“Made in China”

D left on Saturday to go to Nepal for a few weeks, and N’s mother (Aunty) has been visiting and thinking about gifts to bring home, so recently shopping trips have been on the rise. Such as two weekends ago when the six of us (Aunty, N, AS, P, me and D) decided to go to an outlet mall near by.

As we rummaged through some shops AS, N and Aunty were telling me that they have to be careful what gifts they buy because people back home are very conscious about where products are made.

In the US a lot of our products are made in China. Most Americans are used to that, we don’t really think a lot about our manufactured goods. Factory made products are so ubiquitous that I really appreciate unique handmade, handcrafted products, and love to bring handicrafts back from my travels.

In Nepal (and many other parts of the developing world) labor is cheap, and handmade products are everywhere. People are more interested in manufactured goods, but they pay attention to the label. If you bring a manufactured good from the US, they want to see something “Made in the USA” or at least from a country far away like Nicaragua.

Bringing products back from the US with “Made in China,” “Made in India,” or “Made in Bangladesh” doesn’t seem to make sense, since these countries are close by, and many of the products in Nepal are also made in these countries. I never really thought about that before.

N’s mother told me a story while at the mall. She was in the US for a conference in 1989 and had a Sri Lankan roommate. The two women went shopping for their kids back in their respective countries, and her Sri Lankan roommate found a cute frilly white dress to bring back for her daughter. She asked N’s mother to hold on to it while she went to search for the cash registers, and while she was gone N’s mother checked the tag. The dress was “Made in Sri Lanka.” When her friend came back N’s mother showed her the tag. “I’m so glad you told me! Imagine if I brought a gift to my daughter from America and it was made in our home country!”

Granted—often times products available in the US are of a different quality than the products available in other countries, even if they were made in the same place. For example, in Kenya, which is a big tea producing country, locals are not able to buy the best quality tea grown by their own countrymen because everything above a certain quality is exported. However I understand the disappointment of getting a gift “from the West” only to find out it was actually “Made in China” when your country borders China.

Food for thought the next time I buy a gift to send to Nepal!

11 responses to ““Made in China”

  1. We were talking about the exact same thing few days ago cos my nepali bf is sending gifts to Nepal.. :D

  2. We have this exact same problem in AUstralia. Nearly everything you pick up in a shop here is made in China so it’s hard to find items that are actually made in Australia. This ups the ante when it comes to buying decent gifts. ahh

  3. I do not think there is a way to directly put a photo that I took, but I found on google the exact image that I took in NYC while my husband’s parents were visitng us from India… we all found it quite humorous…

  4. Joan Chamberlin

    Thanks for this really interesting talk about getting gifts for Nepal. I am going there in March and I would like to know what to bring there as gifts that people will really like. As you sais, so much of the stuff here now is made in China. Any good suggestions for gifts?
    Joan Chamberlin

    • Hi Joan,

      We usually bring small things that can be divided up amongst extended family members… like lipsticks, warm socks, bags of “American” chocolates. Someone suggested solar powered flashlights which I think sounds great with all the power outages. I know P’s mom likes to bring pretty umbrellas back for her sisters (although she is less and less impressed with the quality she finds here… and I’m sure most are made in China.) If people have other suggestions… I’d love to hear them too (and “White Girl in a Sari” also has a post about this as well…)

  5. It’s funny that you mention the tea from Kenya, because it’s the exact same thing in Nepal. They produce some of the best tea in Asia, and all of the best stuff is sent to Japan, Europe and the US. Also, as you note, many of the items produced in neighboring countries are not sold to people in Asia, the high quality items are often sent only to the US or other destinations, especially electronics.

    My wife and a Nepali colleague founded a company in Kathmandu getting items shipped from the US to Nepal, because despite most of the products being made in this region they are not available here. In fact we have people ordering things from Hong Kong, getting them shipped to Florida and then on to Kathmandu because it’s strangely cheaper that way. It’s a crazy world.

  6. We’ve had this problem when it comes to gifts. When my MIL was here for the first time, I had to tell my husband to point out that everything his mom was putting in her bag was made in China. It’s so hard to find appropriate gifts that are also made here. Most of the things I’ve found that are quintessentially American or North American (log-cabin shaped bottles of Vermont maple syrup, maple-leaf shaped maple candies, dried blueberries from Michigan) did not go over well as people didn’t have a taste for them.

    One thing that has gone over VERY well, strangely enough, is high-quality yarn. I don’t know if it’s the case in Nepal, but in Maharashtra it seems very difficult to get anything other than synthetic yarn, which is very unpleasant to work with and keeps it shape badly. Though it’s an expensive gift, bringing 7 or 8 skeins of fine Peruvian wool for an auntie who knits is always appreciated.

  7. Ah, gifts. Always problematic for me, too. Different values, different emphasis on what is an important feature of a gift. Lack of understanding. Sigh. I usually end up giving sale purses to my female ILs. You can never have enough purses, I guess. They get worn out so you need new ones, plus you can match them with outfits. Nine West purses and such on sale end up being my generic gifts. Shopping for the men is much harder.

    My mom once sent this nice (expensive like JC Penney or Macy’s stuff) hand made woven throw blanket for my MIL. I told my MIL when I gave it to her that in Amreeka we keep these throws on our sofas as decoration and wrap them around us for warmth while we watch TV during the winter. They have a den type TV room and spend a lot of time watching TV in there, and it does get chilly in the winter. I know my mom remembered that from when she visited their home. It was a well thought out gift from my mom’s point of view. MIL actually did not take the throw back from Dubai when she left our home. She left it in our closet. I brought it to her next time we went to Karachi. Then, on another trip, I saw that she put the throw-blanket in the spare room she keeps for her son (and us), in the storage cabinet in the bathroom. Passive aggressive way to say “What the hell is this? What am I supposed to do with this? I have no use for it and I don’t think you are important enough to pretend I like it.”

    Now that I think of it, I should take the thing next time we go to Karachi and use it in my house. I know my mother would be really hurt if she knew that my MIL did that.

    Gifts are a really sensitive issue.

  8. Hi all,
    that is horrible, LF.
    Solar powered flashlights, now that is good.
    I have also thought about chocolates: (hopefully they won’t melt) and cookies (don’t they call them biscuits)?
    I asked Imran once about candles and he said that they don’t use them, much.
    I thought of getting his mother a few large scented candles.
    I don’t understand: there are so many power outages.
    and, I thought of batteries because my dh says that the batteries in Pakistan do not last long at all.
    What about those little fans that shoot out water, also?
    do you know aht i am talking about?
    It is hard:
    you want to get something American – but something that they will use.
    You want to get a food that they will like, that they can’t get somewhere else and that is authentic.
    Hmmm, maybe cigarettes; I hear that the tabacco is of a lower grade.
    I don’t know.

  9. Very interesting. Never thought about that before. But in the U.S., the most odd thing to buy would be a product that was made…in the U.S.

    It’s crazy that Kenyans can’t drink the best tea that their own country produces. That’s like countries that make the best technological products having to buy ours because they ship their best stuff out.

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