What do I send to a new baby in India?
July 11, 2015 11:47 PM   Subscribe

My friend is an Indian woman living in India who is having her first baby in a couple of weeks. I'd like to send something for her new baby when he or she arrives.

I'm semi-familiar with Indian culture in a very general way, but definitely not familiar enough to know what to send to someone's first baby that would be a meaningful and appreciated gift from a friend abroad. Google suggests that the most appreciated gift would be money, which I'm fine with, but I'd like to send something that's specific to the baby, whose sex I won't know until birth and whose name won't be decided until some time later, which rules out gifts with the baby's name unless I send them much later, which I don't want to do.

Ideally I'd like to send a traditional gift to honor my friend, her baby and their culture in an appropriate way. Is there something I can send that, to a new mom in India, would symbolize my wishes for her baby to have good health and happiness and to symbolize our friendship? I know that symbols of prosperity are important, so is there a way to symbolize that in the same gift or, at least, gift package? Are there other culturally-important sentiments I should look to include?

A few things that may or may not be relevant:

1. My friend is from Coimbatore;
2. We've never met in person;
3. We met through work where I was her US supervisor and she was a remote contractor. I mention this only because if there's some supervisor-supervisee etiquette I should observe that I'm not aware of, I'd like to do so.

Please help!
posted by Maisie to Grab Bag (13 answers total)
It depends on your budget, but a traditional gift for a Kerala baby might include a small piece of gold or silver jewellery like baby bracelets (for either sex) or (for a girl) anklets. Gold is considered auspicious, always, but is obviously a bit expensive. I should think that a baby blanket or soft toy suitable for a newborn would also be welcome; it's not especially traditional but it would show your good will and, to my recollection, there is less of a range of adorable baby toys in Kerala as compared to the U.S.
posted by Aravis76 at 12:23 AM on July 12, 2015

Sorry, I meant to add that I'm less sure about Tamil Nadu but am giving you my experience from Kerala, which is close by and culturally a bit similar.
posted by Aravis76 at 12:24 AM on July 12, 2015

Money is nice but it would be weird to get money wired over for a baby, vs the usual which is money in an envelope given at the baby's party in person, unless you're a relative passing the money through another relative. It just feels weird. I have in the past for people in Asia where I couldn't visit in person, sent baby toys ordered from a local shop or Amazon with a nice card - my go to toy is the Manhattan toy with a swaddling blanket in a cute neutral print because both are useful, and the Manhatten toy is gender neutral and babies are obsessed with it.

If you do send gold jewelry, make sure it's proper yellow gold, not the pale or rose gold that's popular.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 12:29 AM on July 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding the proper yellow gold, anything less than 22 carats is not really considered gold back home.

That being said only family and close friends usually give gold. It's pretty common among Indian families here in the US to just give toys and cute dresses.
posted by viramamunivar at 1:12 AM on July 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you want to avoid any risk of this feeling like awkward cultural tourism, you have the option of sending a standard baby gift.

PS: All babies need bunny hats!
posted by DarlingBri at 2:41 AM on July 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Seconding DarlingBri--as an American it'd be awesome to get a "foreign" gift for a new baby. So maybe just something that's common for a new baby but uniquely available over here, or something cute and crafty, and then mail that over. Plus you avoid sending something "traditional"-ish but way too fancy and showing up family or something.
posted by resurrexit at 4:00 AM on July 12, 2015 [10 favorites]

I'd send money and a personally written card. Regardless of where the person is, who wouldn't appreciate that? Even $20 is great for diapers, etc.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 5:33 AM on July 12, 2015

I grew up in India and my mother's family was originally from Coimbatore. Her standard gift on such occasions was a small silver tumbler (cup). This can be kept by the family as a memento if they so choose, but also has real resale value if money is ever needed.
posted by peacheater at 6:10 AM on July 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

TH White wrote a book called Mistress Masham's Repose where a little girl befriends some Lilliputians living in her garden. They exchange gifts with one another, and it takes both sides a while to work out that rather than the girl getting the Lilliputians the smallest thing she can find, and them getting her the largest, they need to take the opposite approach - get each other something they would never find in their own worlds, which in this case are separated by scale. In the end I think she gets them an old sieve, which to them is giant and hence rather precious. I can't remember what they get her, but it's impossibly tiny and delicate.

I mention this because I think of it every time I read these questions about cross-cultural gift-giving. In other words, I agree with resurrexit - this person will be getting loads of traditional Tamil gifts for her baby, what will really be valuable to her is something otherwise unavailable to her, ie something distinctively American. I don't think this will be disrespectful of her culture, particularly if you write a nice note explaining what role this sort of gift plays in your culture. I don't know what to suggest exactly - in the UK it's common to give babies piggy banks for a christening, for instance, and this would nod to the 'symbols of prosperity' thing, but I don't even know if that's the case across the pond.
posted by Acheman at 6:17 AM on July 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

I found it surprisingly hard to find really good quality cotton baby clothes in India. We took our four month old there and have taken our kids back for extended periods over the last ten years. Another sweet gift might be a baby onesie with I heart (wherever you're from), or something to wear with your company logo on it. It doesn't have to fit a teeny baby, sized up to small child is fine. Do send a little something for the mum too. Show her that's she's more than just a vessel.
(True for every pregnant person.)
posted by taff at 8:12 AM on July 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just regular baby goods, cute outfits, socks, wraps, and later, sippy cups, etc.

Ran into a similar situation in China... friend is heading back for a visit, and took back with her stuff here that has reasonable costs, but somehow over there costs like 4X as much.
posted by kschang at 11:16 AM on July 12, 2015

Seconding the silver cup as traditional. In Northern India, it could equally well be a bowl.

Friends of mine in the US sent baby bardophile a pair of Robeez and a book. Great gift.
posted by bardophile at 1:19 PM on July 12, 2015

Honestly? I would recommend a favourite baby book with a nice note inside.

My cousin just had a baby, and she mentioned that while she got more toys and useless knicknacks (and a tumbler is just that, a pretty useless knickknack) than she knew what to do with, books for baby were always appreciated. Especially because while the selection has improved since I was a baby, it's still nothing like what you get in the West.

So, book with a nice inscription, and maybe something nice for the mum, too.
posted by Tamanna at 6:57 PM on July 13, 2015

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