Friday 2 July 2010


Optimize the Workflow of Gift-Giving

The Danish way of giving gifts: The giver agonizes over what to give. The giver goes to the shop, selects a present, takes out the money and pays. The giver wraps the gift or waits for the sales assistant to wrap the gift. The giver transports the gift (tough work if the present is bulky!) and gives the gift to the recipient. The recipient thanks the giver politely. The recipient unwraps the gift and looks pleasantly surprised or tries hard not to look genuinely disappointed. The recipient tries to find a day to make a trip to the shop to return the gift. The recipient gets the money back and buys something else.

The old-style Chinese way of giving gifts: The giver takes out the decided amount of money and puts it into a red packet (“ang bao”). The giver gives the red packet to the recipient. The recipient thanks the giver politely.

The Danish way of gift-giving is more thoughtful and romantic, but the workflow is also a lot more time-consuming, especially if you have to find presents for 8 children and 12 adults, the time taken will be multiplied by 20!. No wonder Danes are really stressed out during the Christmas season trying to complete their Christmas shopping in time! The Chinese way is much more efficient and less time-consuming, but it is really unromantic, boring and does not provide the surprise factor. Both have their pros and cons, but the Chinese way suits the busy working woman more, at least for the Chinese working woman :-)

One benefit of the Chinese way of giving money in red packets as gifts is that you get to teach your child the 3 “S” lessons about life – namely Sharing, Saving and Spending.

1. S is for Sharing - 30% in the following break down:
a. 10% to God – As Christians, this teaches J to honour God with his “first fruits”.
b. 10% to parents – As Chinese, this teaches J in an early age the Chinese concept of filial piety, something not many Europeans could comprehend.
c. 10% to charity – This teaches J the concept of sharing with the less fortunate

2. S is for Saving - 20% – This teaches J the concept of being thrifty and saving up for rainy days

3. S is for Spending - 50% - This teaches J the enjoyment of spending within his means after taking into account the other two “S”s.

If the child gets, let say, a toy car as present, he can’t really share it. He can’t give God a wheel, give his parents another wheel, take another wheel to save and spend the last wheel. He has the toy car ALL TO HIMSELF. Of course, he can share the toy car with the less fortunate kids… but usually these kids do not really exist in Denmark.

Another benefit of the Chinese way is that I get to teach J mathematics in a very real sense and the use of money in a very practical way.

Being a pragmatic Singaporean, I tend to go for the less time-consuming way. However, when in Rome, we should do as the Romans do, and efficiency should not be achieved at all cost. We should be sensitive to the feelings of others whenever we can. Thus, it is a balancing act to tread on this Danish-Chinese cultural toeline. So here is my strategy:

1. When buying gifts for the Danes, especially the die-hard romantic Danes, I will go to the shops and buy gifts.

2. If I am pressed for time, I will give “ang bao” like gifts, i.e. gift voucher in a nice European-style envelope. This serves as a bridge for the cultural gap between the Danish and Chinese culture.

3. And if I am REALLY pressed for time and the shops are closed (the shops in Denmark has one of the world’s shortest opening hours!), then I will just put an amount of money into a nice European-style envelope. Better to come with a gift than no gift at all, right? We tried it on one of our nephews and he was really pleased with it :-)… though I am not sure if his parents were equally thrilled… :-P

4. For non-Danes and Chinese friends, from now on, I will just give "ang baos".


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