Gift Giving Protocol
by Susan Kurth
Gift giving customs vary greatly from country to country. What
is considered appropriate in France may be entirely inappropriate
in Japan. How do you know that you are not making a cultural
"faux pas" when giving a gift to your top international
You are not alone. U.S. presidents and
executives from large, high visibility corporations have encountered
embarrassment when giving gifts to their foreign counterparts.
To help you make sensible gift giving decisions, the Netique
Gift Boutique has compiled this list of tips on international
Importance of Gift
Giving Varies Among Different Cultures
Rim Countries (Korea,
To the Japanese, gift giving is a way of
communicating respect, friendship, and appreciation. When meeting
with a Japanese colleague or visitor for the first time, always
be prepared for the gift giving ritual that has been deeply rooted
in the Japanese culture for centuries.
The following are some guidelines to
keep in mind when doing business with the Japanese:
- Gifts need not be extravagant, although
expensive gifts are not viewed as a bribe.
- When meeting with a group of Japanese
professionals, be sure to give higher quality gifts to those
with more senior rank within the company.
- Always wrap the gifts you present, but
remember to avoid white and brightly colored wrapping paper.
White symbolizes death and bright colors are too flashy.
- Never surprise the Japanese recipient
with your gift. Subtly alert the recipient that you would like
to present a small memento.
- When presenting a group gift, be sure
to allow time for the entire group to gather before making the
presentation. When meeting with a group of Japanese colleagues,
either present a group gift or a gift to each individual within
the organization. It is considered extremely rude to present
a gift to one individual in a group, without giving gifts to
the rest of the ensemble.
- Downplay the importance of the gift. This
is common in the Asian culture. It conveys the message that the
relationship is more important than the gift
- Always present the gift with two hands.
This is also true with presenting business cards.
- Avoid giving gifts in sets of four. The
word "four" in Japanese is "shi," which is
also associated with the word for death.
- Gifts are normally exchanged at the end
of the visit.
- Avoid giving monetary gifts or gifts displaying
- Be certain that gifts are of unquestionable
- Business gifts should be given at midyear
(July 15) and at year-end (January 1).
Some gift ideas for Japanese colleagues:
Countries, Pacific Rim Countries,
- Products that are difficult to obtain
in Japan. This could be something not sold in Japan, or something
that is extremely expensive.
- Gifts that reflect the recipient's interests
- Pens, such as the Rosewood
Pen offered by Netique, are highly appropriate gifts for
Japanese colleagues. First, the pen is a symbol of knowledge
in the Japanese culture. Second, a pen is a lightweight gift
that is easy to pack and carry when traveling abroad.
These countries have customs similar to
those of the Japanese, however gift giving is not as ritualistic
as in Japan. As is true in Japan, citizens of these countries
are likely to downplay the importance of the gifts they give,
and it is considered polite to show slight reluctance when accepting
a gift. It is also impolite to open a gift in the presence of
the giver. Gifts should be presented at the end of a visit.
Communism brought skepticism in gift giving,
and offering gifts to government officials became illegal. The
importance of gift giving in China is slowly returning, however,
no set guidelines have been established. In order to avoid your
gift being perceived as a bribe, it is important to keep the
following tips in mind:
- Present group gifts. This is seen as a
"company presenting a gift to a company," and not as
a bribe to one individual from that company.
- Display your company logo on the gift
so it appears to be a form of advertising.
- Avoid giving highly expensive gifts.
Also remember that:
- It is in the Chinese culture to refuse
a gift, sometimes repeatedly. It is expected, however, that the
giver will persist and the recipient's acceptance will eventually
- As in the Japanese culture, it is proper
etiquette to present gifts with two hands.
Be sure to avoid:
- Giving clocks as gifts. This has long
been regarded as a gift giving faux pas. The word for "clock"
in Chinese is similar to the word for "death." China's
younger generation is not as superstitious about this, so this
will eventually no longer hold true. Unless you are certain your
Chinese colleague will not be offended by receiving a clock,
this gift idea is better avoided.
