Gift giving can prove tricky for family and friends. Imagine the stress levels rising when it comes time to give holiday gifts to international associates. Cultural differences can interfere with an already teeth-clenching process. Certain gifts that people flaunt over at home may be considered inappropriate in other parts of the world. Many countries practice different religions, impose strict taboos, uphold superstitions, and have a completely different fashion sense. For instance, style can hold more weight than substance. Color, style, and design may carry different meanings in Asia than it does in the Middle East. In addition, symbolism holds sentimental value in certain cultures, especially in regions where receiving a clock has become akin with a death omen.
Even fine linens convey unintended messages. For instance, handkerchiefs communicate a feeling of overwhelming sadness in Korea. Western cultures may exchange bottles of fine wine or brandy with glee; however, associates in Muslim countries would take offense to receiving a bottle of liquor. In the United States, many kids would toss aside a silver compass into their large pile of undesirable Christmas gifts. Conversely, many Muslims would value a silver compass to locate Mecca to recite their daily prayers to Allah.
When brainstorming for gift ideas for international friends and business associates, try to keep in mind that people from all over the world love souvenirs from the United States. Consider regional and local memorabilia, such as a baseball cap, jacket, or golf club. In addition, handicrafts hold sentimental value for those living in other regions. A crochet afghan can bring a smile on the face of a person living in harsh climates, and it won't have manufactured tags reading Made in China,PRC ? or Japan? on them. Lastly, consider getting gifts for their kids to appease their interest. Many countries do not have upscale toys, clothes, and nick knacks found in the United States and Europe.
In Germany, people expect small gifts as a polite gesture when meeting for the first time. Travelers should never offer substantial gifts before reaching a deal on business matters. A small souvenir as a thank-you gift to the local staff serves as a common courtesy. Common appreciated gifts in Germany include quality pens, fine chocolates, imported liquor or red wine, coffee table books, silk scarves, and local food specialties. Never give red roses, lilies, or heather to strangers. In addition, refrain from giving clothing, perfumes, toiletries, and beer.
Businesspeople traveling to China should never offer gifts, because modern cultural standards consider this gesture as bribery. The Chinese will decline a gift three times before accepting it from friends to avoid looking greedy. Travelers should remember to wrap a gift in red paper after arriving to China. The Chinese appreciate a good cognac, solar calculators, quality inks, except for red, kitchen gadgets, stamps, and anything involving the number eight. Travelers should avoid giving the Chinese scissors, knives, or other sharp objects as it signifies a severing of a friendship or other bond. In addition, travelers should avoid giving straw sandals, clocks, handkerchiefs, and any gifts amounting to four as it signifies death.
Businesspeople traveling to Japan should consider purchasing a gift for their clients. Japanese culture believes that gift exchanges commemorate a solid business relationship. Travelers should bring an assortment of gifts, so that they can reciprocate if others offer them a gift. Unlike Chinese culture, extravagant gifts will not be perceived as bribery. The Japanese appreciate foreign and prestigious items, fine brandy and wines, frozen steaks, cuff links, quality pens, electronic toys for their kids, gourmet foods, and a commemorative photograph. Travelers should never offer lilies, lotus flowers, and camellias as they carry associations with funerals. In addition, travelers should avoid giving gifts in the amount of four or nine, because the Japanese consider these unlucky numbers.
- Professional Travel and Cultural Competence (PDF): An extensive document that offers pertinent tips for business professionals visiting Japan, including greetings, business cards, gift-giving etiquette, conversation, business etiquette, drinking, dining etiquette, and Japanese non-verbal communication.
- Etiquette/Manners in Japan: Stanford University shares a variety of resources on the appropriate etiquette and manners in Japan, including culture at work, business practices, funeral styles, manners and etiquette, and sushi etiquette.
- Gift Giving in Japan: A small paragraph that describes the importance of gift-giving in Japan.
- Dos & Donâ€™ts in Japan: A comprehensive list of resources that teach travelers Japan's unique cultural differences.
In France, business associates may look at travelers who offer gifts to them as suspicious; therefore, exercise discretion before making the gesture. The French mainly offer gifts during social events, such as a dinner party. The French dictate that businessmen offer a business card with their gift. Travelers who receive a personal invitation to a French home should consider it a rare honor. In this case, bring flowers, chocolates, and liquors.
- International Dining Etiquette Guide (PDF): A comprehensive guide that teaches the right way to conduct business over meals in different countries, including gift exchanging for family, friends, and business associates.
- A Manual of Etiquette: A highly detailed manual that describes universal and customary etiquette, including dining, business practices, and gift exchange.
- Gift Giving Around the World (PDF): A PowerPoint presentation that describes the various customs of gift-giving around the world.
Businesspeople visiting South Africa should bring a small gift for their business associates. South Africans love personalized gifts, such as high quality pen, golf balls, or desk accessory with the person's name engraved on them. Travelers arrive a dinner party with a gift in hand, such as flowers, chocolates, and quality wine. Travelers should offer a small gift to drivers who pick them up at the hotel, such as a personalized company pen.
Travelers should refrain from giving a gift to businessmen until they receive one first. Italians expect gifts at social events, especially as a thank-you for an invitation to a dinner party. Italians expect lavish brand name items that may not necessarily have an expensive price tag. Always offer a bouquet of flowers in odd numbers to respect old European tradition. Italians appreciate holiday cards as an expression of appreciation. Conversely, travelers should never offer gifts that showcases a company logo, handkerchiefs, brooches, gift wrapped items in gold or black paper, and any sharp items as this indicates a severing of ties.
- Assess, Dont Assume, Part I: Etiquette and National Culture in Negotiation (PDF): A white paper that describes the correct etiquette and cultural differences in Rome, Italy.
- International Cultural Etiquette (PDF): A comprehensive guide to cultural etiquette in China, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam.
- Field Guide to Business Etiquette When Working with Other Cultures: An extensive field guide for realtors and other business professionals who work with clients in other cultures.
- All About Italy: A country profile of Italy, including descriptions of its history, geography, politics, attractions, and culture.
In Brazil, travelers may experience culture shock. Businessmen do not always have to offer gifts during the first meeting; however, they offer to buy lunch or dinner. Travelers should never offer lavish gifts to their associates. Brazilians appreciate small electronic items, cassette tapes and CDs of popular U.S. entertainers, hard candies, fine wines, champagne, and scotch. Travelers should refrain from giving items wrapped in black or purple paper. In addition, they should never offer handkerchiefs, unless they are at a funeral. Do not give scissors, knives, or letter openers as this signifies a severing of ties.
In Australia, gift-giving does not really happen in the business world. Travelers visiting families and friends can bring flowers, chocolates, and handicrafts. Other welcome gifts include illustrated books of the traveler's home region, preserved food products in cans and bottles. Other preserved foodstuffs will be seized by Australian customs.