When in Rome: Gift Giving Etiquette
Posted on December 15, 2016
‘Tis the season of gift giving! At this time of year, we offer tokens of our love and friendship to family and friends to show how much we value and care about them. The same idea applies to the gifts that we choose for our business partners, at any time of year. We bring a gift to show our appreciation for them and how important the relationship is to us. However, gift giving traditions in other countries can widely vary. To aid in your selection of a gift, the NDTO has gathered gift giving tips and advice from around the world.
The Chinese have plenty of do’s and don’ts when it comes to gift giving. Do not gift four of anything, it is considered an unlucky number. Odd numbers are also unlucky, give things in pairs if possible. Eight is the luckiest number in China. The color red is also lucky, so wrapping gifts in red, or pink and yellow (both which represent happiness) is a nice touch. But do not use red ink. The colors of blue, black and white are associated with funerals – avoid them. Also avoid giving clocks as a gift (the Chinese word for clock is very similar to the word for death) and knives, letter openers or anything that is sharp. Sharp edges indicate the severing of a relationship. Handkerchiefs and straw sandals are also no-no’s as they represent saying good-bye. Do not present a green hat as a gift, such as a hat from NDSU. A man wearing a green hat in China implies that his wife has been unfaithful.
Suggestions for gifts in China include collectable stamps, a high quality pen, oranges (symbolize wealth), strawberries or other gourmet foods (remember the number rules). Gifts should be nicely wrapped. Be prepared to have your gift refused up to three times. The Chinese may initially refuse your gift as to not appear greedy. Let them know you’re pleased when they finally accept it. However, be on the lookout for a genuine refusal – government officials may be concerned about the appearance of bribery, which is illegal. Presenting gifts after negotiations may circumvent this concern, as does commenting that the gift is from your company to their company, instead of an individual. The Chinese appreciate company logos on gifts as it makes them appear official. Don’t expect them to open the gift on the spot. It’s customary to open gifts later.
Europe does not have a strong gift giving tradition outside of a small gift presented when invited to someone’s home. Flowers are a traditional choice and should be given in an odd number, with the exception of the number 13. If bringing flowers to a dinner party in the Czech Republic, take note of the recipient’s age. To business counterparts over the age of 35, flowers may be associated with romance. Avoid funereal flowers, including calla lilies in Czech Republic, lilies and carnations in Germany, and chrysanthemums in France. Refrain from yellow flowers in France, they imply that the host has been unfaithful. It is also best not to bring wine to a home in France (it hints that their selection isn’t good enough), and only bring wine in Germany if it’s very special to you.
Safe picks would be chocolates, macaroons, eclairs or other sweets from a high end shop. Imported bourbon and whiskey are appreciated in Germany, and any liquor is appreciated in Sweden as it is very expensive there. Outside of dinner parties, the occasional, modest gift will surely be appreciated. Gifts with company logos are viewed in Europe as being in poor taste. A book on the unique American “wild west” may interest your European counterparts. Then save a tree by wrapping your gift in a fashionable furoshiki wrapping cloth instead of wrapping paper. Or skip the material gift and extend an invitation to a sporting or theatre event.
Gifts in India require a bit more thought as while the country is mostly Hindu, there are also many Muslims. Gifts are not expected. If you do bring a small gift to someone’s home, wrap it in red, green or yellow paper (no black or white) and offer it with both hands. A piece of culture from your home country is ideal. Keep in mind that cows are sacred in India, so do not give leather. Other animals such as pigs and dogs are considered unclean, and should not appear on your gift. Indians are said to have a sweet tooth, so American designer chocolate will go over well. But keep in mind that the Hindu vegetarian diet may not include eggs. Alcohol may also be avoided.
In Japan, gifts are very important and very expected. Japan has turned gift giving into an art form. The ceremony and presentation of a gift is just as important, if not more, than the actual gift. Gifts will be exchanged at the first meeting and continue to be integral to the business relationship. Bring a small, quality gift wrapped professionally in elegant paper to the first meeting. Avoid white wrapping paper as that symbolizes death. Tell your Japanese associates during the meeting that you have a small gift you’d like to present at the end of the meeting. This shows respect for the gift giving process and gives them time to bring others into the meeting for the presentation. Do not shy away from the ceremony of a gift giving presentation. Even if your gift is small, the symbolism is the important part.
In Japan, a pair of items is considered lucky, while sets of four or nine are considered unlucky. The color red is associated with funerals, sharp objects such as knives indicate a severed relationship, and books are not recommended. Company logos should not be on gifts. Consumable gifts are appreciated since Japanese homes are small. Luxury brands of cognac, whiskey and wine are good ideas, as are chocolates or the expensive fruit boxes that you can find in Japanese department stores.
When you finally hand over your gift to your Japanese associates, offer it with both hands, bow slightly and say something about the gift being small or modest in comparison to the importance of this relationship. The Japanese may politely turn down the gift once or twice before accepting it. They will wait to open it later. The same process applies when you accept a gift. Politely refuse, then accept it with both hands and wait to open it later. When doing business in Japan, it will be worth your time to study and become comfortable with the gift giving traditions.
In Latin America, personal relationships are valued above all else. Your business partner will ultimately become your friend, and your gift giving practices should reflect that. Use the personal details that you discover over the course of your business relationship to choose a unique gift. When dining at your host’s home, avoid bringing yellow or red flowers, or anything that is produced in abundance locally, such as leather and wine in Argentina, or silver in Mexico. When a man gives a woman a gift, he should say the gift is from his wife or secretary so as to take any romantic sentiment away from it.
Overall, fine chocolates are universally a great gift selection. There are many choices of quality and designer chocolates that will allow you to spend more when desired, or purchase a larger quantity when necessary. Locating a skilled, local florist will also help you to choose the appropriate gift for any occasion. After you’ve visited your business partner several times, the friendship you will have developed will likely give you all the information you need to make a thoughtful gift selection.