But Everything's Made in China
January 22, 2009 1:25 PM   Subscribe

What kind of gifts to bring to Chinese colleagues? Since practically everything is already "Made in China", what can I bring from the United States for two women in their early-mid 20s?

I will be going to China for a couple of months for work. There are two ladies there who have been most helpful in assisting me in coordinating my travel and arrangements. On top of that, they will be meeting and greeting me at the airport at the horribly late hour of 10:55PM, when my plane arrives. I would like to give them each a gift upon arrival; which is not unusual in the Chinese culture. However, I'm not sure what to get!

I've been searching online for ideas, but none of them seem all that appropriate. Either too generic or way too personal... just my take but I'm not sure so, if anyone could clarify that would be great.

- BOOKS. What kind of books? Something like a popular USA Fiction from Stephen King just doesn't seem right, nor a coffee book I'd just toss it aside

- A FANCY PEN. seems too business-like. If it were two dudes ok but these are women around my age early-mid 20s

- VITAMINS. read that stuff like multi-vitamins are a hit but seem too personal? Fish oil pills?

- CALENDAR. maybe just me but I hate calendars... plus their holidays are different

- CHOCOLATES. Do they have the generic Americans like Hershey's or Lindt? But Chinese people don't really seem to like chocolates to begin with. My parents just regift or it sits in the kitchen for 4+years

- COOKIES/BISCUITS. Unfortunately, a lot of American packaging of this is lame versus what you can find in China and Japan... showing up with a plastic bag of Oreos or Keebler Elfs? No

The only thing I can think of now is Jelly Belly Jelly beans, since their ability to mimic life-like/artificial flavors would be fun, plus it's a food item so that's always safe. Any other ideas would be greatly appreciated! What gifts have you given to colleagues that have been a hit?

(Also since I'm an American born Chinese- speak Mandarin, parents are Chinese, blah blah- not only do I really want to bring gifts out of graciousness, I do feel the need to do so as they may expect me to know better about this "tradition" versus a non-Asian expat landing in their country.)
posted by Jimmie to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
New Hampshire maple syrup or a Barack Obama t-shirt? Anything Barack is sure to please many foreign friends!
posted by citystalk at 1:40 PM on January 22, 2009

Depending on how much you're thinking of spending, small designer items are the first thing that comes to mind. Louis Vuitton and it's like.
posted by demagogue at 1:41 PM on January 22, 2009

I've brought American Indian crafts on other trips to Asia (not China). Seemed to be appreciated.
posted by cosmac at 1:45 PM on January 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

Wine. Good Californian wine.
posted by jet_silver at 1:48 PM on January 22, 2009

There are no cranberries in China.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:04 PM on January 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Hobby Lobby (and many other places, but Hobby Lobby is pretty cheap) have great little themed charms in their beading section. Find a statue of liberty one or another america icon (cowboy?) and get a nice silver chain (I found some for $10-$20 dollar range at places like JC Penny's, Sears (hell, even goodwill). Hobby Lobby and other craft stores sell little cardboard containers you could decorate with America themed pictures or something.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 2:05 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

You should bring some really chic clothing (if you know their sizes) because the clothing that you get in China is crap for the most part (badly made).

Oh and please please do not bring patriotic American paraphernalia (even an Obama shirt). This will make you look like an uncreative and kind of arrogant American (that's the existing stereotype - no need to promote it).

I'd pass on all the stuff on your list except the Jelly Belly's because you can get all of that in China (yeah even fine Swiss chocolates that are better than what we have here and lots of Ferrero Rochers too and Stephen King books in English).

With gift-giving, just think about who is on the receiving end. If you're not too familiar with your colleagues, it's traditional to give a really fine spirit - not wine but maybe cognac or something. No Jaeger. :) Although the wine in China is utter crap. It's really terrible. So that idea might be good.

Depends on how old your colleagues are and what they do I suppose.

