Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Gifts: To say there is a fetish of gift giving is understating it: there are whole stores for gift wrap, every department store sells fancy cloth bags made just to hold gifts, every person walking around appears to have an extra bag or three (we saw one woman with four in an elevator, and that did not include her purse), and it is really important to have stickers put on gifts that come from fancy stores so the prestige level is on display.
We brought gifts to give (DB put a lot of thought into the range to bring from home, and when to give what), we bought gifts (wine from California), we bought wrapping, we had the hotel in Tokyo help wrap gifts, we brought envelopes to hold small gifts and expected gratuities (e.g., for drivers to cover their lunch costs, to translators, etc.), and we received gifts as well. We were advised gifts would not be opened while we were there and then found out that sometimes people were excited or curious enough that they did open them (and in the case of the chocolates we brought, to pass them around, Steve was surprised by that!).
There is no tipping here, so it is an offset. We’re still not entirely clear on the ramifications of outgifting or undergifting someone doing us a favor (like inviting us into their homes for a meal or snacks). And, there is also the act of refusal. In one case, on one of our visits apparently Steve was asked 6 times if we could be taken to lunch. Steve then asked us if it was okay, and of course it was. So when asked again, Steve accepted on our behalf.
When we parted, we gave a small gift and (in an envelope) a $100 “honorarium” to compensate for the time he had given us for a private audience. Steve assured us that this was expected, and the honorarium was refused at first and maybe a second time and then Steve basically talked him into taking it (or we would lose face? I have no clue, I should have asked Steve). In any case, the graciousness of the people we met with was overwhelming, and I think it had nothing to do with the expectation of a gift. And the gifts they presented to us clearly did not have reciprocation in mind, many knew (all?) that they weren’t going to see us again.
At another stop Steve had prepped us to again make an honorarium, which might be “forgiven” (by us, not him) if we made a purchase. This was because a translator had been arranged to make sure we could converse in depth (which we did). We bought a sake pot, and also gave the honorarium. They seemed surprised to get this gift from us (DB also had another small gift ready which was given to N-san’s wife, a jewelry artist, that was easily given and taken). We felt afterwards that it seemed the lesser of two evils, to over-gift than to under-gift. We’ll never know, nor did the “extra” for the translator seem unnecessary, she was great.
Per Steve, the ceramics artist would be paying the translator, most likely because it was not just a one-time favor to a friend. To us, the translator appeared as a friend doing a nice service. When we talked to her directly about where she learned her English, it was very personable, not formal.
Lastly, we had our sake pot sent to us at the hotel in Tokyo, then kept it unopened until we got to E-ville. We open the box, and there is another gorgeous box enclosing the sake pot, worth saving, and two more small gifts gorgeously wrapped. Even the purchases turn out to gift with purchase!