After seven years in Korea, I still somehow get confused about the gift giving culture in this country. When I first came here, I had to prepare gifts for my husband’s family but I didn’t know what to get for them. So I just brought with me traditional Filipino products that I got from a famous department store in Manila. It was an epic failure!
During the holidays (Chuseok and Seollal), popular items are the gift boxes available in the supermarkets. The more expensive the better but almost all of them, especially the fruits are expensive during this time. Fruits always work as presents for a Korean family. Can you imagine that a box of 10 pears is worth about 60,000 won or 52 USD? Korean beef is also pricey like a kilogram of steak cut would set one back about 100,000 won or 86 USD. Cheaper items would include gift box of socks or towels, just make sure they’re of good quality.
Thankfully, it isn’t a norm in my husband’s family to give gifts during the holidays. In the rare occasion that they do give on special days (usually birthdays), the preferred item is always jewelry or cosmetics for women.
Things that we usually receive during Chuseok are toiletries and food products like canned tuna, SPAM and olive oil. I like getting soaps and tubes of toothpaste. We are currently using the last tube of toothpaste from last year’s Chuseok presents. We usually give away canned tuna or SPAM to our building security guards since my husband doesn’t like those things.
In weddings, funeral and birthdays, it is customary to give money. The amount depends on the relationship and status of the guest. For example, 30,000 won is normal for co-workers in the same level. They are placed in a white envelope and the amount of money and the giver’s name is recorded in a guest book. Someday, the recipient is expected to return the same amount of money to the giver when he attends a similar event for the giver.
For first birthdays, cash or 24 karat gold ring specifically for this event is preferred. We didn’t have a traditional “dol janji” or first birthday party for my son but we still received rings on his first birthday. Oh well, we had four intimate celebrations.
Have you been invited to a housewarming? Customary gifts are toilet paper and laundry or dishwashing detergent for prosperity (since bubbles multiply fast so hopefully it will be the same for the homeowner).
Always receive gifts using both hands. If it’s something that could be carried with one hand (as with a bag), support the receiving hand with your other hand. Confusing? Hehehe.
Should you open a wrapped gift in front of the giver? This one is a no-no or if you’re really excited to see what’s inside, ask first if it’s okay.
So are you ready with your Chuseok presents? Make sure that your present for your in-laws are well-thought of and of course, expensive!
Before I forget, make sure that wrapped presents are beautifully done. No pranks like wrapping the item in several layers and don’t use recycled boxes or gift wrappers.