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Ask Udder Smith: Reciprocal Gift Blues

January 24, 2011

Dear Udder:

I have lived in Japan for ten years now, and feel pretty savvy with the customs.  I have a problem lately, however, with a new neighbor.  Whenever I share with her a small gift, such as extra vegetables from our garden, she returns the gift ten-fold, say a huge box of expensive cookies for two tomatoes.  It is becoming embarrassing, and I hesitate to share anything. Any idea what is going on?

Gifted Out in Saitama

Dear Gifted:

A friend of mine coined this Japanese habit ‘Ebi-Tai’ — you give a cheap ebi – shrimp and you receive an expensive, lovely white-fish, tai in return.  I have experienced this many times, and all I can say is — let her win! The custom is very Japanese, and very much shows her high esteem for you in most cases.  I would cut back on your gift giving, but she is obviously trying to reveal her appreciation to you, so you do not want to stop altogether. As you become closer friends, you can present a small bag of vegetables with a disclaimer — ‘please do not give me anything in return, you are helping me as I have too much already’.  Eventually, she will feel comfortable enough with you, not to feel the need to return your gifts in such excess!

Best wishes!

Udder

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