The Gifted Blog

September 6, 2010

Wrap Story: Giving Back

This Wrap Story is part of a mini-series, documenting every present I’ve wrapped since the launch of The Gifted Blog. Click here for the whole series!

Having family in a few different states means that we travel by air on a semi-regular basis. In our marriage, one of our least favorite tasks is figuring out how to get to and from the airport. Can anyone else relate? We'll book our tickets and then put off asking for a ride for weeks.
It's a habit we're trying to break. But thankfully, our friends are very good to us. B offered to get us from the airport at the end of our last family vacation. Not only that, she did something I've never had done for me (or thought to do for anyone else!). Waiting in the car with her was a Nalgene full of water, a couple bananas and a container of homemade banana chocolate chip cookies.

That is love.

We'd picked out a pack of lemon coconut curry couscous for B before our departure. Who knew the Iowa City Farmers' Market had gone so global?

Growing up amongst Japanese-American family and friends, a nice thing to do when returning someone's container (from a potluck or party) was to wash it and put a little something inside for them. I'm not sure if it's a true Japanese tradition or more an Asian-American thing (or maybe it's Presbyterian!). Can any readers confirm from their experience?

I just put the couscous in B's container and topped it with a thank-you and a grocery bag pom-pom I had from a past workshop. Simple and quick, perfect gift wrapping for the jet-lagged but grateful.

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  1. It's funny you should mention this. When I lived in Japan we were always careful when we give gifts to not put in a basket or separate container because it would be refilled and returned to us.

    Just discovered your blog and am enjoying the wrapping around the world segment.

  2. @Chppie - Whoo hoo! So glad you can verify that returning people's containers with a gift inside is indeed Japanese. Really appreciate you chiming in. Feel free to add your 2 cents in response to the global gift wrapping and Japanese culture posts!

  3. (1) Okay, whoa?! You're supposed to give a little something back? That makes giving away tupper-ware and giving it back so much grander. Here in my little part of America, under this African-American culture we haven't practiced that but I definitely think I'll do that from now on. Start the generational shift in culture (^_~), woohoo!
    (2) I have heard about Shop Class into Soul Craft and I really, really want to pick that up. Maybe I should go to my library stat.
    I found "By Hand" really interesting! And the rest I haven't read. It's a virtual instructional and a reminder of the things I should be reading.
    (3) I just wanted to know that I was linked to your site ages ago through Annekata and I love it! I just found this wine giftwrap tutorial today and thought of you. Have you seen this one?

  4. Charissa, it's incredible how persuasive your questions are that I am always forced to think and reflect..and answer them! Yes, we have this ritual of not returning any container empty - even if there is nothing interesting to put in it, we might put a few toffees or fruit into the container. I even feel weird to gift only spicy food, and might keep something sweet on the side. Sadly, with all the disposable containers coming in or people buying pre-packaged food items from shops, this habit is dying down. This question reminds me of my grandparents house where all their grown up children would visit with containers of special dishes for their parents. Inevitably, the next time around they'd be sorting out which container belonged to whom, and my grandmother would always tell to them to help themselves to something to put in that container. Thankfully, we have some very interesting festivals which usually reflect the season (using seasonal produce), being grateful for the earth's bounty and sharing with others so we still do a lot of gifting of edible items in that way.

  5. @boatx2 - Hi Roe! Maybe your own kids will be writing their own blog posts one day, wondering if the tradition of giving tupperware back with a gift is an African-American thing, a Bay Area thing, or what. : )

    @Namitha - It's great to hear from you. I love this new information! I am learning a lot from your comments. Do you think this is an Indian tradition as a whole, or something specific to your family or region?

  6. Hi Charissa. It is an Indian tradition in general -- we do have some very strong views on partaking of hospitality or food. It is perhaps considered an obligation and has to be reciprocated in like, preferably immediately or within a short period of time. It can be carried to extremes at some times...and you will find people rather uncomfortable when put in a position of having to accept something when they don't have anything to give in return. These days the sad thing is that there are fewer occasions to meet in big cities so it becomes a bit of a problem to "return" the favour. We have our own ways of coping, for instance, if there are kids in a household we visit (and we were not aware earlier), it's possible to give cash as a gift (and that's where some of us usually have some gift envelopes in our handbags). But the little nuances I mention about adding something sweet when I pack something salty/spicy is my own (crazy) touch. You'll find a lot of regional variations -- for instance one of my dear friends and neighbours sent us a plate of a special sweet from some other town. She had sent three pieces and I did not find anything unusual in it because that's how many people are in the house...but later when I met her she apologised profusely and said that she should have added one more and not sent an odd number. It's pretty tough to figure it out these nuances, but in general we are very finicky about the concept of eating "salt" from other people's house and whatever that implies. In fact an expression in Hindi for a person who has betrayed another person who has nurtured him is a reflection of this belief -- "he has eaten my salt and betrayed me"...anyone who has seen some of those Hindi movies would recognise that phrase.


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