Blossoming Trends: The Need to Know of Valentine’s Shopping in China

02_15_shoping_1“If you consider buying a huge bunch of red roses from the flower streets for your girlfriends, you perhaps lived in the Middle Ages,” Ye Haomin, owner of a Dongguan flower shop, said jokingly.

Zhu Na, another of the city’s flower shop owners, agrees that over the last few years more Chinese are buying flowers for their special ones on Valentine’s Day. Trends are updated with each generation, but some things never change. Do you know the dos and don’ts of China’s flower sending etiquette?

OUT: Big bunches

If you think, “Come on, it’s Valentine’s Day. Sending bigger and more expensive bouquets shows more love and earns me more face!” you’ve probably lived in China a while, and you’re wrong. I’m afraid that big bunch of flowers is a little bit out-dated.

According to Ye, instead of choosing quantity over quality, his customers are chasing smaller bouquets with more exquisite styles and arrangements. “Made of unique flowers, leaves and wrapping paper of higher quality, the trendy bouquets show a more natural style than the old ones,” Ye said, “and the arrangement matters, too.”

IN: Vase or box?

0215_shopping3For those yearning for something beyond the dozen red roses, this year your money could go toward specially-designed vase or box arrangements that reflect your personal taste. It’s quite trendy to choose unique types of containers such as a wooden box or a beautiful vase to go with your Valentine’s Day’s bouquets.

The price of these two types is around RMB 300 in modern florist shops and slightly less expensive in the online shops ranging from RMB 100 to several thousand.

Box flowers are really keen because it’s a gift with a big surprise when you open the lovely-decorated wooden box and find letters and shapes arranged by the flowers. The box flowers can be kept fresh for a longer period than the ordinary wrappings since they obtain nutrients from soil in the boxes.

HINT: Never chrysanthemums … unless

You had better not buy chrysanthemums for the loved ones, especially if you have a Chinese better half. In China, the chrysanthemum signifies a life of ease, and therefore is used more often during funerals. Buddhists are fond of using this flower as offerings.

While traditional chrysanthemums should definitely be wiped off the gift list, some florists think it’s OK to send special types of chrysanthemums like feverfews arranged with other types of flowers.

It’s also inappropriate to send white, the color of Chinese funerals, to the elderly. But the spectrum covering color is not totally blacklisted on Valentine’s Day. Some people really love white roses and it’s OK to send them, proving that market demand overrides traditional values.

NOTE: East vs. West

0215_shopping2Floriography, or the art of communicating through flowers, is ancient. It came to the West popularized by Victorian England, and it lists of meanings from the cliché down to basic needs. The catchfly says, “I’d like this dance.”

Mostly, the meanings match up with its Eastern subset, in Japan called Hanakotoba, but changes happen, as in the Red Poppy. In the West it signifies not being free versus meaning fun loving in the East.

Azaleas are loved by many ancient Chinese poets and have become official flowers for many Chinese cities. However it’s strange to send them to Westerners since the lotus has a strong connection to Buddhism, while the azalea is more connected with the meaning of sadness in ancient Chinese poems.

In China and especially in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong, you had better not send gladiolus or jasmines because their pronunciations, respectively Jiàn lán and Mòlì, are similar in Mandarin to those of “a setback” and being “out of luck.”

TIP: Order ahead

It’s best to book bouquets a week before the international “Flower Sending Day.” Ye said flower shops get crazy busy on Valentine’s Day and some flower varieties will be sold out on the day. It is also unwise to procrastinate because rushed work is most often inferior, but who are we to speculate on quality control.