What To Bring Or Not Bring To Someone’s Home In A Foreign Country

What To Bring Or Not Bring To Someone’s Home In A Foreign Country

“What you consider gross—dead rats—I consider considerate gifts.” Jarod Kintz

I’m a person who always likes to bring the right gift so having dinner in foreign country at someone’s house always requires a bit of research for me.

To the Japanese, gift giving is a way of communicating respect, friendship, and appreciation. It is good to be ready for the gift giving ritual that has been deeply rooted in the Japanese culture for centuries. Everything should be beautifully wrapped and ripping open the paper is bad form. Downplay the importance of the gift. This is typical in all Asian cultures. Always present the gift with two hands.

Do not give wine as a hostess gift in Argentina because it is considered common. Champagne or hard liquor is fine. Don’t bring scissors or knives because that means you want to sever the relationship.

What can you bring to someone in China? They make everything there. First off gift giving is not easy. They don’t open their gifts in front of you and they refuse them several times. You have to be persistent but not pushy. It’s a delicate balance. Again no knives or scissors to break the relationship. I am missing something. When people in these countries get invited for dinner is the go to gift a pair of scissors? Why do they have even have to say that? Also no clocks or anything in sets of four. Four is an unlucky number in Chinese because it sounds like death. This is true in most Asian countries. Avoid white chrysanthemums because they are used at funerals.

In Malaysia pay attention to the Muslim culture. Avoid pork, knives, alcohol, and highly personal gifts. Present gifts in the right hand only. In Indian sections of Malaysia, avoid black and white colors. Instead, opt for yellow, red or green which symbolize happiness.

Israelis have a tendency to overdo gift giving and put a lot of thought into choice and presentation. If you are going to the home of Orthodox Jews or Muslim Arabs remember that the gifts must not violate any of their religious beliefs. Candy, flowers and gifts for the kids are always appreciated.

If you are invited to a Quechua home in the mountains of Peru, coca leaves are an acceptable gift. Coca leaves have always been present at all important moments of community life. Today, the history and traditional use of the coca leaf in Peru are a solid part of ethnic and national identity.

In Korea, generosity is a highly valued personal trait. Give expensive gifts if possible.

When invited to a home in Russia, bring something other than vodka. If you bring flowers only present them to a woman. Avoid yellow flowers (unless you picked them yourself in the countryside). White flowers should be given with caution. Same with red as they usually mean love. Fine chocolates are always appreciated.

In Italy, it is nice to bring cakes for coffee when invited to dinner. The cakes have to be of a special kind, bought in a pasticceria by weight. These delicious cakes are placed in intricate patterns on a golden paper tray and wrapped in paper nicely folded with carrying handles After opening the present the hosts and the other guests will take pains to point out which cakes, they each do not like. In the end the cakes are pushed aside in the assumption that nobody can eat another bite after having partaken of a full delicious meal.

You must bring a gift if you are invited to someone’s house in India. Chocolates or flowers is acceptable. Different flowers have different meanings in India so always check with the florist about what is a proper choice. When in doubt red roses usually work. If they have children (and many do) it is nice to bring something for them. If you are visiting during a festival always carry a box of sweets with you. Be cautious in giving leather as a gift. The cow is sacred in India and many Hindus are vegetarians.

In Ethiopia a traditional gift if you are visiting someone’s home is coffee. However a chicken from the market may be well appreciated. They cost anywhere from $5-12. The average weekly wage is around $25 a month in a government job. So a chicken is quite a gift. If they have room the family may keep it for eggs. If not then it will make the next meal. To transport them, just pick them up by their feet. When chickens are upside down they do not move or make noise. They are very easy to handle. See this is where they lose me, I feel bad to carry an upside-down chicken around.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Things I Have Learned From The Incas In Peru

“Before our white brothers came to civilize us we had no jails. Therefore we had no criminals. You can’t have criminals without a jail. We had no locks or keys, and so we had no thieves. If an Indian  was so poor that he had no horse, tipi or blanket, someone gave him these things. We were too uncivilized to set much value on personal belongings. We wanted to have things only in order to give them away. We had no money, and therefore a man’s worth couldn’t be measured by it. We had no written law, no attorneys or politicians, therefore we couldn’t cheat. We really were in a bad way before the white men came, and I don’t know how we managed to get along without these basic things which, we are told, are absolutely necessary to make a civilized society.”

