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Gift Giving Research Paper

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Submitted By megancoburn
Words 1887
Pages 8
Megan Coburn
Professor Tabitha Kenlon
ENGL1111
19 March 2013
Giving gifts to get what we want- Gifts with an Ulterior Motive For thousands of years communication has been construed ambiguously. Regardless of whether it’s what we are feeling or what we need, the fact remains that humans have a hard time conveying everything they want to say during conversation (with verbal speech) and, likewise perceiving it. With regard to these factors, I wish to examine the underlying motives behind the process of gift giving, throughout the centuries, in different contexts and across various cultures. Individuals offer gifts, symbolically, for many reasons and in varying circumstances. Gifts may be distributed ritually, or in such a way that they distinguish hierarchies. They may also be used as a sign of affection when wooing a partner and are frequently utilized in business relations. It is important to note that there exists a difference between gifts given to other people and gifts given to oneself. A gift giving behavior is defined as a “process of gift exchange that takes place between a giver and a recipient.” (Keng, Kau Ah, Wang, Quain, and Mohammed Abdur Razzaque, 214) In the opinion of Schall, “culture is a rule-based phenomenon,” in other words, to be considered actively apart of a culture one is required to observe and conform to all of the implied and tacit rules that society deems apropos. Circumstance or situations are an important aspect of these untold rules that aid in governing communication and interpersonal relationships in general. Therefore, in the case of many cultures gift giving is an unspoken obligatory method that facilitates the interpersonal relationships of its proponents. Gift giving was an imperative part of many cultures throughout history. Evidence exists even as far back as the Ancient Egyptian Empire (where lists of guests bringing presents and supplies were kept at weddings and various festivities. Dubbed ostraca these lists were available as indicators or aide-mémoire of the social obligations necessary to sustain interpersonal relationships. (Janssen, Jac. J, 254,256) These were not legal documents but rather records of a string of never ending debts between the giver and the recipient. Specifically, this concept is called reciprocity, or a social or cultural obligation in which the receiver is responsible for bestowing a counter-gift, generally of equal value, either immediately or after a period of time. . (Janssen, Jac. J, 254) The concepts of reciprocity and ostraca also contained economic value, for example in peasant societies guests would all bring food to a party, which alleviated the burden of their humble host. China, also has a longstanding tradition of gift giving. Encased in conceptions of family wellbeing and honor as the basis of their culture, the Chinese retained their cultural norms from the doctrines of Confucius, which comprise the pillars of Chinese life even today. Guanxi, for example, is a major component in Chinese society as well as business transactions. (Keng, Kau Ah, Wang, Quain, and Mohammed Abdur Razzaque, 215) Functioning like a network, gaunxi comprises the “direct particularistic ties between two or more individuals that determine the strength or closeness of interpersonal relationship.” In this way members of Chinese culture maintain a network of “close” bonds that, like reciprocity, link the recipient to the giver in a sort of benevolent dance. Additionally, in Western Civilizations people usually identify strongly as separate or independent entities whereas in China and other Asian cultures there is a strong sense of collaborative or group sentiment as mentioned above. However, though the Chinese stress the concept of “family” and the group, they emphasize mianzi- “face”. Mianzi… is an individual’s public image, gained by performing one or more specific roles that are well recognized by others.” (Keng, Kau Ah, Wang, Quain, and Mohammed Abdur Razzaque, 215,216) Despite the fact that mianzi is dependent upon culture, it is specifically geared towards “hierarchical order in Chinese culture”. Due to their strict humanistic culture, the Chinese are particularly aware of their selves and their counterparts. It is in this way that the Chinese strive to advance themselves through a modicum of civility (not losing their individual faces, yet in so amplifying themselves they attempt to save the face of others as a general rule. The Mongols, as Friar William of Rubruck, discovered in his journey to their capital at Kharakhorum, emphasized the importance of gift-giving as a form of hospitality as well as an imperative part of the Yāsā- ‘great law’ of Genghis Khan. (Watson, A.J, 93) Like the Chinese, the Mongols viewed gift exchange as an extension of themselves or their social status. In this way gift exchange was also used to facilitate communication and foster introductions. For example, when Rubruck first approached the Mongol empire the Tartars found it difficult to discern whether he was a lowly envoy, peculiar priest, or destitute beggar, and thus his advance was interpreted as offensive, and he was granted a low status. Over time, as his priestly status augmented his position, his level of respect or “face” increased and bestowing physical gifts was hardly required of him. Furthermore, generosity and the joint- partaking of food were anticipated in Mongolian culture. It was considered crucial to a clan-like society that thrived in such a harsh environment. Similarly, Western Societies like the English and Danish utilized gifts in their hierarchical interactions. Food was especially important in medieval England as it was believed that “small gifts can have a significance that outweighs their value through the opportunities which they create, and that almost anyone might have the ability to make gifts, as even nugatory items, such as commonly available foodstuffs might form the currency of donation”. (Woolgar, C.M, 6) Peasants frequently contributed fare to their masters including hens, apples and fruits, etc. as a sign of respect and loyalty. Sustenance was also used to convey status. Wine, animals that could be trapped and hunted, birds or animals raised in captivity, and even fresh fish were all symbols of power on behalf of the benefactor. “The intention of donors was that their gifts should be both noticed and noticeable.” (Woolgar, C.M, 10). In Scandinavia (present day Denmark) bequests at rites of passage were understood and expected. For instance, the noble couple Hans Skovgaard and Anne Parsberg gave their godson (the eldest son of the Danish King Frederik II) an enormous gilt cup dubbed the “Rose Flower”. (Woolgar, C.M, 116)
Holidays are notorious for the distribution of presents. Christmas and birthdays are the most significant gift-giving occasions for Americans. (Keng, Kau Ah, Wang, Quain, and Mohammed Abdur Razzaque, 214) Valentine’s Day follows closely behind as more than one billion cards are sent along with countless roses, jewels and chocolates, too. (Hetrick, Bruce, 50) Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, wedding anniversaries and graduations are also important American celebrations. Whether or not a specific occasion warrants gift-exchange is dependent upon the culture of the society in question. As an illustration, the three major ethnic groups in Singapore (the Chinese, the Malays, and the Indians) place strict emphasis on imparting presents at weddings, during birthday celebrations and even when visiting newborn babies for the first time. Moreover, Chinese New Year is traditionally celebrated with the exchange of gifts, annually, on the second new- moon day after the winter solstice.
Gifts are not new to business relations, however they are ever increasing within them. American businesses increasingly integrate gift giving into their corporate marketing stratagems. It is estimated that in the United States “the volume of business gift giving spent by American businesses has risen steadily from $200 million annually in the 1950s to about $1.8 billion in 1992, accounting for about 21 per cent of total consumer premiums and business gifts combined.” (Wiboon Arunthanes, Patriya Tansuhaj, and David J. Lemak, 44) While there exist many reasons for gifting while conducting business, three main classifications seem to account for most cases. Gifts are usually bestowed to show appreciation to loyal longstanding clients, to establish a positive opinion of one’s enterprise in the mind of the consumer, or in the case of quid pro quo where the business might then expect some favor in return (similar to reciprocity). Playing on the concept of reciprocity, when a business bestows a gift it encourages the consumers (its clients) to respond in kind. This confers a small push to the consumer who then feels the need to articulate his/ her appreciation. As examined previously in various time periods, the most grave obstructions to successful business gift-exchange, internationally, are the individual traditions and rituals of the various respective cultures.
It seems that ethnic groups that see corporate gift- giving as an essential element tends to have a communication style that is “more implicit, non- verbal, and is more relaint on hidden cues and the context of personal relationships,” whereas people that do not view it to be a useful practice “seldom borrow or lend among each other…emphasize promptness, rely on explicit contracts, and usually form only short term personal relationships.” Furthermore, their communication is more deferential and overt, and their parleys are founded on a stricter legal standpoint. (Wiboon Arunthanes, Patriya Tansuhaj, and David J. Lemak, 47)
Verbal communications has been misconstrued for millennia. If it were not so than there would never be any misunderstandings or miscommunications between business partners, spouses, family relations, etc. Across various time periods, circumstances, cultures and entire civilizations gift- exchange has been a generational tradition handed down from family to family, and especially today in a global context. Through exploring concepts of “face”, aide-memoire, and gaunxi it can be illustrated that unbeknownst to the receiver, gift giving is encased in layers of motives that are just waiting to be unwrapped.

