Note from Cam: This is a guest post from my girlfriend in Vietnam. I’ve edited the content for clarity and ease of reading (English isn’t her first language), but kept the tone and general message the same. Hope you enjoy. Enter Ha!
If you are from the West and in a relationship with an Asian man or woman, you may have to get ready to meet your partner’s parents. This is easier if you are both from a Western country.
In your culture the first meeting does not require a gift. Meeting your partner’s parents in the West could simply mean gathering for dinner. In Asia, however, this is more complicated.
In Asia meeting your partner’s parents is more formal. In Vietnamese culture for example, there are many different traditions. Some of these include: taking off your shoes when you are in the house, using chopsticks, and eating food with sauces you may not familiar with.
While these things may be new to you, I think that you’ll quickly adjust to them. Nevertheless, the most difficult cultural difference you may face early on in your relationship is choosing a gift for your boyfriend or girlfriend’s parents the first time you meet.
While differences exist among the different cultures in Asia, here are some gift suggestions that should go over well regardless of which Asian country your partner is from.
These suggestions should help save you a lot of time and mental energy. Choosing one of the gifts from this list will help ensure you make a good first impression on your partner’s parents.
#1 A Big Bag of Fruit
Most Asians enjoy eating fruits. In Vietnam, we typically prepare fruits for our dessert every meal. This is a common eating habit in many other Asian countries as well.
Your gift could be a mixed bag of fruit including: oranges, apples, grapes, kiwi, etc. It sounds simple, but it’s useful. Although it’s a stereotype, most Asian families appreciate a gift that is practical.
After dinner with your partner’s family, your gift can be served. However, do keep in mind that the fruits should be wrapped nicely. It is a present that you are presenting to your partner’s family on a formal ocassion after all.
(A large bag of mangoes or Durian could be a great gift)
It is common in Asian cultures that the men love to drink. In many Asian countries, the man will drink multiple times per week with his friends. If you’d like to become closer with your boyfriend or girlfriend’s father, consider gifting the parents a nice bottle of wine or some wine glasses.
Drinking wine during dinner will help you bond with the family. Koreans and Japanese among other Asians tend to make deeper connections after drinking.
#3 Massage Equipment
I know what you’re thinking when I say massage equipment, but don’t worry. You obviously don’t need to buy the parents an expensive massage chair. You can buy them something small such as a foot, or back massage device. This gift will show that you care about the family’s health.
While this gift may seem strange to you, again, remember that in this part of the world people tend to be more pragmatic. While flowers are a nice gift in Western countries, they may not be appreciated as much in the East.
Yes, they are a safe gift, but many families from this part of the world will think that your gift is somewhat useless and a waste of money.
While they will think your flowers are beautiful, flowers aren’t the best choice. Give them something like a foot massager so that they are able to get some lasting value from your gift.
Asians greatly value their health, especially the older people. As we get older, we will increasingly try to eat foods that improve our health. For that reason, Ginseng could be a great gift for your partner’s parents. If you didn’t know, Ginseng is a type of root which is well-known in Asia.
It has been used in Chinese traditional medicine for centuries to improve one’s health. Ginseng is known to reduce stress, improve digestion, and support healthy functioning of the heart.
#5 Meal Invitation
An invitation to a nice meal is the easiest way to impress your partner’s parents. However, before inviting your boyfriend or girlfriend’s family to a meal, be sure to choose a restaurant they’re likely to enjoy (also be open possibly paying for everyone) .
If they are from Japan for example, consider inviting them to an upscale Sushi restaurant. If they are Chinese, dimsum would be a great option.
Although Westerners often mentally lump Asians together, be aware that the food preferences of Asian countries may differ more than you think. Inviting a Thai family to dinner for Pho may show you are somewhat culturally ignorant (though you may still get points for trying!)
BONUS TIP: Separate Gifts for Mom and Dad
If you’re having trouble finding a present that’s suitable for both your partner’s mother and father, consider choosing separate gifts for them. Maybe you could get a leather wallet for the father. For the mother, something that could help her cook or clean more efficiently would be great.
Although something so expensive may be unsuitable in Western culture, most Asian women would be delighted to receive a cleaning vacuum or other household appliance.
Most of all, remember that you partner is your greatest asset in choosing the perfect gift. Asking your partner for help is the best way to ensure you choose a gift appropriate for their family’s culture.
If you would like to surprise your partner and his/her family, however, they would surely be happy with any of the gifts from our list. Good luck, and I hope your partner’s parents are overjoyed with whatever present you decide on! 🙂