My wife is a firm believer in giving presents when she visits family or friends. She is Thai and when we are in
Thailand, these presents take the form of fruit or home-made dishes of food, especially if we are travelling out of
the area where we live.
So when we went to Britain for a holiday three weeks before Christmas last
year, my wife took over gifts of Thai craft goods, Thai silk and Thai fruits. She took a present for all the
women and children that she had met on our last visit and also for all those that she knew of born since
However, she is used to giving presents as soon as she meets people, so that is what she did. They could not
understand because Christmas was only a week or so away, but being Buddhist, she did not understand our tradition
completely either. Nobody wanted to give gifts to her at that time of year, because they wanted to give them on
Christmas Day, when our family and friends were all due to get together anyway.
It was not really embarrassing, because she was not expecting to receive a present in return anyway and my
family and friends all knew that she was a Thai Buddhist as well. However, when Christmas Day came, it was a
different story for some.
Some children didn't understand giving a present and receiving nothing back in exchange although they had
already had theirs and opened them. Not all children were like this, but some were and that was awkward. Thai
children are amazingly undemanding when compared to Western kids.
It is very hard to tell whether a Thai child is happier with 100 Baht or 10 Baht, although logic tells us which.
They are brought up to be happy with whatever they are given - even nothing. They are taught to be grateful for
Otherwise, perhaps it was just embarrassing for me, because we had nothing to exchange as a gift on the day, and
that is what I have been used to. My wife was not used to our tradition of exchanging gifts and so did not have the
slightest difficulty. She had given her presents when she had wanted to and so had everyone else.
However, although I agree with being able to give a gift of whatever you want whenever you want to, I would
recommend that couples of mixed races and beliefs stick to the cultural traditions of the country they are in,
because it is far less confusing for everyone in the end.
It is nice to meet other people fulfilling their own cultural traditions - it is very endearing, but it is also
important to fit in with the traditions and customs of the local population wherever you happen to be in the
The children just did not understand, although I dare say that it was explained to them later that my wife is
foreign and has different ways of doing things. This also involves being selective with whom she gives a gift to.
She would not give to an adult man ever, not even always her own son now that he is married.
My step daughter gives me something sometimes, usually for New Year, but it is quite unusual rather than the
rule - she knitted me a scarf last time. My wife has never given her mother anything ever. She doesn't even know
her birthday, because she was brought up by her grandmother.
Giving presents is very different in some countries compared with others and we should not assume that every
culture around the world sees giving gifts in the same light. Gift giving may be done in some cultures for
different reasons unrelated to religion or the time of the year.
by Owen Jones