LETTER FROM THE CO-CEO, LYNETTE LIM
In this special Christmas edition, we are including our unique gift ideas for that hard-to-buy-for-trader in your life. We really hope you enjoy reading it!
The tradition of giving and receiving gifts during the holiday season is a recent custom I adopted upon moving to the US. I do not recall my siblings and I ever receiving any presents from my parents for Christmas or on our birthdays. It just wasn’t a custom to give or receive gifts on a specified date.
There is a kind of sweet sentimentality in the exchange of presents; and perhaps as a Chinese, we are just way too practical and cheap for that. So, on a recent trip to Chicago, my father bought a present for my daughter (to be more precise, he paid for the present at the store). I was so tickled that I took a picture and sent it to my brothers!
As Americans who are born into this tradition, you might not think much of it. In fact, I found out last night at a dinner party that 90% of Americans give to charities; the average amount is $2500 annually! In 2017, the total giving to charitable organizations was $410 billion which is 2.1% of GDP. Once again, the pragmatic me is both astounded and yet amused by this fact, considering that the average median income household is $61,372 and 8 in 10 Americans are in debt. “Well, isn’t it just the thought that counts?“ one might ask. But really there is a subtle art to the exchange of gifts, and it could go very wrong if you are not accustomed to it. So here is what I learned about the giving and receiving of gifts.
Lesson 1 about Giving: A good gift is defined as what the other person might want that he wouldn’t buy for himself, not what he needs/uses.
Years ago in Singapore, for the Secret Santa game played in the office, I gave a male colleague two pairs of white socks and saw immediately the sheer disappointment registered on his face. It was a practical gift since he wore white socks every day, but not the gift he was looking for. My childhood best friend once ran out of ideas and bought parking coupons for his dad (these are quintessentially Singapore things, where you put these up whenever you park in a public spot). Again, not good gifts; and probably not the best friends to consult if you were looking for gift advice.
The other important part of this exchange is receiving. There is a lot of emphasis in our popular culture about giving. During this time of the year, charities continuously remind (and persuade) you “it is better to give than to receive.” But there is not much literature on how to receive presents.
Lesson 2: Always show gratitude when receiving presents. This is not the time to give honest feedback.
I realize there is a great cultural divide between Americans and Singaporeans in the outward demonstration of emotions--especially happy emotions. This is mainly due to most of our upbringing and family heritage. As a 2nd generation Chinese immigrant in Singapore, I was schooled under the British education system. Having a stiff upper lip and not displaying strong emotions was a virtue and (using American slang) shows that you’ve got your “sh**” together. Being outwardly happy was mostly avoided. People who behaved this way were treated with caution and suspicion like they were too fake, attention seeking, and being too “American”. 😊 The closer you are to someone as a friend, the more honest and casual you should be. There is another interesting factor at play, which I think stems from Buddhist/Taoist influence. That is an obligation to repay kindness and good deeds, so one feels burdened rather than happy to receive a gift!
A Singaporean colleague from another office visited our US office and we threw him a surprise birthday party. We bought the most expensive cupcakes in Chicago, yet he looked utterly dismayed and frowned the whole time. After he blew out the candle, he announced: “Actually I don’t really like sweets.” My other US colleagues were kind of dumbfounded, but I understood. I made the same mistake when I received a Christmas present from my husband and exclaimed that I didn’t like the face of the watch. Ouch. I am better now.
So, it is not just the thought that counts. To receive a gift properly, you have to express it with a “thank you” and smile…and possibly even a hug.
As always, I love to hear your thoughts. Have a wonderful holiday with family and friends.
Please click here for CHRISTMAS SPECIAL EDITION: THE 2018 P List - Gift ideas for the traders in your life