Craisins for China

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.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Isn’t “cranberry” just 山楂?

    If you ever had 冰糖葫蘆 (cranberries on a stick and dipped in sugar sauce) in Beijing, you have eaten cranberry.

  2. Tian,

    I agree that they taste similar, but they’re not the same fruit. The cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is native to North America, while the Chinese hawthorn (Photinia serrulat) is not. Judging by their scientific names, they’re not closely related, either.

  3. Bye the way, the name cranberry probably derives from their being a favourite food of cranes, though some sources claim the name comes from “‘craneberry’ because before the flower expands, its stem, calyx, and petals resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane”. Another name, used in northeastern Canada, is mossberry.

  4. Princehahaha Says: May 14, 2006 at 7:41 pm

    Native to North America? Interesting because I first heard the name from the Irish band ‘The Cranberries’. I wonder if they have these in Europe…

  5. Melissa Says: May 14, 2006 at 9:28 pm

    Well, you can have a lot of names derived from words people like. But cranberries are found all over the northern world, in Russia and northern Europe as well, but, and this is important, it’s a wild bog-fruit that is only CULTIVATED in North America. Which was a nessesity because of a lack of other valuable vitamin c carrying fruits available to the first settlers, and has now become a cultural habit. In most other cultures, the harvest of the berries is limited to native artic cultures and isn’t generally bothered with otherwise, and is harvested by groups that are not agrarian, (reindeer herders, Inuit, etc) so there’s no particular inclination to cultivate as a crop.

    In most other places they’re really not commonly eaten by most people, since they’re sour and live in wild places and have been replaced by whatever other berries can be grown in the area (much of Europe) or more tasty berries (lingonberry in Sweden, for example). They’re just wild harvested as desired as a seasonal treat in some places. Not, I don’t think, China though.

  6. Lantian Says: May 14, 2006 at 10:21 pm

    That’s it?! You had no other gifts? I need more ideas man! I miss Trader Joes. They had dark-chocolate covered cranberries and berries of all sorts. Why doesn’t someone build a Wal-mart, Trader Joes, Ikea, Target, Tokyu Hands, McDonalds super-world mall?

  7. 冰糖葫芦是cranberry吗?我真的搞不清楚。还很高兴这个也解决了我带礼物头疼得问题。

  8. I didn’t know you took back packs of craisins. How clever! Glad they liked them. Thanks for the cute Mother’s Day card, Honey. Love, Mom

  9. How cute!

    Cranberry raisins are excellent. I could’ve sworn I saw them at the Lianhua Carrefour though, I’ll have to check next time I’m there, & buy some if they are…Hawthorn berry snacks are excellent too.

    Gift giving must have been so much more interesting 50 years ago. Now the same stuff is sold all around the world, it’s just as true with visiting China as visiting the US. My complete list of what I’d like in China that I can’t find is rye whiskey, Rooster sauce, and guava juice. And I go through the first two slowly enough that the occasional visitor or trip to the US keeps me going.

  10. Good suggestion. I tend to avoid giving food as gifts to Chinese people for exactly what you allude to in #4. Although everyone seems to like chocolate even though it’s readily available here. When I try to get stuff you can only get in the States, I usually end up getting postcards or something similarly lame. I’m the worst gift giver in the world…

    BTW, why didn’t you mention on your blog about your debut podcast at ChinesePod?

    Lantian, add MUJI to the list and I’m there.

  11. Lantian,

    Craisins weren’t the only gift I picked up, but they were pretty much the only successful “generic” gift I thought of this time. I also got a bag of individually wrapped Reese’s cups, but they, uhhh… somehow never made it out of my room in Shanghai. It’s a mystery, really.

  12. Jeff,


    I hope you’re wrong.

    For at least another year or two.

  13. eden,

    Chinese modesty?

    Maybe I’m waiting until I do a better job…

  14. Good idea on the cranberries, very unique and safe for the Chinese palate. I don’t dare bring food, and usually try to bring back goofy stereotypical things or things with regional appeal (Don’t Mess with Texas T-shirts, Detroit Tigers hats, etc). I think that with Chinese more than with Americans though, it truly is the thought that counts.

  15. I brought Craisins over a couple years ago and they were a big hit. Next time I might bring over some cranberry wine, one company sells it in a lobster shaped bottle.

  16. Justin (Parasite) Says: May 15, 2006 at 5:05 am

    Wicked idea! The only problem for me — is it would feel fake giving something I’ve never had nor heard of before. Where do you find them ? Special order ?
    Give’em out and just hope they don’t ask you yourself to try’em!

    This winter I brought the two most supreme ingredients ever: can of olives, and bottle of Wishbone Italian dressing. I made up a nice salad, lettuce, tomato, carrot shred slits, the olives, and plenty of dressing. Of all things — I did NOT expect the OLIVES to be the primary hang-up! They just looked at it, like wtf is this strange stange black thing ? They couldn’t stand the taste either. Of all tastes I considered mild and universal… I would have thunk the olive!

  17. Lantian Says: May 15, 2006 at 8:35 am

    Olives…hmm, olive oil is good. Eden, Muji! Yah–right next to Ikea. And I forgot to put Hagaan-Daaz in the food court. I know some of you special people living in Shanghai and Beijing have access, but Nestle bars are the best around my parts. Actually, I’d probably choke at the prices, gotten quite used to the 1 kuai bars.

    How did Cpod convince you to host, did they say put up or shut up? I thought you were gonna just be ‘on the academic’ side of things. About the Reese’s cups. I know what happened to them. It’s the same gnome as the one that sifts thru my luggage after trips and hides things in cupboards. BTW, you are such an uber lingueek, you broke down Craisins!

  18. Picture saves your time, but can any one tell me what it is called in Chinese?

  19. I was once a beekeeper and we would pollinate cranberries in Wisconsin. These bogs would be all over the place and in certain areas these people have festivals and everything. Several years ago they had to dump these berries because they were not getting anything for a price and in order for them to keep the demand they would just let the berries rot off in a field. We get boxes and boxes of these craisins from some of the growers.
    I also heard that Almond Roca is considered a nice gift. In China they enjoy this candy for some reason and the gold foil represents something.

  20. I just saw big boxes of Almond Roca at (a Shanghai) Watsons the other day.

    I think Trader Joe’s and the like (local specialties: Michigan cherries, California wines, etc) are the way to go.

  21. I’ve seen trendy international stores selling bottles of Franzia wine. Imagine how much you will impress people by presenting a whole box!

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