in which a gift is not expected on the first
visit, but would be expected on a subsequent
Europe – Portugal,
American – Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua,
Rim – Malaysia, Singapore
Scandinavia – Finland,
sending a gift to someone in one of the above countries? See
in which a gift is not expected, or gifts are
less frequent exchanged:
- England, France, Hungary, Italy
America - Uruguay
Scandinavia – Denmark
East – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia
sending a gift to someone internationally? See
The information below will give you
more details regarding cultural and religious traditions
surrounding gifts, some of the reasoning behind
the symbolism, and most important, helping you
make the right decisions when it comes to business
Cultures with detailed rituals for
the ceremony of gift giving are the Japanese and
the Chinese. And Nomadic cultures in the Middle
East have a tradition of hospitality to travelers,
while Latin cultures consider all relationships
as personal. So any country with a population from
these cultural backgrounds will exchange gifts
as a normal part of building relationships and
Gifts are a symbolic way to show
appreciation and further relationships and in European
cultures they are given, but not as frequently.
And there isn’t the detailed protocol for
presenting a gift, except avoiding colors or flowers
traditionally used for funerals, or romance. Australia,
Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States,
and Europe fall into this category.
In today’s world, with global
companies, as well as countries populated and influenced
by different religions and cultures, it’s
important to develop good business relationships
by taking the time to learn more about the person
you’re doing business with. This knowledge
will give you insight into choosing more meaningful
gifts, that the recipient will know was specifically
selected for him or her, and be more appreciated.
The following details on different
cultures and religions are guidelines to follow
when selecting and giving gifts.
Gift Giving Culture
Countries in the world with a Chinese
cultural influence, a collectivist attitude, accept
gifts with a reserved demeanor. In order not to
appear greedy, a gift will not be immediately taken,
but refused three times before finally being accepted.
Each time it’s refused, you as the giver
must graciously continue to offer the gift. And
once it’s taken, tell the person you’re
happy it’s been accepted.
The gift is offered using both hands
and must be gift-wrapped; though it won’t
be opened it front of you. It will be set aside
and opened later. This tradition eliminates any
concern that the recipient’s face might show
any disappointment with the gift.
If you’re presented a gift,
follow the same process of refusing it three times
then accept it with both hands. You’ll also
not open it, but wait until later.
In China, official business policy
considers gifts as bribes, which are illegal. Though
the policy is softening, there may be times when
a gift you offer will absolutely not be accepted.
Should you find yourself in this situation, graciously
say you understand and withdraw it. Waiting until
negotiations have concluded will eliminate the
appearance of bribery when a gift is presented.
A good guideline if there’s
a concern is to offer a gift, saying you’re
giving it on behalf of your company. It’s
important to always honor the most senior person,
so he will be the individual you actually present
with the gift, stating you want him to accept it
on behalf of his company. This gesture, company
to company, will usually circumvent any problem
regarding undue influence. If you have several
gifts to present, never give the same item to people
of different rank or stature. The more senior the
person, the more expensive the gift.
Typically one person is not singled
out to receive a special gift, especially in front
of a group. If you’ve established a good
working relationship with someone and want to give
a gift, arrange a time when the two of you are
alone to present it. Then when you do give it,
be sure to say it’s being offered as a gesture
of your friendship, not business.
A gift’s value should be commensurate
with the level of the business dealings. This applies
both to an individual’s gift and a corporate
gift. There are times when an expensive gift fits
the occasion and circumstance, but an overly extravagant
one could create complications or embarrassment,
as the recipient may not be able to reciprocate.
In Chinese culture symbolism is important,
with colors and numbers having special meaning.
For instance, at Chinese New Year, Money may be
given in a red envelope; it must be even amount,
using an even number of new bills.
Red is a lucky color; pink and yellow
represent happiness; and the number 8 is the luckiest
number. The colors black, white and blue and the
#4, or four of anything, are negatively associated
with death or funerals. Also included in this category
are clocks, handkerchiefs, and straw sandals.
