Gift to Chinese employee in non-tipping culture: how?
July 16, 2014 6:10 PM   Subscribe

Our cleaning lady is taking her first holiday in a decade to visit her family. I was planning on giving her a cash present in lieu of the money she would have earned at our place, but I don't think she understands tips and I don't want her to feel further obliged to us. This has been a problem in the past because she has very strong views on hard work and duty &c. How should I present the idea (and money) to her in a culturally appropriate way? Am I just overthinking this?
posted by ICanHazQuestion to Work & Money (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have done this many times with my wonderful housekeeper of ten years. I frame it as, "I hope you have a wonderful time with your family! I've included a little extra this week as a token of my appreciation for how much you do!"

The point being, frame it as "a little extra," and tie it to services rendered, so it is about appreciating her value as opposed to a gratuity.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:30 PM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Giving Hongbao ("red envelopes") as a gift or to show appreciation is pretty common in China. When I lived in China, I gave them to my housekeeper for Chinese New Year, and also when I left China to thank her.
posted by xmts at 6:37 PM on July 16, 2014 [10 favorites]

Best answer: New money, fresh from the bank, in a red envelope is exactly what you want to do.
posted by bonehead at 6:57 PM on July 16, 2014 [17 favorites]

Best answer: That's kind of weird, and I wonder what is the background of your cleaning lady. China is definitely not a non-tipping culture. Or, at least, tipping is totally accepted and appreciated by mainstream urban Chinese of the Han ethnicity, and I would be surprised if there were any subcultures so far divergent from that as to take offense when you offer a tip.

I agree with xmts that you should package it in a red envelope. Read the wikipedia article, as there's a bit of numerology/superstition in the amount of money enclosed.

If you want to be extra respectful, here's some Chinese body language: offer her the envelope with both hands. She will take it with both hands, and maybe make a very slight bow, more like a nod and a little hunching of her shoulders. Unfortunately, bowing is complicated, and kind of receded from the everyday etiquette now among second-generation kids like me, so I can't tell you how or if you should bow back.
posted by d. z. wang at 7:32 PM on July 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: One thing to keep in mind (and I say this as an Asian-American of Chinese descent) is the concept of "saving face" and keeping up appearances. Oftentimes, this can turn into an intense and elborate song and dance involving a lot of resistance on the offeree's part, and a lot of insistence on the offeror's part.** So just keep insisting. It sounds completely contrary to most Western cultures, but generally in traditional, and even contemporary Chinese culture, people are comfortable demonstrating care and affecting by what most of us would consider pushy behavior. Smile, get some new bills and a red envelope, insist away, and wish her an amazing trip.

**To give you an idea of what this is like, "fighting for the check" is a fascinating Chinese phenomenon wherein at the end of a meal, people will practically duke it out to get the check. "Let me get it, your money is no good here, I insist!" "No, no, no. This is no big deal, let me get it." "Oh come on, you can get it next time. This is nothing." Ad nauseum.
posted by chloe.gelsomino at 10:23 PM on July 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the excellent advice. So a plain red envelope is OK - I don't need to find a shop selling one of those ones with Chinese writing on it?
posted by ICanHazQuestion at 10:32 PM on July 16, 2014

Plain red envelope is a-ok!
posted by chloe.gelsomino at 10:36 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

To make a long story short, Chinese etiquette is to refuse gifts/favours twice (+/-1) and accept if offered a third (+/-1) time. Corollary: gifts/favours offered only once are considered insincere offers.

And yes, use a Hong Bao. Make sure it has the "prosperity" symbol and not "double happiness" (only for weddings/engagements).
posted by wutangclan at 10:55 PM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes, go to a Chinese grocer or stationer and get proper huong bao. They're cheap to buy but you will gain disproportionately in brownie points, it will mean a lot that you've done this properly.
posted by stellathon at 4:58 AM on July 17, 2014

Hong Bao and frame it as a gift for her family. "Please take this as a gift from us to your family."

Here's a cool little article about Hong Bao.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:07 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, now that chloe.gelsomino mentioned the asking-repeatedly thing, it makes sense that you thought China was not a tipping culture. I forget sometimes how this is received in the U.S. Yeah, you might have to ask her two or three times before she'll accept it as a sincere offer.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:22 PM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, I did it. I couldn't find a "proper" red envelope that wasn't marriage-related so I made one myself. I copied a symbol (福) off the Internet, but I may have gotten it wrong - she said "Do you know what this says?" and when I said no I think she swore at me. But she seemed very pleased otherwise, so I may have misunderstood :-)
posted by ICanHazQuestion at 4:16 AM on August 4, 2014

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