Works Cited
Coyne, Christopher J. and Rachel L. Mathers. “Rituals: An Economic Interpretation”. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 78.1-2 (2011): 74-84. Science Direct. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.
Grinder-Hansen, Poul. “Aspects of gift giving in Denmark in the sixteenth century and the case of the Rose Flower Cup.” Journal of Medieval History 37.1 (2011): 114-124. Taylor & Francis Online. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.
Hetrick, Bruce. “A Short History and New Meaning of Valentine’s Day”. Indianapolis Business Journal 27.50 (2007): 50. General One File Infotrac. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.
Janssen, Jac. J. “Gift-Giving in Ancient Egypt as an Economic Feature.” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 68 (1982): 253-258. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.
Keng, Kau Ah, Wang, Quain, and Mohammed Abdur Razzaque. “Chinese Cultural Values and Gift- giving Behavior”. Journal of Consumer Marketing 24.4 : 214- 228. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.
Roth, Klaus. “Material Culture and Intercultural Communiction.” International Journal of Intercultural Relations 25.5 (2001): 563-580. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.
Watson, A.J. “Mongol inhospitality, or how to do more with less? Gift giving in William of Rubruck’s Itinerarium” Journey of Medieval History 37.1 (2011): 90-101. Taylor & Francis Online. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.
Wiboon Arunthanes, Patriya Tansuhaj, and David J. Lemak. "Cross-cultural Business Gift Giving: A New Conceptualization and Theoretical Framework", International Marketing Review 11.4 (1994): 44-55. Emerald. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.
Woolgar, C.M. “Gifts of Food in Late Medieval England.” Journal of Medieval History 37.1 (2011): 6-18. Taylor & Francis Online. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.

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