Another example of the importance
of color is if a man wears a green hat it
Sharp objects like knives or scissors
represent a ‘severing of a friendship or
relationship’- including a business relationship.
You don’t want to inadvertently
select a gift that has a negative or unlucky association.
And because of the symbolism, it can happen. For
instance, a fine writing pen would be a good gift,
unless it has red ink.
Early in your business relationships,
you may want to make your gift selections from
a local store where you’ll be given the proper
information and direction. At least it’s
wise to have items gift wrapped once you’ve
arrived in the country, to eliminate incorrect
choices for colors and types of paper.
Gift Giving Culture
In Japan gift giving is an art form,
representing friendship, respect, and gratitude.
The ceremony is important; the gift is always in
a gift box, or beautifully wrapped in quality paper,
and given with great respect. Because the symbolism
is what’s important, frequently the actual
gift may be very modest.
There’s an expectation a gift
will be offered at the first meeting, and gifts
will continue to be part of your business dealings.
Come prepared to that first meeting with a beautifully
wrapped, quality gift that’s not extravagant.
It’s a gesture that you’re looking
forward to a long lasting relationship.
One custom is to reciprocate with
a gift that’s half the value of a gift received.
If your gift is too expensive, it could create
an awkward situation, even at half the value.
Don’t be surprised however,
especially if you’re a high level executive,
to receive a lavish gift. The Japanese executive
will consider your status and the business relationship
when selecting your gift. As I said, it’s
an art form.
If you have a gift to present, don’t
pop up at the end of the meeting with it. You don’t
want to surprise your Japanese associate. The proper
procedure is to tell him or her sometime during
the meeting that you have a small gift, or gifts,
you’ll want to present at the end of the
meeting. This verbal cue respects the protocol,
and allows the opportunity to make arrangements
for any additional people who may need to come
into the meeting for the presentation.
When you offer your gift, hold it
in both hands and bow, saying words that let the
person know, ‘this gift is insignificant
in comparison to the importance of the relationship’.
Saying it’s “a small thing”,
even if the gift is expensive, conveys this sentiment.
The Japanese will politely refuse
a gift once or twice before accepting it. And it
will not be opened in your presence. When a gift
is offered to you, follow this same ceremony. Politely
refuse once or twice, and then accept it with both
hands, saving it to open later.
In addition to gifts being routinely
given for various occasions or meetings, there
are two ‘gift giving’ seasons each
year. One is mid-summer (O-Chugen) and the other
at the end of the year (O-Seibo). A gift should
be given during each of these seasons.
Gifts of food or liquor (cookies,
expensive candy, and fruit) are always good choices
especially for modest gifts. If you’re bringing
a gift from your home country, make sure it’s
not ‘made in Japan’. And don’t
select company items with your logo that may be
a promotional item and look cheap.
Because of the long held traditions,
you may choose to shop for, or at least have your
gifts wrapped by a store, after you arrive in Japan.
This way you’ll know your gift will be correct.
In Japan symbolism is important.
A gift with a pair of items is considered lucky,
but sets of four or nine are unlucky.
Plus, the number 4 also means death;
and the color red is associated with funerals,
so don’t give a pen with red ink, and don’t
write out a card using red. Books aren’t
appropriate; and sharp objects like knives, scissors,
and letter openers symbolize ‘severing a
Rather than looking at the ceremony
and symbolism as obstacles, learn about them so
you’re comfortable. Then this wonderful tradition
of exchanging gifts will add to the enjoyment of
your business relationships.
Gift Giving Culture
Latin cultures don’t have formal
or traditional ceremonies surrounding gift giving.
