Surprise Birthday Ideas Needed
October 12, 2005 7:51 PM   Subscribe

I have a very good friend and colleague and our organization is surprising her for her 60th birthday this Friday at a supposed TGIF. She's a Chinese American and very proud of her roots, so I'd like to get her something special or do something because of this. She celebrates all of the traditional Chinese holidays and still speaks the language with her family members. I being Anglo as they come, don't have any good ideas or much time left, so any suggestions will be appreciated. Thanks!
posted by thebarron to Human Relations (13 answers total)
I really don't think I'd go there. If you don't already know what might be appropriate... You know her not me, but the risk of picking something that's either totally wrong (wrong region?) or not nearly as interesting to her as it is to you seems so high. What would you have access to as an anglo that she wouldn't be able to get if she wanted it? -especially with hardly any time left. It's a nice idea, but personally I'd go with something unrelated.
posted by crabintheocean at 8:22 PM on October 12, 2005

It might be difficult for you to find something Chinese that she doesn't already have or want so I'd say, give her something you think she'd like regardless of her ethnicity.

Having said that, there are some good suggestions about wrapping, lucky number and other gift suggestions here. Note particularly what not to give: "Never give a clock, handkerchief, umbrella or white flowers, specifically chrysanthemums, as a gift, as all of these signify tears and/or death. Never give sharp objects such as knives or scissors as they would signify the cutting of a relationship. "
posted by mono blanco at 8:23 PM on October 12, 2005

Wow. Happy birthday to her. 60 is a BIG birthday in the Chinese culture. Um...I know that her children are supposed to create a feast for her. There's all types of traditional food that they are supposed to cook. Point being that the Chinese culture places more emphasis on food than gifts.

I tried to come up with something that you can give, but it's really hard considering that you didn't mention what else she likes. Have you ever seen her personal space like house/apartment or work space? That might be a source of good ideas.

Ok. So barring that. Something lucky. You can't go wrong with the color red. The number 8 is lucky as well. I'm not sure how personal your relationship is with her. A somewhat cool/silly gift would be a peach. A big one. Nice and pink and white. It's part of Chinese mythologies. It also is a traditional offering to older generation to wish them longevity.

Sorry for not being able to come up with more concrete objects to give.
posted by state fxn at 9:26 PM on October 12, 2005

I don't know if you have the time or access, but I think many people appreciate quality Chinese artwork (paintings, Chinese calligraphy, etc.), or similar decorative type things. Just watch out for the cheap stuff.
posted by roaring beast at 9:29 PM on October 12, 2005

Maybe some jewelry or artwork? I think you're on the right track for a gift because you're already thinking of what she values and what interests her (her Chinese culture), but also don't discount any of her other interests (golf? reading? watercolor painting?) Try doing a google search for 'chinese golf' or 'chinese jewelry' and I'm sure you'll get some ideas. I just did a search for 'authentic chinese gifts' and came up with several interesting results - especially the first link; the stationary sounds promising.
posted by LadyBonita at 9:29 PM on October 12, 2005

I would second/third the "avoid the Chinese route" recommendations. As someone in a distant but similar position, there are so many rules - from the color of the wrapping, to the number of gifts, to the type of present, and so on - that you'll never get them all.

Plus, I feel it's slightly odd trying to assimilate someone's heritage to get them something from it, when they would probably be more interested in what you, Cracker McWhitenstein, can bring to the table from your pale roots.

That being said, your Anglo-y gift in a basket with some oranges around it would be a nice touch and nod to her heritage. They are a great symbol to include.

PS. There's no "the" language to speak here, in terms of Chinese being "a" (single) language, but you probably didn't mean it that way..
posted by kcm at 7:26 AM on October 13, 2005

Perhaps make her a Chinese dish, and accompany it with a non-Chinese gift. Even if you screw up the cooking, she'll probably appreciate you tried.

Be cautious about the Chinese calligraphy artwork. It could be made by someone who has no knowledge of calligraphy, and suddenly your birthday gift is featured in Hanzi Smatter instead of on her living room wall.

Cracker McWhitenstein! Awesome!
posted by Anonymous at 8:38 AM on October 13, 2005

I love to get birthday gifts from Red Envelope...not only are the gifts amazing, but the presentation is absolutely spectacular (beautiful shiny red box with white satin ribbon). Some interesting choices might be these: gift 1, gift 2, gift 3, gift 4, gift 5
posted by jeanmari at 10:33 AM on October 13, 2005

I second the Cracker McWhitenstein! Awesome! sentiment!

Admittedly, I would never classify any of my Chinese friends (most of my friends) as proud of their Chinese heritage. I've always seen that the very traditional gifts and ceremonies and food and such are a family thing.
posted by eurasian at 11:47 AM on October 13, 2005

I'll fourth or fifth or whatever the "reconsider your plan" idea. Even if you're an uber-sinophile, have converted to Buddhism and she's your bestest friend, I'd avoid the whole minefield. It is very easy not to know the significance of an item or fall into cultural stereotypes instead of getting the "authentic" thing. And China is huge and has so many different ethnic and lingustic groups, I don't think you can predict how she'll take it.

Look, I'm proud of being Mexican-American, but I wouldn't want my American friends to throw me a traditional fiesta with a pinata. (Pinatas are scary, just look into their eyes.) In fact, if they had strong ties to their heritage, I'd really love it if they shared part of that as a gift (like yummy Indian food from my Indian roommate, or a Celtic CD from my friend of Irish descent) instead.
posted by lychee at 12:55 PM on October 13, 2005

As a British-Chinese person, I'd frankly be rather perturbed and slightly insulted if someone gave me a "Chinese" gift.

From her perspective - she's already into her Chinese culture, so she's probably got all the things she wants, the essentials etc.

The Q you need to ask is: What can *you* bring to the party? Is there a unique gift or service you can lend that she can't get elsewhere? Failing that, try and get her something she may not immediately like, but something she might want to try out. A book on Chinese-American history perhaps.
posted by badlydubbedboy at 6:52 PM on October 13, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody. The ideas are great and I see that I just need to get her something non-Chinese due to the many possible ramifications. lychee, kcm and others, you are right on! I'll share all these ideas with my other friend and we'll proceed from there. Going the more traditional, safe route, but letting her know she's special and that's all that matters!
posted by thebarron at 9:30 PM on October 13, 2005

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