The Chinese are known for their great hospitality. Bringing someone into your home and making them feel at ease, regardless of what part of the world you are in, are values that are a large part of being a good host. The job of a host is not limited to serving a meal and having good conversation, but on an even greater level providing an atmosphere that is conducive to creating a feeling of family. It is in this setting that the greatest exchange of stories and culture often takes place, prompted by the mutual respect that must exist between a host and their guest. Today, as I was shopping for a few items that I need for the trip (a solid pair of shoes), it occurred to me that I should prepare a bunch of small gifts to bring with me to China to give to the variety of hosts that we may have. It is good to bring gifts that are representative of your own culture, as these really say something about where you come from. As it turns out, finding good gifts that truly represent American culture, New York in particular, is not the easiest thing to do. Lets review our options.
Five souvenir-like items off the top of my head that are often associated with New York
- I ♥ New York T-shirt/mug/keychain/stuff
- Statue of Liberty miniatures
- World Trade Center commemoratives posters, stickers, artwork…
- Subway Maps
- Empire State Building replicas
Out of this list, I would be immediately inclined to remove the World Trade Center items, along with Statue of Liberty collection. They are certainly representative of aspects of New York, but just aren’t right for the job at hand. And the Empire State Building…it’s just not all that interesting. I ♥ New York, the oldest of all standbys, wins again, with Subway maps coming in a close second place. The irony of the matter is that in my quest to locate any of this New York memorabilia I would probably head straight to China town. Its far cheaper than purchasing the authorized merchandise (which, as far as I am aware, is not domestically manufactured), it looks identical, and for all intents and purposes will serve exactly the same job. Something seems a bit immoral in presenting gifts of good will to citizens of the country in which said gifts were made. From a realistic standpoint, however, it is neigh on impossible to find such souvenirs made anywhere other than China. Gifts aside, there is still much care to be taken in leaving a good impression as a guest.
While I anticipate (and actually look forward to) plenty of embarrassing cultural misunderstandings, I figure that it can’t hurt to study up on information about traditions and formalities for some of the events that we will be attending. The U.S. has a slightly dubious reputation for being extremely laid back in terms of formal events, and though the Chinese are accustomed to this fact, putting a bit of effort into understanding their cultural traditions can go a long way in building a relationship. We are going to China to observe traditions and culture, but at the same time we are bringing a bit of our own culture along with us. Our language, the way we dress, the way we eat, how we act in the company of others, all of these have characteristics that are strongly tied to the culture in which we have been raised. While my group and I will be completely absorbed by the culture of the Chinese, there is no doubt that they will be equally intrigued by our Americanness.