Bringing Gifts to Southeast Asia

Old Oct 17th, 2012, 09:16 AM
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Bringing Gifts to Southeast Asia

A friend and I are traveling to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand over Christmas and New Year. We would like to bring small gifts to give to locals we meet - candy, small toys for children, or anything else they might appreciate. It must be something relatively small, as we will carry multiples, and something that represents the United States. So:

1. Are there any customs I should keep in mind? Is there anything that is unacceptable/offensive to gift in Southeast Asia, or anything that is particularly appreciated?

2. Does anyone have experience with such gifts, and if so do you have any ideas?

Any input is much appreciated!
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Old Oct 17th, 2012, 11:27 AM
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Please DO NOT bring gifts to give to children. It encourages begging and encourages parents to keep them out of school to beg.

If you want to make a positive difference in the lives of these children take a look at www.theplf.com and other charities.
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Old Oct 17th, 2012, 12:45 PM
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Do not bring candy for kids, whatever you do. It is bad for their teeth. Visit a school and bring pens or other supplies. The website Kathie is referring to is www.theplf.org (not .com). For adults, calendars with photos from your home country and caps with a sports team logo make good gifts.
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Old Oct 17th, 2012, 01:30 PM
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Thanks for the advice, and that's a very good point. I'll abstain from giving children anything, but maybe I'll bring a few items to give to adults or staff at the guesthouses where we're staying.
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Old Oct 17th, 2012, 01:32 PM
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Thanks, Craig, for correcting the website address.

If you want to donate school supplies, buy them in the country where you donate them - cheaper for you, better for the local economy.
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Old Oct 17th, 2012, 04:49 PM
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You have received some good advice so far. I would add that the gifts should not be lavish; an expensive gift will only embarrass the receiver. Gifts should be given (and received) with both hands. I would also mention that you should not be surprised if your gift is not opened in front of you, but you are simply thanked (almost casually) and the gift is put aside to be opened later when you are gone. Opening gifts in front of the giver is not the way things are done in Asia. This is considered impolite and greedy. I am not saying that it won’t be appreciated, it just more than likely will not be done in your presence. If they know Western customs, they may ask if they should open it in front of you then, it is up to you to say yes or not.

In many cultures here, especially Chinese, there are lots of taboos about gifts. Watches, clocks and books can be problematic. I don't see any issues with the gifts mentioned above. Small bottles of perfume for women would be another idea, as are key chains from the city/state where you live.
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Old Oct 17th, 2012, 04:56 PM
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and... never write on the gift cards in red, especially the names or attention to etc, as that is considered as writing to a deceased person.
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Old Oct 17th, 2012, 05:41 PM
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"<i>I'll abstain from giving children anything, but maybe I'll bring a few items to give to adults</i>"

You will possibly step into some unexpected snake pits. There are cultural and etiquette 'rules' you may not be aware of (the ones mentioned above are just some to consider)

Take useful things to schools - and/or contribute to local charities. Just IMO.
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Old Oct 17th, 2012, 06:44 PM
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The plf mentioned above had specifically noted a need for thumb drives, so that's what I took - more of a donation than a gift (meaning it wasn't for a particular person).
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Old Oct 17th, 2012, 07:52 PM
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Some small items that looks like souvenir from your town would be fine
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