― John Lame DeerLame Deer, Seeker of Visions

Things I Have Learned from the Incas In Peru

The Inca culture is part myth part Peruvian history. There are no written historical records of  people that lived for three hundred years and ruled  the West Coast of South America for one hundred years.

Their recording system (mathematical) system was colored strings with knots to keep records of everything that could possibly be counted (livestock and business transactions), and some things that couldn’t – like instructions, people’s names etc.   They were  required to remember to understand what the strings or quipu meant .  Most people couldn’t do it.  They had a  class of royal quipu specialists who knew how to make and read them. (the first accountants and business managers)

Archaeologists believe now that the Incas  were possibly inventing written language just as the Europeans were destroying their civilization.

.No other civilization has managed to assemble so many colossal stone blocks so seamlessly cut with stones or bronze.  The edges of the stone were rubbed smooth until they merged together perfectly like a puzzle. There is no mortar holding them together and they are earthquake proof constructions. ( Sacsayhuaman fortress)

How they  transported all that granite up there  to Machu Picchu remains a mystery.  It is believed that they quarried  it on site. 

The Incas knew how important water was and treated it with great respect but we did not. (Ollaytantambo)

but we

When the descendants of the Incas are planting to this day, they put flowers in their hair to dress the earth. They live with shortages but they have the mountains and the sky and that gives them peace. They are always chewing coca leaves.

Inca dances are traditional and also a way to pray.

The Inca manhood initiation rite lasted a full month, during which the boys who were training to be warriors were flogged repeatedly, had huge holes cut in their ear lobes, ran dangerous races, and danced till they dropped.

There was a lot of building going on in the Inca civilization ( third largest after Egypt and Mesapotamia)  They built palaces, aqueducts, storehouses, terraces, temples, houses, gateways etc. Looking at Machu Picchu you could see their “tax dollars at work”.

 We know very little about Inca women because the only written records are by the Spaniards. Spain was a patriarchal society and they were not interested in recording information about women.

The Inca emperor married his sister seemingly because this helped to resolve the problems they had with succession when an Inca died.  ( a good way to prevent inheritance problems but not birth defects). Her name was Coya and she was powerful in her own right.

 Pizzaro and his men were not heroic explorers but an extremely desperate group of foreign invaders who brutally murdered the Inca civilization  ( where have we heard this before?)

The Incas were skilled craftsmen and artists. Most of  their gold and silver art was melted down by the Spaniards.

There were no homeless people in the Inca civilization. If criminals were not killed, they had to beg for food everyday and tell their stories so other people would not commit the same crime. (sounds a lot better than twenty years without parole) 

The spirit of Ayni  (rhymes with Hi-ni)   exists in the Quechua  culture today. We don’t talk  about Incas as a surviving culture anymore.  It is “I help you so you must help me later.”

Also today we have Inka Kola, Inka rail and a ton of Inka traffic going to all the historic sites.

Machu Picchu was the royal estate of Inca  King Pachacuti.

Th Incas were good at organizing labor. When Pachacuti’s grandson Huayna Capac built his royal estate  (in Urubumba) he had 150,000 workers on site. The corn-growing Cochabamba valley of Bolivia was short of local labor, so they had 28,000 workers migrate there from Lake Titicaca and back (a distance of about three hundred miles) twice a year, once to plant and once to harvest.  On foot, of course.

They had nice roads to travel on. The Incas built a network of stone-paved highways all over the empire. Archaeologists have so far logged about 50,000 miles of remaining highways in modern Peru alone, not counting the other nations that once formed part of the Inca empire.