The hardest thing to get in China is high-quality stuff. You can get Chuck Taylor knockoffs for $2 USD that fall apart in weeks or fake LV purses that poop out after a few months of use.

For youngish (20 something) ladies, they do dig cute stuff and makeup-y things (and the low-end makeup in China is also crappy and the high-end stuff is astronomically expensive) so some earrings or coin purses or lotions or unusual perfumes always seem to go over well.

So ... something high-quality I suppose. Sorry I can't be of more help without knowing a bit more about your colleagues.

Btw, my credits: ABC as well, lived in Beijing for two years in the late '90s and just got back to the States from a 6 mo stay there.
posted by HolyWood at 2:24 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ferrero Rocher chocolates, they have them over there, but they are very expensive by Chinese standards and are only in really upscale super markets. They will be familiar with them and be impressed by it.

Do not get them something kitschy or regional American (assuming you are also American) because there is a good chance they will not like something that is obviously cheap, and a surprisingly majority of Chinese I have met do not like many of the basic flavors found in western treats. That being said, you might want to consider getting them American versions of items they will already be familiar with, like Lay's Potato Chips (dont go for plain, go for ruffles, or K.C. Masterpiece flavors, something they wont have over there), or peanut butter. When I went to China the first time I brought my roommate a flag of my favorite local sports team. Later on when I went to see visit his house, it was being displayed prominently, when I went back to China after that I noticed the Ferrero Rocher trend, and that is why I would suggest it, especially with women.

Have fun, and dont be afraid of street food!
posted by BobbyDigital at 2:25 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't know what your budget is, but Etsy.com has all kinds of handmade items from $1 on up. Vintage-y items are popular there but I think I'd look for something modern and stylish.
posted by toastedbeagle at 2:28 PM on January 22, 2009

Booze is kind of standard here, isn't it? A fine small-batch bourbon, maybe?
posted by mr_roboto at 2:42 PM on January 22, 2009

posted by Confess, Fletch at 3:50 PM on January 22, 2009

What's your budget? Fancy boxes of genuine maple sugar cookies or a small bottle of Niagara icewine each would be very nice.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:55 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

what's your budget...?

fancy scarves? pearl earrings?
posted by mhh5 at 6:21 PM on January 22, 2009

Pearl earrings are cheap in China, and so are silk scarves.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:39 PM on January 22, 2009

Wine - especially something like ice wine, which is hard to find here - is always good.
Personally, I've found that the gifts friends often appreciate most here are local, hometown things, so whenever I'm back in the States I'll pick up a couple of coffee-table books about Philadelphia, where I'm from. Clothing etc. would strike me as a bit riskier unless you know their sizes and tastes, and it might be misinterpreted as a come-on.

As for chocolates -- Ferrero Rocher is an option, or any good chocolate bar. Most of the people I know here seem to prefer dark chocolate over milk chocolate, but either should be OK.

The suggestion about Native American jewelry/crafts is an interesting one -- I think people would probably really dig that.
posted by bokane at 9:39 PM on January 22, 2009

When I went to France for a homestay in high school, I went down to the local Harley-Davidson shop and bought a bunch of shirts for my host family, particularly those that had my hometown's name on them (i.e. "Bobby's Harley-Davidson of Podunk, Arizona"). They had lots of very feminine designs with tattoo-style roses and that sort of thing that I chose for the daughters in my host family.

Huge, huge hit. Harley is such a classic American brand and kind of transcends trends and generations enough that it really worked for everyone in the family, and they all went nuts.

I also brought stuff like locally produced jarred salsa and some Native American doodads, because I was from Arizona so that made sense, but you should definitely tailor that kind of thing to your own hometown (syrup would be a great idea).
posted by padraigin at 10:45 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Definitely some local food product if your hometown or region has one; Chiinese friends often choose to bring gifts of their hometown 特产 ("speciality produce") for colleagues once they've been home for New Year or whatever.
posted by Abiezer at 12:11 AM on January 23, 2009

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