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  • Writer's pictureSumbella

Gift Giving Across Cultures

[#travel + #gifts + #culture] The art of multicultural gift giving (and why I need a designated gifts suitcase).

Now that I’ve picked myself up off the floor from jetlag after Canada, join me as I prepare to get #ontheroad again. I thankfully gave myself a full 48 hours to recover before heading to Pakistan to catch Eid with my family there.

Shifting gears for this trip to #DeraIsmailKhan has me thinking a lot about the art of gift giving.

I have English family and Pashtun family.

When I pack to visit each of these different groups, I chuckle a bit at how my suitcase content looks:

Visiting the English: 90% 'my stuff’ / 10% gifts for family

Visiting the Pashtun: 10% ‘my stuff’ / 90% gifts for family

Visiting the Pashtun ON EID: 5% my stuff / 95% gifts for family

I noticed on this recent trip to Canada, that my Canadian family there neither expect nor demand guests give gifts either. I know this is not peculiar to my family. Of course, if we give something, it’s always welcomed and appreciated. But not the focal point by any means.

I still love to give gifts to people. It’s a great joy of mine (though I’m content with hugs rather than gifts personally).

For English family, I go for a humorous, quirky gift. One we can have banter about. This is easily picked up at Dubai airport: a chocolate in the shape of a camel does the job nicely. This gift creates great fodder for jokes and cultural curiosity in family who have never visited Dubai. Is it really made of camel milk, they query, dubious - this, followed by great debates over whether to actually eat it or keep it as an ornament.

Now when I go to Pakistan… this is a trip that needs weeks of preparation for gifts. (So much so that I have a rather large trunk in my house with knick-knacks that I continuously gather through the year). I create little gift packs for each family/person. From make up to jewellery to vanity kits to dates to money envelopes to oud/scented wood that can be burned as incense, there’s a lot.

Also… The giving of these gifts is a whole ceremony: soon after you arrive, everyone sits around and watches as each person gets their gift. (Thus, it is really cultural suicide if you show up without anything.).

So there you have it. A glimpse into gift giving when you shift between cultures.

And here’s how it unfolds for me in real life:

Two weeks ago, before we set off for Canada, I rolled up to the airport and picked up 11 chocolate camels, wiping the shelf clean of them.

Once I counted them out after plopping them on the counter, I looked up at the bemused cashier and let her in on the plan:

‘Oh these?! I’m just expanding my camel farm.'

She chuckled as we herded them into their new pen - a designated gifts suitcase.


#overtoyou: Do you give gifts when you visit family? How do you decide what to give?😬🎁

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