it it Chinese etiquette to bring a gift on a playdate?
September 8, 2019 6:40 PM   Subscribe

My kid's friend always brings cute tasty gifts when she comes for playdates. Am I supposed to do this also?

What it says on the tin. My kid has a friend who comes over for the occasional playdate. The kid's family is Chinese. The kid -- I think always, or maybe usually -- brings a little box of Chinese sweets as a gift, which we delightedly eat. The child is lovely and the cookies are delicious. Everyone is happy. To date, playdates have been at our house.

1. If I send my kid over there for a playdate, am I supposed to send a gift? I mean I know it's nice to send a gift, but is it expected in this particular circumstance? What about when she goes to visit other Chinese families -- is it a typical thing?

2. If so, what should I send? The gifts that have been brought are purchased Chinese pastries in cute packaging, obviously meant for exactly this sort of presentation. What, if anything, is the equivalent for me (American Jew) to send? Like... a babka maybe? Is that dumb or weird? I'd have to make a special trip, it's not like I keep those in the pantry.
posted by fingersandtoes to Human Relations (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you’re overthinking this? My guess would be that this family starts their kids young on the “never go to someone’s house empty handed” rule. If you want to reciprocate, flowers would be great.
posted by cakelite at 6:45 PM on September 8, 2019

Response by poster: clarification: I'm asking if there's a cultural aspect I'm unfamiliar with, and would appreciate answers that have some insight or expertise into Chinese norms around this.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:47 PM on September 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You don't need to reciprocate. She's just being polite from her end - to go to people's houses with something to eat. (We like to feed people.)

If you feel like reciprocating, you can just keep it simple and send over a couple of whatever fruit is in season, and avoid any bad luck numbers like the number 4. Fruit that is colorful like oranges and apples are good.

(I'm an American born Chinese.)
posted by toastyk at 6:48 PM on September 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I hosted a few (very recent immigrant) Japanese families for toddler play dates and discovered to my dismay that they always brought beautifully presented snacks. If they brought fruit, they cut it up on a paper plate and laid it out really prettily, and always brought a package of crackers or cookies individually wrapped.

So when we visited them I would bring food also, with the idea that it’s meant for kids to eat, but also packaged so they aren’t forced to consume it all at once before it goes bad. I would get a boxed assortment of Pepperidge Farm cookies in a tin and it was always a huge hit, looks nice, not too much fuss, bound to get eaten, and the closest equivalent I could think of for what they brought. Kept a couple in the cupboard for just those instances, since they keep pretty well. Or I bring a Tupperware of washed grapes or some clementines.

I’m of Chinese background and yes my mom was also big on bringing a little something when we were guests. American people like flowers and wine as hostess gifts; she and her set are always bringing fruit and pastries to each other when they visit but it doesn’t have to be fancy, just fresh and simple.
posted by sestaaak at 7:01 PM on September 8, 2019 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Another person of Chinese background here agreeing that it's polite to bring fruit or snacks if you're a guest, especially since hosts often provide snacks of their own + go through the trouble of cleaning the house and everything.

Most families won't expect you to reciprocate as you're not Chinese, but if you visit it's still a nice gesture. When I went to a friend's house to stay I gave the family some chocolates even knowing that's not really a thing in their culture, it just wouldn't feel right to arrive empty-handed. Cookies, fruit, snacks or pastries are all fine, and babka would be totally appropriate and also a cool bit of cultural exchange, but it's also fine to just grab a tin of palmiers or shortbread cookies from the grocery store.
posted by storytam at 7:57 PM on September 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: 1. I don't think they would be mad or anything if you didn't send your child with something, but I think it would be appreciated as a nice gesture if you sent something, at least the first time.

2. If you have a Whole Foods type of store near you, something from the fancier cookies/pastry shelf would do. A loaf or box of baked goods is definitely OK. Fruits (tote bag of apples, bag of mini citruses, a melon or two) would also be fine I think. Bringing fruits when you visit people is pretty common in Chinese culture at least in my experience.

You say it's currently "occasional." There's a good chance if it becomes more frequent the gifts will stop or change to simpler snacks.

And to answer the title question. Yes it's Chinese etiquette to bring some food thing when visiting people at their homes, not just playdates.
posted by bread-eater at 8:26 PM on September 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, we always went to other people's houses with a gift. As the other posters have said, it doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive or well thought-out -- literally half of the time we turned up with a few oranges in a paper bag.
posted by moiraine at 1:47 AM on September 9, 2019

Best answer: I'm Jewish and grew up with a Chinese friend who brought us snacks too! My mom did occasionally give me things to reciprocate with when I went to her house but only if it was like a special occasion kind of thing, not just a quick few hours together. Usually it was fruit or packaged cookies, something for dessert. Once Mom sent me along with a pitcher of lemonade because it was hotter than the sun.

But we also did some Jewish stuff! Soon you can share apples and honey for the new year. I remember also giving them some prized homemade rugelach, which I frankly was kind of cranky about since I coveted them all for myself. Also hamentaschen around Purim, which I cared about much less. Different dried fruits like dates and sultanas are also things I in retrospect realized were a Jewish thing I'd shared with them. I have a vivid memory of breaking open pomegranates I'd brought over and making a big mess in their lovely kitchen.
posted by Mizu at 3:15 AM on September 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: This is great. And, just so nobody's confused: I myself would never visit someone's home empty handed, I always bring wine or food or flowers or more than one of those; but those visits are generally for a party or a sit-down meal. I hadn't seen the practice for kid visits until now. Good to know that the gesture can be scaled down to fruit when it's just a couple hours of kids playing.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:25 AM on September 9, 2019

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