However, business relationships are developed as
personal relationships. And in order to build a
strong and lasting friendship, gifts are a thoughtful
way to make a good first impression, and socially
continue showing generosity, appreciation, and
Because relationships become personal,
find out about your Latin counterpart or client’s
lifestyle. Then using these details, select insightful
gifts that will reflect how important this person
is. Always have the gift wrapped in a quality paper,
as this is a subtle detail that can express the
value of the relationship.
If you’re a man giving a business
gift to a female, in order for the gift not to
be construed as a romantic overture, tell her you’re
delivering the gift to her on behalf of your wife,
or your secretary.
Symbolism in this culture will also
influence the choices you make for gifts and wrapping
paper. Black or purple paper isn’t used because
it’s used during Holy Week.
Items associated with death or funerals
that wouldn’t be used include handkerchiefs,
and yellow, red or white flowers.
As in other cultures, sharp objects
such as knives or scissors should never be given,
since they represent a ‘severing of a relationship’.
Gift Giving Culture
Orthodox Jews are not allowed to
eat pork and shellfish. The dietary laws are very
specific regarding which foods are acceptable to
eat, and their processing and preparation. The
foods that meet these stringent regulations are
called kosher foods and have kosher labels.
Because wine is used in religious
ceremonies, it’s required to be kosher even
for social drinking. So all wine and wine-based
drinks consumed must be kosher, prepared and bottled
Unlike wine, other types of alcohol
are not required to be kosher. Therefore, you can
select a fine bottle of liquor to give to a Jewish
client or associate if he drinks.
If you want to buy a gift of food
or wine, it’s best to shop at a kosher store
to guarantee you’ll be giving an acceptable
gift to your Jewish business associate. Even fruit
should be purchased there to insure it’s
been properly inspected.
Gift Giving Culture
In the Muslim culture, the Koran
forbids alcohol. Gifts of liquor or any product
that contains alcohol, such as perfume, would never
be selected to give. Also, forbidden are products
or foods from scavengers, which includes pork,
birds, and shellfish. So a leather item made from
pig skin or ostrich could not be given, nor any
food from these groups.
Other categories are also not appropriate
for gifts. These include personal clothing items,
which are far too personal to give as gifts. Dogs
are considered unclean, so any dog item, even something
with a picture of a dog would not be given. And
knives because they have a sharp edge – severing
relationships- are not appropriate.
Artwork that consisted of sculptures,
drawings or photos showing the human body, especially
a nude or partially nude female body, is not acceptable
as a gift. And although nicotine is discouraged,
it’s frequently used in the Arabic and Middle
A good gift for a devout Muslim is
a compass. Each day he must face Mecca for prayers.
With a compass, no matter where in the world he
happens to be, he can easily find the correct direction.
If you’re in a country that’s
not predominantly Muslim, and you’ll be entertaining
Muslim business associates, select a restaurant
that serves halal food. And don’t have alcohol
served, especially if any government or religious
officials are attending, even if you know your
guests may drink in private. It’s far better
to stay more conservative when entertaining.
Gifts are presented using the right
hand, or both hands. The left hand is never used
alone to hand someone a gift, as it’s considered
Gift Giving Culture
In the Hindu culture the cow is sacred,
plus fish and all animal products except milk or
butter are shunned. Therefore, you would never
select any leather or food product from these categories.
Most Hindus also don’t drink
alcohol. Though some will, especially if westernized,
don’t ever offer a gift of liquor unless
you know the person drinks, and you’ve verified
with him that it would be an acceptable gift. In
some cases, the person may drink when traveling
abroad or in private, but will not drink in public
when in his home country.
Gifts are given and accepted using
your right hand, or both hands; never only your
left hand, as the left is considered unclean since
it’s used for personal hygiene. And gifts
are not opened at the time they’re received.
Gift Giving Culture
Cultures without strong gift giving
traditions, European cultures and countries influenced
by these cultures, don’t use gifts as an
integral component of a business relationship.
This doesn’t mean an occasional and appropriate
gift is not appreciated. It means, a person is
not expected to present a gift on the first meeting,
or on a routine basis.
