Gift Giving Taboos

Birthday gift

Photo credit: / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

For many people part of the excitement of birthdays is the gifts. I’m not only talking about kids. Adults can get pretty loopy about the loot they receive too.

In the interest of helping out loyal readers of this blog, I’ve compiled a list of gifts to avoid for the superstitious and with attention paid to international customs:

  • It’s bad luck to give a clock or timepiece gift in China as the word for clock sounds like death.
  • Handkerchiefs are another bad choice (because you know you were ready to give those monogrammed ones you made!) as they are used to wipe away sadness and frustration and you don’t want to draw those to the birthday recipient.
  • Moroccans may not want their gifts in yellow, pink or violet as those are colors associated with death.
  • Put a small amount of money in a new wallet, purse, or piggy bank to give the receiver good luck or to ensure that they will never be without money (depending on which interpretation of the tradition you adhere to).
  • Shoes can be a mistake as they symbolize giving the birthday guy or girl the ability to walk away forever.
  • Giving an umbrella or fan is thought to be bad luck too (because the Chinese words for fan and umbrella sound like the word meaning to scatter or to lose).

Apparently, the way to counteract many of these superstitions is for the birthday boy or girl to pay the giver a token sum (even a penny). In this way they have paid for this item instead of getting it as a gift. Somehow that keeps the chi/fates/bad luck elves at bay.

And whether or not you are superstitious, you should probably steer clear of self improvement gifts. You might have the best of intentions, but you could easily offend your recipient by wrapping up that diet cookbook or bathroom scale as a birthday gift.

Need help with the wrapping of your now appropriately chosen gift? I blogged some suggestions in the past.

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