Last year in one of my classes, we had to do a research project on a country. I actually ended up doing the country of my heritage, which was nice because a) I already knew it a lot, and b) it gave me the opportunity to learn even more. The goal of the project was to research customs and culture, so if you were a company sending people overseas to do business you’d know what to expect and more importantly, how not to offend.
One thing that I found in my research was the idea of gift giving. I think this is true in most Asian countries, and I’ve known this myself. I just never realized it was an Asian thing until I experienced it first hand. In the Asian culture, when someone offers you a gift, you decline. They keep offering; you keep declining. After about three refusals, you finally give in and accept the gift that is still being offered.
How does that reflect in everyday life? It means when I am asked by a neighbor or friend to watch their house, plants, or pets and they want to pay me for this, I decline. It’s a favor; you don’t have to pay me. If you insist on it I will eventually give in and accept the ‘gift’, but it’s not expected. I don’t need to be paid to do this. I just hope that if I need help you will do it in return.
Well recently we on vacation and asked a friend to watch our pets. Granted, this was a relatively new friend and they were doing us a huge favor by watching our pets, but we never had an agreement where we would pay them. When we came back from vacation we gave them a small package: a souvenir from our trip and also some money to pay them for our pets. While I didn’t expect them to not take the money, the reaction when they received it came off as extremely rude, in my opinion. She opened the gift, looking at the money and didn’t say anything. It was just, oh thanks. What was I expecting? To be honest, I was expecting a refusal. She would open it, she the sum, and say something along the lines of, “Oh, this is way too much. I can’t accept this.” And then we would insist on it. The least I expected was, “Oh, this is way too much. Thank you very much, it was no problem. I was happy to help.”
I felt offended that she didn’t seem to care about our gift. We could have given just the souvenirs and there would have been the same reaction. I guess I felt like she didn’t appreciate our gift. After doing this project, however, I realized that it might not be the same in her culture. I still feel offended, but now I understand it a little more.