The phrase “Indian Giving” is used to make fun of people who want their gifts returned if they are not given something of equal value. It can be described as demanding a favor or compensation after giving. The phrase was coined in the 1700s by explores who encountered the native Indians. For every gift they were given, the natives expected something of equivalent value from them. This was a rather strange practice for the Europeans who were accustomed to a different approach in Europe. Early explorers treated Indians in contempt, this phrase is considered derogatory and offensive.
It started from a misunderstanding between Europeans and native Indian tribes. Both parties had conflicting ideas about the whole notion of giving gifts. The natives did not have fiat currency, they believed in barter trader to obtain what they did not produce. Barter trading was an exchange of goods and services without the necessity of money. Since this was the norm, when European came to America, the natives wanted to do business with them.
Besides the obvious language barrier, the natives did not have money to trade with. In their usual fashion, they sought to barter trade with the visitors. What local Indians gave their visitors was less of a gift and more of a trade item.
European society works differently, in Europe people give gifts as a form of showing friendship. When explorers were presented with goods, their assumption was that these were gifts. Since their form of trading depended on using money, it did not cross their mind that their hosts were expecting compensation for their goods. When the Indians demanded payment for the items, their guests were shocked by their behavior. The perception held by these explorers that the Indians were hospitable people was quickly eroded.
In real sense, the natives did not have any malice when payment was demanded for goods delivered. A clash of culture gave rise to the notion that their hosts could not be trusted with their gifts. Explorers became skeptical of every act of hospitality and courtesy by an Indian since compensation could be demanded at any moment. Cultural orientation had the Europeans believing that money was the only currency that could be used for effective trading while the notion of money was relatively new to local Indians.
Due to this misunderstanding, each of the two sides saw the other in bad light. To an Indian, an explorer was ungrateful for not offering an equivalent gift to match his generosity. Explorers thought the Indians were mean people who lacked the common courtesy to let a guest keep a gift. This phrase gained popularity in mainstream media when people started to use it to refer to people who gave you a gift and asked for it back. In divorce cases, the term became a common terminology as scorned lovers sought to take back all wealth or gifts given to their bride after a messy divorce. The use of it in local dailies saw its prominence grow as more individuals started using it in their daily dialogues, after awhile, it was a popular saying.