demonstrates this by giving a git to his wife, who immediately exclaims joy uposn receiving it as she knows her husband expects it of her, but she throws the gift away when he leaves. I feel that the Chinese way of doing it is much more subtle and hence, will place a lesser strain on any relationship since hey do not have to pretend.
Therefore, although it is the social relationship maintained which is important while the object is secondary, it is crucial to note that unless the appropriate gifts and reactions are given, the social relation may not even be formed at all.

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