Monday, October 09, 2006

Gifts from Students

The makings of a complete tea time snack

One constant about Japanese people is that they give gifts, especially souvenirs from their travels. Teachers in particular are recipients of their largesse. Since my husband sees a great many people each day at the conversation school where he works, it's not uncommon for him to bring home little surprises that students have given him. The above picture was today's takings. I first heard of Geisha chocolate, a Finnish confection, from Roy's blog. Roy didn't say anything about how good it is. It's full of extremely yummy hazelnut filling. The types of tea are written in Finnish but I believe it's vanilla, rooibos, and quince (vanilj, rooibos, and kvitten).

In the past, he's been given wine, dates, sake, various candies and cookies, bean cakes, mochi, nuts, maple syrup, coffee beans and wafers. My students have given me manju, green tea, lavender hand lotion and liquid soap, herbal tea, chocolate, fruit jellies, hand towels and, recently, ear medicine for my husband's ear blockage problems. They are nothing if not generous and inventive.

I've noticed my husband receives more food than anything else and I receive a mixture of food and personal items. I'm not sure if this is because I'm a woman or if it has to do with my teaching from the house and being a housewife. I tend to suspect it's the former.

Of course, the Japanese give each other gifts frequently as well. At weddings, each guest receives a bag (sometimes large, sometimes small) with souvenirs of the wedding. It's a nice custom though it tends to become a burden for them at times. More than one person has told me that the expense and obligation of gift-giving can be a bit tedious for them at times. That's not to say they don't often gladly give gifts, particularly to foreigners who they are under no obligation to give anything to.

One of my students told me about an experience he had recently related to gift-giving. An American couple that visited Japan recently had dinner with his wife and he and another Japanese couple at the other couple's home in Tokyo. He and his wife gave the Americans a framed picture of Mt. Fuji and the other couple gave them some Japanese lacquerware. The American couple didn't speak Japanese at all so the Japanese couples did their best to muddle through in English. Unfortunately, my student isn't very proficient though he tries hard.

When the American couple was preparing to leave, my student, a 64-year-old man, noticed that they had left their gifts in the corner of the room they had dined in. He said, "don't forget to leave it (the gifts) over there." The American man looked at him with great puzzlement and my student wondered what happened. When he explained it to me in the lesson, he was very embarrassed to realize he'd essentially said the opposite of what he wanted to say.


Sean P. Aune said...

The gift giving DOES get tedious. I always have to plan room in my luggage when I come over for various gifts, and I take great pains in my choices. I make sure they are manufactured in the USA and I try to choose things that represent my area of the country. For insatnace, my last time I brought Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals hats and pennants.

Most people I only gave one or the other to, but one gentleman I always meet with got both. In addition, I always care a spare gift with me because I never know when I might meet accidentally meet the president of a company I have been dealing with, or the represenitive of a manufacturer. It may sound funny, but it has happened to me a couple of times.

Never mind making sure I don't wrap things in certain much fun.

Shari said...

My husband and I don't travel back and forth to the U.S. much. In fact, he's been back twice and I've been back once in 17 years so we rarely give souvenirs as gifts.

The only thing we did was bring over 2 bottles of Johnny Walker Black label when we moved in (it was a relatively desirable gift a long time ago). We gave one bottle to the landlord when we moved in and expect to give him the other, well-aged bottle, when we leave Japan.

I don't think we'd bring back much aside from candy or food gifts if we did go home though, given the novelty of the experience, it might be fun to shop for gifts.

However, I can easily see how it'd be pretty tedious in your situation. ;-)

Matt said...

I know it's against "netiquette" to comment old posts but I couldn't resist.

The gifts are from Sweden (though Fazer is a Finnish company). The teabags (really cheap brand btw... heheh) says from left "Red miracle", "Heavenly good" and "Dream mixture".

Best Wishes from Sweden!