Posted by ege02 on February 16, 2010
The other day, my girlfriend said something that really resonated with me.
We were talking about gifts. She said that in China, even though income levels are (relatively) low, people by each other valuable gifts. Apparently it’s not unusual for or a lower middle class person to buy a 150-200 dollar gift, which is half their monthly income.
One of the first things she noticed when she came to America was that people here don’t seem to put all that much effort into gift-giving. And I think she’s right. Most people’s idea of a gift is to go to the store to buy something cheap. It seems almost taboo to buy an expensive gift because that comes across as bragging about your income level, which is pretty ridiculous when you think about it.
Not only that, I am seeing that gift-giving in the US is mostly reciprocal. If Jack gives Mike a gift, then Mike will feel like he has to reciprocate by buying Jack a gift. It’s called “getting even.” It’s the same reason why when you are invited to a dinner party, you will feel like you should bring some food or drinks with you. In our capitalist culture, even generosity and hospitality have a price attached to them.
Is America different in this regard? Probably not. But it’s a fact that in many developing countries, where capitalist values haven’t completely dislodged more traditional ones, gift giving comes from the heart, not the wallet. If you go back in history, you see the same thing. Native American chiefs demonstrated their power by giving all their belongings away as gifts. The more a chief gave away, the more power and recognition he received. On the other hand, if he hoarded, people lost respect for him.
This probably feels pretty strange for most people. And that is normal because most of us have been brainwashed by our culture. When was the last time you gave someone a gift without expecting anything in return deep down inside? What was that person’s response? Maybe something along the lines of, “oh, you didn’t have to!”
Yes, you didn’t have to. Isn’t that the point of a gift?
This entry was posted on February 16, 2010 at 8:26 am and is filed under Social Commentaries. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.