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Five years ago, a student gave me a little brass plate on a stand with an etched view of Hong Kong harbour.

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It was pointed out that gift giving creates a sense of obligation and reciprocity, which can be awkward for a supervisor – especially if they have many students. Many people do not celebrate Christmas all because of their atheist stance, others routinely have their own religious holidays ignored by Australia’s Christian slant.

I’m not sure how you negotiate this social minefield, but perhaps, if you are unsure what is considered normal behaviour, ask the students who have been there longer than you.

In countries like Australia, where gift giving ‘rules’ are largely unspoken and context dependent, it can be difficult to know what advice to give.

So I thought I would just tell you about the four types of responses I got and leave it up to you to decide what to do!

First there is the question of taste, as illustrated in this clip from the Big Bang Theory where Amy gives Penny a huge painting for teaching her how to be ‘cool’: The rest of the episode revolves around Penny hiding her horrified reaction to the ugly painting and her efforts to avoid hanging it in her house, but in such a way that she wont hurt Amy’s feelings.

However sometimes, like Amy, we want to give a gift that shows how much we care and value our teachers; store bought wine and/or chocolates can feel like a cop out.

As I highlighted in my story, experiencing the gift giving norms of another culture can be delightful.

Wine / chocolates If you do decide to give a gift, in Australia wine is considered a safe, socially neutral choice.

For that reason I say that chocolates are probably a safer choice. Home baked goods The key advantage of the wine / chocolate gift is that they are meant to be consumed.

Unless of course the giftee is watching their weight, has a gluten intolerance, or is allergic to food preservatives … An expensive, permanent gift may be more of a burden than a pleasure.

If you feel this way you might consider a homemade, edible present which demonstrates you have taken time and care to make something special.

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