Gift Giving for the Culturally Incompetent

I recently received an invitation to a baby shower for my boss, Huy, and his wife, Jamilla. The party was described as “very informal,” which is vegan-speak for we won’t be serving animal products but there will be lots of alcohol so guests don’t riot and eat each other like hungry zombies. The email ended with a link to Target and Amazon, where a gift registry was set up. They had a total of 83 items on their registry—ranging from diaper packs to baby books.

A list of things my friend wanted on his baby gift registry.
A list of things my friend wanted on his baby gift registry.

I didn’t know where to begin, so I started at the lowest price and carefully assessed how I felt as the price increased. It was painful. My body began to cramp, as if I was experiencing Jamilla’s pregnancy through Huy’s sympathy pains. “Do you know how hard it is to sleep next to a pregnant woman?” he asked. “Help me…” Exhaustion blanketed his pale face while fear paralyzed his fragile, vegan body.

The hardest part about gift giving is that there are so many factors to consider, such as how much I value my boss’ friendship and how much I am willing to spend on it. “I didn’t plan the party or make the gift list,” he swore. “This is all her doing.” In other words, Jamilla needed to like the gift or else I could end up broken like Huy—a terrifying thought.

The OXO Perfect Pull Wipes Dispenser was $19.99 and received 4.5 stars from 106 customer reviews. Karazim (4-stars) wrote “Yes, it will work with cloth wipes!” but Mary (1-star) posted a 27 second video to prove that the box does not shut properly and hated the wipes for drying out. For $159.99, the SnugRide Infant Car Seat also had 4.5 stars but only from six reviews, which was too small a sample size to make any firm conclusions.

Gift giving is like gambling. There’s always a risk that Huy and Jamilla will return whatever I buy them. That would make me feel like a terrible person, which directly conflicts with my own self-image of being cute and likeable. On the other hand, if I give them cash (Asian style) they can spend it on whatever they want. As an added bonus, it works in my favor if they decide they don’t like the money and return it.

When I was younger I always received cash gifts from my parents and family members—whether it was my birthday, Christmas or Tet. It started out with coins, which I used to learn fractions like a good Asian child should. Four quarters is one dollar and if I put that dollar into a savings account, it would grow to $1.02 by next year. I’ll be rich!!! Later on, coins turned into crisp, new $5 bills inside of red envelopes, then $20 during high school, $50 in college, and then back down to $10 as I approached 30 years of age and was still unmarried.

At first I thought my parents were being lazy and would rather stay home than shop for my birthday present. In hindsight I’m glad they never did because it taught me the value of a dollar. When children get toys, all they want to do is play with it. Eventually they get bored and clamor for new gifts. But by receiving money I was forced to decide where and how to spend it. Should I buy Pokemon trading cards or purchase new advertising for my summer lemonade stand?

I’m not saying there’s a perfect system for gift giving. Every culture has its own rules and customs. For most Americans the registry takes the guess work out of gift giving. For Asians, giving cash is easy because we love money and assume everyone else does too. As for me, I prefer the middle-of-the-road approach.

James' Gift Registry for Every Occasion
James’ Gift Registry for Every Occasion

Authors note: My birthday is in January. Yes, I celebrate Christmas. And I will accept “lucky money” for Tet with or without a red envelope.


3 thoughts on “Gift Giving for the Culturally Incompetent”

  1. Last night, I gave my first red envelopes yesterday to children who weren't related to me. The parents made them call me “Auntie” and mumble a thank you. I like to give real wedding presents but for every other occasion–cash all the way!


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