Machu Picchu has brilliant engineering, drainage and foundations. They filled the terraces with layers, starting with topsoil for the crops and then river sand, stone chippings from the quarries, and big rocks. Underneath that are subterranean drainage channels which still carry water down the mountain   No matter how hard it rains, no standing water ever remains for long on the surface.( Estimate: 60% of construction at Machu Picchu is invisible, underground.) i believe we could learn something here because it rains a lot in Macchu Picchu.
The Incas worshipped the earth goddess Pachamama . Before our trip to Machu Picchu we met with a shaman to make an offering to Pachamama for safe journey.

The purpose of Macchu Picchu will always remain a mystery. It is probably a religious and spiritual site.  It is the work of man echoing the work of nature. The Inca trail leading up to Machu Picchu ( it takes four days  of camping out in the Andes if you want to do it) was built to always face the snow capped mountains because that is what they worshipped. The architectural style is sacred geography.  For me, if God isn’t at Machu Picchu, he isn’t anywhere.

 

Viajen con cuidado,

JAZ

PS.  I had help on this one . It is advantageous  when you are writing about the Incas to have made a friend in Peru who happens to be one of the leading authorities on the Inca civilization .  Peter Frost is an explorer, author, photographer and National Geographic expert on Peru and the  Incas.  He has made one of the most important discoveries of Inca civilization since Machu Picchu. Check out his website  (www.peterfrost.org).  If you are traveling to  Peru you will find his books very beautiful,  helpful and informative.

Everything Touches Everything

‘ Everything touches everything.”           Jose Luis Borge

After 9/11, the world reacted in very kind and  humane ways. The best story that I heard was the one from the Masai tribe in Kenya.  One of the Masai was living in New York and studying to be a doctor at the time. He returned to Kenya and reported the story to the tribe. Telling stories to the Masai was the way of passing on the news.  They hadn’t watched it on television. They didn’t comprehend the logistics. They didn’t know who the bad guys were.  They understood  that  3000 people had perished in an attack on the United States. They wanted to help. The cow is life to a Masai. They use every part of the cow and treat it as a sacred animal.  Fourteen families gave up their only  cows as a gift to America. It was a big sacrifice for them.  It was a bigger lesson for me.  No one is so important that they do not need kindness and you can  always do something  to help the human condition.

Over the last few years, I have started to travel to third world countries. I always   do something. I heard about the first school being built in the mountains in Peru and I cashed in  my travelers checks (no easy feat by the way) to help them. I gave pens and pencils  to the Embera tribe in the rainforest in Panama. I also taught English for a day. In Cuba we handed out everything  we brought in the first few days.  After that, I gave away my own things and all my cash. My suitcase to Burma was filled with things for the orphanages including 12 dozen children’s toothbrushes. (I read that it was one toothbrush for a 100 children)    I happened to mention to someone I had just met  that I  was going to buy toothbrushes for the orphanages . The next day i received a text to come pick them up at her office. She always does something.

There are different theories on this. There was an article in Cambodia that the orphanages were not using the things that were donated because if they looked poor they would get more stuff.  It is said that America ties its foreign aid to its allies and interests. I have read that if you give money to children begging in the street, their families won’t send them to school.

The best thing to do is to research a country you are passionate about.  Find a cause that you support. The most basic causes are food and water. I am passionate about education and I always try to do something with a school. There are many choices- ecotourism, humanitarian,  medical, teaching, cultural,  conservation, farming and research.  You can do it for a day , or a week or a year. There are many international organizations who do good work that accept donations – just research where the money is going before you give. International Red Cross and Unicef are two well known ones.  Donate items, money or time. Perhaps do all three.  Food, clothing, clean water,  medical , household and school supplies are always appreciated. You may not feel that you are doing enough to change the world but you  are  doing enough to change someone’s day for the better.

In Peru, I gave my boxed lunch to a Quechua woman on the plane.  I went to the bathroom when we landed. When I came out,  the Quechua woman was standing there. I asked her in Spanish if everything was ok. She  nodded.  We walked through the terminal and into the luggage area together in silence . We walked over to where my group was and then she left. I thought about it for a long time. I was a stranger from another country. In her culture, people exist by helping each other. It didn’t matter who I was. I gave her my lunch. She made sure I got to where I needed to go. There was no speaking. It is just something you do.

Fly safe,

JAZ