“3 Terrible Gifts In China” – Chinese Language & Cultural Superstitions

The China Simplified team explores Chinese gifting taboos and the tragic (albeit slightly exaggerated) consequences of a guy giving his combustible girlfriend the wrong presents.

For example, his first gift 伞 sǎn (umbrella) in Chinese sounds like 散 sàn (to break up). Umbrella gifting on dates is to be avoided, even if it is the most exquisite antique umbrella, or an expensive elaborately laced umbrella, or even a hi-tech-unfold-with-one-click umbrella. Just don’t go there. No matter how expensive, you cannot overcome the phonetic connection between umbrellas and breaking up. With his second gift, there isn’t the slightest sound difference between 送钟 sòng zhōng (giving a clock) and 送终 sòng zhōng (paying one’s last respects, or burying the dead). Giving a clock is one of the biggest cultural no-nos. It might even be taken as a wicked curse, or worse, a declaration of war. For popular gifting ideas, please read our post on The 5 Best and 5 Worst Gift Options.

Wearing a green hat (戴绿帽 dài lǜmào) signifies that your wife/girlfriend is cheating on you. The origin of this custom is often related to the green hats worn by army men heading off to war, with no guarantee of their wife’s behavior back home. Another legend involves a clothseller making a green hat for a lady in his neighborhood with whom he’s having an affair. She put the green hat on her cuckolded husband’s head each time he was leaving town as a signal for the clothseller to pay her a visit.

Our book China Simplified: Language Gymnastics delves into other language-driven cultural superstitions, giving you the tools you need to avoid the big mistakes and perhaps even profit from your added awareness. Other chapters explore how to choose a good Chinese name, impress others with Chinese idioms, and learn Chinese while working full time, plus much more!