January 5, 2008

Cultural differences: Opening gifts

Here in Honduras, people, at least in our family, don't open their gifts in front of others. Of course, they say thank you, but since they haven't seen the gift yet, it doesn't mean a lot. Is it a "OMG, thank you! I've been wanting one of these for ages!" or a "Oh, thanks, but I wouldn't be caught dead wearing this" or a "Oh, gee, thanks, I always wanted to have five of these to stuff in my closet"?

I suppose it is out of courtesy to the giver, in case they don't like the gift. I asked about it at a recent family quinceaño party (15th birthday). El Jefe said that it was because someone might give underwear and the person would be embarrassed to show it. I laughed and said, "Well, yeah, if you were wearing it, it could be embarrassing but what is embarrassing about just looking at it?!"

Our 15-year-old niece M agreed with El Jefe, and I suppose, at 15, girls may be embarrassed to have others view their underwear. My sister-in-law B acted like the possibility of opening gifts in front of the givers was like something from Mars! Other than the underwear, I still don't have a satisfying answer.

Other thoughts that I had were that it might be considered rude to flaunt your gifts or it might embarrass someone who gave a modest gift or maybe it would seem greedy to dig right into the gifts, but those are just speculation on my part. It's very frustrating to me that most of the time I can't get an answer for 'why' something is done! Underwear? Surely that can't be the only reason.

I know it is selfish of me, but I really want to know if the person liked the gift! That is part of my joy of giving a gift. Or if there is a problem with the size or the color, I would be happy to volunteer to exchange it for them or in this case, even take M shopping to pick out something she liked.

I also brought gifts for the other children, well, just because I wanted to. Later during the party, the four-year-old girl came out prancing around carrying her little dress and as we were leaving, the younger boy came out and gave me a big hug and very formally thanked me for his gift, so I did get some satisfaction there! I just like to know if the person liked the gift!

We were chatting about this custom outside with them after most of the guests had left. El Jefe was chastising me with "This is Honduras, not the U.S." and I was arguing, "Yes, I KNOW THAT, but I STILL don't like the custom!" So finally I asked the birthday girl, even if it isn't normal, just to make ME happy, would she open her gift from me? It was late and I'm sure that she was anxious to dig into all the presents, so she quickly said yes!

She seemed genuinely pleased with the blouse and purse and quickly put the − yes, ;-D − underwear back in the bag. So I was happy! Deciding it wasn't such a bad thing after all, one by one she brought all of her gifts outside and opened them while we exclaimed about how pretty or practical each gift was.

Honestly, I'm not trying to change the custom but it WAS fun to see her gifts and to see her pleasure. And I don't think I'll change either in that I do enjoy seeing the gifts being opened − I'll just have to live with it.

See the update here.

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