Dear Ms. Wai – Christmas Gifts

Posted by

Me and my Shandong guy have only been together for a year and a half and we have a great relationship, but last Christmas was pretty miserable. I went all out, got us matching pajamas, a cute blanket with our picture on it, made a special meal etc. 

What did he get me? Nothing. Literally nothing.

I know he’s Chinese but come on! He’s seen lots of movies and TV shows about Christmas (I know because I’ve watched many with him) so he knows what Christmas is like! And when I told him I was disappointed he said he didn’t know what I would like, and then he offered to buy me whatever I wanted on Taobao, even giving me his phone so I could find something.

It’s not a money thing (I don’t want expensive gifts) and I know he likes me a lot, but how can avoid this situation again this Christmas?

Wish for some gifts under your tree? Don’t keep those wishes secret!

It seems a lot of Chinese guys fall short on gift giving, whether it is Christmas, Valentines Day or birthdays. I know my guy does. Last year, after he also gave me nothing, I told him I was upset, so he dragged me out to Starbucks. I like Starbucks but he made me stand next to him while he talked to the manager about getting a gift card, and seeing if he could add it directly to my app, without him buying a physical card. It felt humiliating, especially when the manager asked “how much?” and he looked to me for the answer! I felt like such a demanding Prema donna insisting he drop big bucks on me.

But like valentines day or birthdays, Christmas isn’t the culture of many Chinese people so they don’t know what to do. It sounds much more like a lack of knowledge then any real ill intent on his part. So this year be direct.

“Christmas is coming. I will get you some presents and you need to get me something. Order it now because you have to give it to me on Dec 25th and it needs to be in a nice box or bag.”

I know it seems obvious to you and me, but to him? Less so. In fact I said this exact thing to my boyfriend last week. He said “But I don’t know what to get you…” and I said “you know things I like, right?” And he admitted he did. If he was still unsure I might have suggested a few things, but still keep it vague as I like a little surprise. “You know I like tea right?” Or something like that so at least I could be surprised of the type of tea I would be getting.

It takes awhile to “train” our guys to how we like things, and you can’t be subtle or coy about it. You just gotta speak up and say it directly even if it feels a bit demanding/embarrassing. But it’s not! It’s just a culture difference that he isn’t aware of and consider it your job as a culture ambassador to teach him.

I don’t have huge expectations for some big meaningful gift myself, but I am hoping that this Christmas I won’t be standing awkwardly next to the clerk while he is buying me something. Although I wouldn’t be totally surprised if I ended up with another Starbucks gift card only this one bought a day in advanced. I’ll consider it a slight improvement, and work on it for next year.


Do you have a question for Ms. Wai? Write to her at

Ms Wai

One comment

  1. To say that Chinese people are unaware of Valentines Day, Birthdays, Christmas etc is complete nonsense.
    For the last 5 + years these have been promoted more and more in China, especially as shopping days, and there is more of a demand FROM Chinese people (in my experience), on me to ‘celebrate’ these in a way that I would not consider culturally appropriate (i.e. spending more money and being more ostentatious and superficial than I would normally be at home.) I have had Chinese people who I may only be slightly acquainted with DEMAND Christmas gifts from me, and they get offended when I tell them that this is not how Christmas works.
    In addition exposure to foreign tv, a primary source for some on non-Chinese cultural norms has given rise to confusion when I don’t behave like the people on these said tv programmes. (there is still the expectation that foreign women behave like those in ‘Sex and the City’ and disbelief when they are told that this is NOT reality, but fiction).

    to the OP – your bf is just disregarding your cultural expectations while probably expecting you to conform to his cultural norms.
    Be up front to him – many guys need these things spelled out to them clearly.
    ‘if you want me to respect and adopt your culture, you have to respect and acknowledge my cultural expectations.’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.