Craisins for China
14 May 2006
If you’ve never had to buy presents in the USA to bring back to Chinese friends, you probably don’t understand how hard it is. Nearly everything is made in China these days, and quite often those same products are sold in China as well. Quite a few times I’ve bought presents in the USA thinking, “you can’t buy this in China,” only to discover upon presentation of the gift that it is, in fact, available in China. In Shanghai, the issue is even worse. Furthermore, a lot of things that you can’t buy in China the Chinese don’t want (think: most American candy).
Since bringing back gifts is a non-negligible part of Chinese culture, this creates a major problem: what presents do you buy for the Chinese when visiting the USA?
I recently mentioned that I had found a good present to bring back from the USA and give to Chinese friends. Don’t expect it to revolutionize West-East gift-giving; it’s only a minor item. But it seems to have gone over well. I brought back packs of Craisins.
Craisins make a good present for several reasons:
1. If you can even get them in China, they’re certainly not widely available. I’ve never seen them here.
2. The Chinese typically don’t know what cranberries are, and often have never heard their Chinese name before (蔓越莓), giving them a sort of exotic quality. Some Chinese have heard about them (particularly in association with American Thanksgiving), but few have tried them.
3. You can’t bring fresh fruit through customs, but no one wants to eat fresh cranberries anyway. So dried, sweetened, and packaged is good.
4. The dried, sweetened fruit thing is very similar to a lot of Chinese snacks, so they’re easier for the typical Chinese person to accept. (Many foreign foods aren’t.)
Craisins have a special meaning for me as a linguistics student as well:
1. The name “Craisins” is a good example of a blend (cranberry + raisin).
2. Leonard Bloomfield, key contributor to structural linguistics, uses the “cran-” in “cranberry” in discussions of morphology as a (now classic) example of a bound morpheme that exists in only one lexeme (although this status is possibly changing, thanks to modern marketing). The “cranberry” example is often cited by Chinese linguistics professors (I have heard it many times already) even though most of them are not exactly sure what a cranberry is.
Thus I was able to present Craisins to my linguistics professors and classmates as a “souvenir with linguistic characteristics.”
Most importantly, they ate them all up. Nothing says “I’m not just being polite” like devouring the entire bag.