Being good to friends, keeping open-minded and calm and remaining generous when you disagree or dislike something they said or did can be worth it. The right kind of friends may appreciate that stance more than you know. I, for one, was pleasantly surprised by the generosity of some friends this past week.
A pragmatic mind may calculate the generosity as "investment" and guess that there probably be some "payback." Certainly, gift-giving traditions create that assumption. Giving is a duty; it creates obligations and attaches strings of payback and loyalty.
One can discern the sense of obligation and token gift exchanging from heartfelt generosity, however. Friendship can remain steady even when one defaults on their part in the exchange. Friends can operate without expectations and strings.
It is best not to keep tally of who gave, when and how much in some sort of mental ledger in which a balance is always sought. That arrangement can soon sour the rapport. Keeping score can lead to competition, resentment and stress, factors which can destroy relationships.
To be sure, there are occasions like dinners and house-warmers, birthdays and weddings, when it is proper to bring gifts in most cultures. Expectations and practices in terms of how expensive or big a gift to give, and timing and style of the presentation may vary. Generally, guests are forgiven when circumstances limit the gifting. Not to give when you are able is really unacceptable on certain kinds of occasions.
Here, though, I am talking about visits and exchanges that happen between such special occasions, like when one friend proposes meeting for a meal or show or a home visit. The gift might be the payment of the bill or the presentation of some gift at the meeting. Such are the kinds of gifts I received over the weekend.
One new Korean friend is retired and well off. She enjoys giving to people she likes and admires. She is well able; she does not expect the same level of return gifting. Rather, she seems to expect that I will keep her company sometimes and be nice to her. Quite fair. I like her and respect her enough, regardless, and would not need to be prompted by the gifts, but she has her pride and preference. There is an element of custom in this exchange, for Koreans expect some duty and loyalty in return. In her case, she would like to pass the time with me learning English in casual meetings. Under the circumstances, I estimate that I must charge some fee, but I requested a token fee for lessons since she spends lavishly on me. I see this as a real friendship, which she does not have to buy. However, she is a new friend in my life. Upon longer and therefore deeper acquaintance, I would feel I must forfeit any fee. If she is indeed conscious about money, she probably prefers to budget her spending, I feel, and I would not want to take advantage of her.
Another friend is a Russian coworker. She and her husband like socializing and say they are used to having people drop by. She likes to share food and little items. I enjoy giving back. After an outing with the above Korean friend, who had given me a whole fancy pie, I cut up the pie and offered slices to the Russians, who were very happy. They came back offering a full plate of fruit pieces. With that donation, I had enough fruit for the weekend. This woman must cook every day for her husband, so she often offers leftovers, which the husband won't tolerate. Sad for her that she had to work like that, even in the summer heat. I am happy to give them something in return. Because her husbands pickiness over food, though, I offer other things. For example, I brought them an extra electric fan from my office to try out at home. I also pass along invitations for short outings, and make a point to stop in the hallway to chat at the workplace. We don't count who gave last time and how much. It is an easy-going and happy practice for mutual enjoyment and satisfaction.