Monday, December 25, 2006

Gift giving and Thai Culture....


Last night was a busy one here at Chez Chani.

My housemates all had visitors and they were in and out. I stayed out of the way for the most part but did spend some time with them. I like some of them. Why not? :)

We all sat in the livingroom talking back and forth for half an hour or so.

PJ looked at me directly and said, "I want to know about this Thai thing you're doing. How do people give gifts there?"

I explained to her that it's a very casual process. Giving gifts over there is common. People do it for little or no reason, just to say "thanks" or "hello" or "goodbye" or "I just feel like it..." They do it for the sheer enjoyment of it. One of the things I enjoyed when I was there is that it seemed people I met were always giving me little gifts and allowing me to give them little gifts. This is something that was done even in a casual, transient relationship. It's done for fun.

That style of gift-giving fits well with my personality. I love giving gifts but don't like being coerced to do it in any way. It takes the fun out of it. If I was wealthy, I would be one of the gift-giving-est people in the world. I'm always thinking of something someone might like... a book, a special pen set (I know a lot of journal-writers), candy, food items. These are the typical things I get for people.

Another significant difference between Thai gifting customs and American gifting customs is that Thai people do not open the gifts in front of each other. The gift is graciously accepted and put to the side. Life goes on.

V. disappeared into the spare bedroom and I didn't think much of it when he did. He and I don't have the best relationship and I figured he was just bored with the conversation. I chatted on with the others for a few minutes and got up, preparing to come back to my mother-in-law unit and relax into a movie.

V. came out before I could leave with a large box in his hands. I was already standing and beginning to say my good nights. He stopped me and asked me to sit down again. He handed me a large box and said that he knew I didn't care for Christmas, so I should consider it a thank you gift. "Thank you for taking such good care of Mom last year."

I was startled, to say the least, but, following Thai tradition, I thanked him graciously and put it to the side. At that point, I felt awkward about getting up and leaving. I sat quietly, anticipating the right moment.

I really did want to get to that movie! My water was already slowly heating for tea. I'd only gone in there for a quick "hello".

Five or six faces stared at me intently.

"Are you going to open that," D. asked.

"Um.."

"You're not in Thailand yet," she said. "We want you to open it."

Well, it's allowed when requested, even in my chosen culture. I opened it. It was a DVD player.

Again, I thanked everyone graciously, told D. that it was my honor to help her in any way I can and prepared once again to leave. Finally extricating myself from the awkward situation, I came back and watched a movie. I really do believe that was a very kind gesture on their part, to think of me that way, even going so far as to respect my adopted customs.

Sometimes people shine.

Hope all are having a day filled with whatever will bring you the most joy.

Peace,


~Chani

11 comments:

QT said...

Chani - I am so glad that you had a pleasant surprise, tho I can see how awkward it would be!

I think I would like Thai style gift giving better, too- I hate opening gifts in front of people, but I LOVE buying gifts for people and I hate the fact that they often then feel obligated to buy me something.

Have a great day, Chani. I am thankful to have stumbled across your blog this year -Neens

jen said...

i love the thai style...it doesn't have to be a production, or take center stage, just coming from the heart.

peace and love to you.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Omigod, I'm really Thai. I love to give people gifts, strangers as well as loved ones, just because something feels right about connecting a particular person with a special item. So I enjoy the gift giving central to Christmas, but do not like the pressure of having to get presents for some people for political reasons. It feels insincere (because it is.)

But how surprising that V actually did something approaching decent human behavior. Maybe there's hope for everyone.

Enjoy the DVD player. You've earned it. :<)

Lucia said...

Culturally, I never know whether to open or not open when I'm in different places.

Very nice post. Made me peaceful and happy when I read it. Not sure why...

Pam said...

It was a lovely gesture, but I do understand your awkwardness.
I have always like giving gifts "just because". It's so spontaneous, heartfelt and suprising.

Mother of Invention said...

I'm glad you could have a positive response in your own way to the kind gesture of your friend. Very generous gift too.
I love being the giver best.

Snoskred said...

Just so you know, re the post you deleted about readership - two things. Many people are now reading blogs by things like bloglines and google reader these days. I personally read you in google reader. This means you do not get a hit to your page, but I still get to read your words.

Yes, I know, in some ways this is Not A Good Thing, but it saves me a lot of time considering I have 118 blogs on my must read list, and I used to spend an hour or more each day checking them - google reader tells you when people have updated their blogs.

Secondly - your audience won't just suddenly wake up one morning and say hey, let me search for Thailand Girl on google, because that is what I need in my life. You have to get out there and say hi to others via comments on blogs, and people will find their way naturally to you through doing that.

That is what I did with NaBloPoMo and it has been worthwhile for me.

And one final thing - my traffic is way down over Christmas, people have gone away. That would be why people are not seeming to show up as much or as often. Don't get discouraged by it.

You write a great blog, and I enjoy it very much. :) Even if you don't see me on your hit counter every day..

Ginnie said...

Chani...it's taken me many, many years to realize that my problem was not in giving gifts, it was in RECEIVING them graciously and without judgement on the giver or the gift.

Bob said...

That's an interesting custom, it reflects a philosophy of giving without expectations. It made me realize that part of the pleasure I receive in giving a gift is the reaction of whom I'm giving it to. (For those I know well I tend to get something unusual and/or amusing. Seeing their reaction is like the punchline of a joke.)

I would hope that the giftee doesn't feel obligated to gush or to otherwise fake their reaction to the gift, but I can understand how someone might feel they are required to react positively. In the instances where I have received something that I already have or something I don't like I reach for Ms. Manners and find something nice to say, because if nothing else it REALLY is the thought that counts.

I do wish I could have sufficient ?detatchment/enlightenment? to be able to give without expectation of return - emotional or tangible.

Angela said...

These rituals sound lovely. One thing that annoys me to no end about American gift giving is when people ASK ME what I want for my birthday or for a holiday. It makes me nuts. I'm sure people are equally annoyed when I refuse to ASK THEM what they want. Giving a gift is such a beautiful way to honor or thank or recognize someone. To ask what is wanted just...I don't know, cheapens it? I love the process of picking out "just the right thing" for someone...something special that will show them I really see and appreciate who they are without them having to tell me. And if I really want any one thing? I can buy it myself. This is a great post, Chani.

Anne Neo said...

Hi Chani! Thank you very much for sharing this blog. I was really searching for an answer to my question because my Thai colleague happened to send something to me on his birthday. I wasn't really used to receiving gift from a birthday celebrant. I really like this person which is why I thought that he's somewhat showing his affection. Then it made me think that I'm expecting too much from him and there must be a "culture" explanation for his generosity. That's why I tried surfing the net about Thai gift giving. Your blog was the key to the question in my head. Although this clears out that I'm not his type (haha), it made me learn something - Thai are really fond of gift giving. Thanks again Chai for sharing your experiences and views.