送礼学问多 / The Complexities of Gift Giving

送礼学问多

最近,我和一位美国小伙儿吃了顿午饭。他刚到香港不久,是第一次赴海外工作。聘用他的金融机构非常周到地为他安排了一系列有关香港的情况介绍,包括一些文化背景、行为须知等等。小伙子对这些介绍兴趣盎然,学习情绪十分高涨。

事有凑巧,小伙子第一次到香港是在2010年8月,正好和我初次到港是同一个月份,只不过我比他早来了36年而已。我俩的对谈让我想起自己学到的一些文化差异以及当时学到这些东西的场合。同样,我也参加过由香港工商总会为初来乍到香港的人安排的情况介绍会,就在我刚到香港的第一个月。介绍会对我很有帮助,但从某种意义上来说,过去36年才是一场持续不断的长期介绍会。因为,文化本身就富于变化,而在此期间,中国和香港又都经历了翻天覆地的变化。

我的美国朋友得意地告诉我说,他已经知道在中国是不能给男人送绿帽子的,因为绿帽子寓意着老婆出轨。这一课对美国人是“必须的”,因为我们美国人对棒球和被我们称之为棒球帽的东西情有独钟。很多棒球帽都印有运动队的队徽或者公司的标识,帽子的颜色之多,宛若霓虹。其中那些绿色的最好还是留在洛杉矶或者芝加哥吧,千万不要送到上海去卖。

送礼要合时宜,在任何一种文化中,这都是一门艺术。而在不同文化之间送礼,学问就更加复杂了。

有一次,我送了一把瑞士军刀给法国朋友当生日礼物,他马上就给了我一块钱,因为在法国(或是朋友所在的法国地区),人们认为收受刀具而不给钱是会交霉运的。从那以后,我再没给人送过刀。

迷信是全世界普遍存在的现象,就连衣着考究、受过良好教育的商界精英也不例外。但令人惊讶的是,世界上很多不同地方的渔夫却尊崇同样一种迷信,就是忌讳把香蕉带上船。头一回赶上这种事儿是在搭朋友的汽艇钓鱼时。当时,他是一家大航空公司的高级飞行教练,人非常好。可是,一旦遇到客人或者朋友在午餐盒里装了香蕉上船,他就会一把抓过去丢进海里。香蕉是另一件可能会带来霉运的东西。

所以,在某些场合、某些时刻,香蕉也该纳入“禁送礼品”之列。

多年以前,欧洲某大型化学公司曾就其中国市场的推广策略向我们公司进行咨询,要求我们为生产大批带有该公司中文名称及标识的筷子提供一份报价。“用途呢?”我们问。对方通过电传答复说:当作礼品在即将举办的北京展览会上派发给参观者。于是我们又问,在伦敦或法兰克福举行路演时,公司有没有准备一批附带名称和标志的刀叉送人呢。对方听出了我们的弦外之音,知道这可能并非明智之举。还好,他们这回并没有准备绿色棒球帽、刀具或是香蕉。

最近,我和一位中国朋友在北京数不胜数的一家新购物中心里闲逛,发现有家小店推出的创意很新鲜有趣。商店中央的货架是一水儿的卧式玻璃盖冷柜,里面放满了包装精美的高档海鲜:龙虾、螃蟹、各种鱼类应有尽有。陈列的商品全都价格不菲,花哨的包装说明它们是送礼之用。很明显,这里不是平常人为了居家享受而来买东西的地方。

我的中国朋友厚着脸皮问店员,这些产品是不是专为贪官推出的高档礼品。出乎我的意料,店员笑着回答说:“咳,起码这种方式留不下证据呀,全都给吃掉了。”这真是个好推销员。

几天以后,我又发现一个新的海鲜推广计划,主角是一种产自上海附近淡水河湖的美味:大闸蟹。我在电视广告中看到,从阳澄湖捞起的大闸蟹每八只装成一箱,送到指定的收货人家中还是活蹦乱跳的。出售的大闸蟹共分三个档次,价格包含运费在内,都带有很多“8”:1888元,2288元和2888元。大概翻译过来就是“高级”、“特级”和“超级”大闸蟹。

这支电视广告的镜头先从水下聚焦四散奔逃的绿螃蟹,紧接着是一架商务飞机扶摇直上,离背景中的上海渐行渐远。镜头转而落到一位女士身上,她兴高彩烈地打开家门,眼前一亮地从身着制服的送蟹员手中接过一箱八只装的特级螃蟹。

大批大闸蟹乘商务飞机周游全国,这着实是“当今中国特有”的景象之一。

这段广告只有中文版也不足为奇。我敢肯定,它针对的只是国内市场,而不是为了出口。

这样挺好。因为至少在美国英语里,“给人螃蟹”是一个极不友善、极不讨喜、极不受用的说法。实际上,“螃蟹”在这句话里指的是“阴虱”。

如此看来,送礼的学问可真是深之又深了。

The Complexities of Gift Giving

I recently had lunch with a young American chap, who just arrived in Hong Kong to take up his first international assignment. His employer, a financial institution, thoughtfully arranged a series of briefings on Hong Kong which included some cultural background, do’s and don’ts, and so on, all of which he consumed with interest and enthusiasm.