No matter which culture you may be
doing business with, it’s always professional
to be attuned to opportunities for developing a
more comfortable business relationship by hosting
a meal, an evening at the theater or a sporting
event. These opportunities may present themselves
when you travel to the other person’s home
country, when the other person comes to your country,
or when the two of you are attending a meeting
or an international conference in a third locale.
General World Wide Gift
There are some countries in which
a small gift is expected at the first meeting.
These include Japan, Indonesia, Philippines, South
Korea, Taiwan, Bolivia, Columbia, Costa Rica, Russia,
Poland, and Ukraine.
And in other countries you don’t
want to give an item with your company logo. These
are Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and
In many cultures, items with a sharp edge symbolize the severing
of a friendship or relationship. In these cases, you wouldn’t
select a knife, pair of scissors, or a letter opener for a gift.
Because of this common symbolism, it’s better to select a
gift from another category, rather than risk making a bad choice.
If you’re doing business in a country known for producing
a particular product, local pride and quality dictate that you
wouldn’t offer that item as a gift, especially if it were
Good examples are: leather and wine
in Argentina; leather in Brazil and Uruguay; beer
and wine in Germany; wine in France and Italy;
vodka in Russia and Poland; scissors in Finland;
and silver in Mexico, because it’s considered
Gadgets and Office Accessories
Business gifts that are useful for a businessperson, whether an
executive or a staff member, are electronic items such as laser
pointers, PDAs, calculators, and address books.
and office accessories that make good gifts include
fine quality pens, or pen and pencil sets, business
card holders, good leather briefcases or leather
organizers for use in the office or in a briefcase.
If the person smokes cigarettes,
a nice cigarette lighter could be given.
A quality bottle of liquor or wine always makes a good gift for
someone who drinks alcohol, unless the person lives in a region
noted for producing the product.
Universally, this is a good choice. There are many fine quality
chocolates that make exquisite gifts for a business meeting,
for taking with you to someone’s home as a hostess gift,
or for a thank you to a staff person who’s helped you
on a project. Because it can be boxed in various sizes, it
also works if you need a gift for a large group.
There’s even kosher chocolate
for you to give to your Jewish business associates
Flowers can be frequently used as a gift, especially if you’ve
been invited to someone’s home. You may want to bring flowers
with you to the house, send them prior to the dinner party, or
have them sent the following day as a ‘thank you’.
It’s best to advise the florist that the bouquet is to be
a gift, and the reason for the occasion, so an appropriate selection
can be made.
sending a gift to someone internationally? See
In Europe, the old European tradition
of always giving an odd number of flowers is still
followed today (all except 13 which is considered
In some cultures a particular color
or type of flower is associated with romance or
funerals, and would not be chosen to give a hostess.
Red roses are frequently considered romantic. Funeral
associations frequently occur with lilies or calla
lilies, chrysanthemums, Frangipani, white roses,
marigolds, carnations, heather, and white or purple
flowers. In some Latin countries, yellow flowers
Gift Giving Culture Conclusion
How do you become known as someone
others want to do business with, whether across
the street, or around the world? Besides being
knowledgeable about your product or service, develop
a rapport that builds long-term relationships.
A good resource to help build that
rapport is a personal reference book you create
and use throughout your career. A key category
is filled with information you learn about the
people you interact with. Many times it’s
the small details that can make the best impression.
By recording these details – preferences,
hobbies, interests – when it’s time
to buy a gift, you’re gift will reflect the
person receiving it. A preferred brand of whiskey,
dinner at a favorite restaurant, a special or custom
made item for frequent sporting activity, like
personalized golf balls or a fishing pole.
The recipient will know through subtle
details that he or she is important, and the business
relationship will flourish.
Giving and receiving gifts properly
is an important part of international business.
Therefore, Kimberley would appreciate receiving
input from global newsletter subscribers on gift-giving
suggestions for their country. Please send your
ideas directly to
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