During Chinese New Year, and stretching into the following week, you may notice a flurry of red envelopes being exchanged almost everywhere you go. These fancy little red envelopes, called "lai see", are packets that contain good luck money. Giving lai see to people is a big part of Chinese New Year celebrations, so you don't want to miss out on giving (or receiving!) them in the following couple of weeks.
But giving lai see is not like handing out candy to children on Halloween (unless you're one of those grumps who don't like giving treats to the kids without costumes). There's a set of rules you have to abide by when giving out lai see.
Locals give out lai see like it's second nature to them, but in fact, there are different amounts distinguished for different people and people with different marital statuses and also people with different job positions. Starting to feel a little weary about this whole business? You'll get the hang of it once you understand proper lai see etiquette.
- Lai see is bestowed from "big to small", "old to young", and "senior to junior". For example, if you are the boss or manager, you should give lai see to your employees. If you live in an apartment complex with its own management staff, you should give lai see to your security guard, cleaners, and doorman. Married couples also give to their single, younger relatives, and may give two lai see packets to each recipient (one from each spouse). If you are unmarried, you will usually only need to give one packet to each recipient.
- You don't have to give lai see to everyone you know, but keep in mind that there is a chance you may forget somebody. People usually bring a pile of red envelopes with them whenever they go out, just in case they might bump into someone accidentally. It's best to keep a mixture of $10, $20, $50, and $100 envelopes on you to be ready at all times. The amount you put in the lai see is up to you.
- Use this handy guide to avoid any lai see faux-pas. Don’t forget to give and receive with both hands as this is regarded as a sign of courtesy. Also, never let children give out lai sees to older folk or service staff – this is considered insulting. –From Geo Expat.com