Coincidentally, he first arrived in Hong Kong in August, 2010, the same month that I did, only 36 years earlier. Our conversation made me think about lessons on cultural differences which I have learned and where I learned them. I also attended a briefing session in my first month, which was organized by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce for newcomers to Hong Kong. It was very helpful, although in one sense the past 36 years have been a kind of ongoing, long-term briefing session because culture is dynamic and both Hong Kong and China have undergone such dramatic changes in this time period.

My American friend proudly told me he had learned the inappropriateness in Chinese culture of giving a man a green hat, which implies that his wife is having an affair. This is a learning especially relevant to Americans because we’re obsessed with baseball and what we call baseball caps, many of which bear logos of sports teams or companies, and come in a rainbow of different colors. Better leave the green ones in Los Angeles or Chicago rather than sending them to Shanghai as merchandising items.

Giving gifts appropriate to the situation is an art within any single culture, but cross-cultural gift-giving is a very complex art indeed.

I once gave a French friend a Swiss Army knife as a birthday gift, and he promptly gave me a dollar, because receiving a knife without paying something for it is considered bad luck in France (or his part of France). I’ve never given anyone a knife since then.

Superstitions are common around the world, even among well-educated senior business executives wearing pin-striped suits. One odd superstition which is surprisingly common among fishermen in many parts of the world is the taboo on bringing bananas onto a fishing boat. I first encountered this when fishing on a friend’s power boat. He was the senior pilot training officer for a major airline, and a very nice guy; but if a guest or friend came onto his boat with a banana in his lunch box, he would promptly seize it and throw it into the sea. Another bad luck thing.

So add bananas to the list of “no-no” gift items in some places, at some times.

Many years ago when advising a large European chemical company about their marketing strategy in China, our company was asked to quote a price for producing a huge quantity of chopsticks with their Chinese company name and logo on them. “For what purpose?”, we asked. The response, by telex: for distribution at an upcoming exhibition in Beijing as give-away items to visitors. We asked if they had knives and forks with their name and logo available for handing out at trade shows in London or Frankfurt, and they got the message this was perhaps not such a great idea after all. Luckily they did not produce green baseball caps, knives, or bananas for the occasion.

Recently while walking around one of Beijing’s countless new shopping malls, a Chinese friend and I discovered an interesting new theme in one small shop. The retail displays were all glass-topped freezers in the middle of the shop, filled with brightly packaged boxes of expensive seafood items: lobster, crab, various types of fish, etc. Prices of all items on display were expensive, and the fancy packaging suggested these were intended as gift items. Clearly not the place where the average consumer would shop for home consumption.

My Chinese friend asked the salesman rather cheekily if the idea was that these were marketed as premium gifts for corrupt officials. To my surprise, he responded with a chuckle “Well, at least that way there’s no evidence because the products are consumed.” Good salesman.

A few days later I discovered yet another new seafood gift marketing scheme involving those seasonal freshwater delicacies from lakes and rivers near Shanghai: hairy crabs. I saw a video advertisement in which hairy crabs are harvested from Yang Cheng Lake, packaged in boxes of 8, and delivered live to the home of your intended recipient. Three grades of crab are on offer, price with the lucky number “8” in abundance: RMB1888, 2288, and 2888, including delivery. Roughly translated, these are labelled “High Grade”, “Special Grade” and “Super Grade” hairy crabs.

The video ad zooms in on a gaggle of green crabs scurrying around under the water, and then a corporate jet taking off with Shanghai in the background. It pans to a happy lady opening the door of her home and beaming as she takes delivery of the box of 8 Special Grade crabs from the smartly uniformed crab courier.

Large numbers of hairy crabs travelling around the country by Learjet is definitely one of those “Only in Today’s China” images.

Not surprisingly, the video was in Chinese only, and I’m sure the marketing strategy is aimed at the domestic rather than export market.

This is a good thing, because “to give someone the crabs” has a very unpleasant, unwelcome, and unattractive meaning, at least in American English. “Crabs” in the context of this statement refers to “crab lice.”

Gift-giving just gets more and more complicated.


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