- Colors such as white, blue or black are
associated with funerals. Do not wrap gifts in these colors.
Red, yellow and pink are seen as joyful colors, and are perfectly
acceptable for gift wrap. Just remember not to write anything
in red ink, as this symbolizes the severing of a relationship.
- Sharp objects such as knives, letter openers,
or scissors. These, too, imply the severance of a relationship.
- Giving gifts in single or odd numbers.
This implies loneliness or separation. On the other hand, gifts
given in pairs are highly appropriate, as it equates to good
Be very careful to not give a gift originally
made in Taiwan.
- Thais love bright colors, and it is acceptable
to wrap gifts in brightly colored gift-wrap and ribbons. Remember,
however, that ripping open the wrapping paper is offensive.
- Exchange modest gifts.
- "Three" is considered a lucky
- Generosity is viewed as a valued personal
trait. Whenever possible, present an expensive gift.
- Gifts between business associates are
viewed as symbols of appreciation.
- Four of anything is considered unlucky.
- Pay special attention to the Muslim culture.
Avoid pork, knives, alcohol, and highly personal gifts.
- Present gifts with the right hand only.
- In Indian sections of Malaysia, avoid
black and white colors. Instead, opt for yellow, red or green
which symbolize happiness.
- Gift giving is important in the Arab culture,
with generosity and politeness being very significant aspects
in gift giving. Arabs will normally be the first to present a
gift. Whenever possible, reciprocate with gifts of similar quality
- Be sure to avoid alcohol and leather products
made of pigskin, which are offensive to Muslims. Also avoid giving
gifts to the wife of an Arab colleague, and never inquire about
- Ideas of gifts to present to your colleagues
in the Middle East include the highest quality of leather (not
pigskin), silver, precious stones, cashmere, crystal or porcelain.
- Gift giving in Latin America is not as
ritualistic as in Asian and Middle Eastern countries, however,
it plays an important part in the culture. Gift giving reinforces
business relations as personal relations by displaying thoughtfulness
and generosity. It is most important to remember:
- You are not expected to present a gift
at the first business meeting. As in most cultures, however,
when visiting a home for dinner, it is important to present the
hostess with a small gift of flowers, chocolates or wine. Be
careful of the type of flowers you present to the hostess. Some
varieties are used for funerals only.
- Thoughtfulness in gift giving goes a long
way in Latin American countries - it demonstrates your awareness
and respect. Choose gifts carefully by taking into consideration
the tastes and interests of your Latin American business colleague.
- Avoid leather gifts, since most of the
world's finest leathers come from South America.
Canada, United States, European countries
Gift giving in these countries is rarely
expected. While seen as a nice gesture, it is more important
to avoid gifts that will be perceived as bribes. Small gifts
such as pens, business diaries, and mementos with company logos
are usually sufficient. It is important to avoid highly personal
gifts such as clothing. When visiting the home of a colleague
from one of these countries, it is normally appropriate to present
a gift to the hostess.
General gift ideas
for foreign colleagues
Keep in mind that you will either have
to carry the gift or the recipient will have to transport it
back to his or her country. It is best to avoid heavy, burdensome
- Anything American - such as Old West or
Native American gifts, including boots or jewelry.
- Gifts unique to your region, such as Wisconsin
cheeses, Texas chili, or Vermont maple syrup.
- Coffee table books. No need to speak the
English if the book is full of beautiful photographs of the United
Netique offers some fine gifts that would
be appropriate for international clients. For example, see gifts
in the following categories:
We currently offer shipping only to destinations
in the continental United States.
In conclusion, international gift giving
protocol varies from country to country. The above tips are meant
to be used as initial guidance, however they should not be considered
totally comprehensive. There are numerous customs not listed
here. Before presenting a gift to an important foreign colleague,
do a little research on the customs and protocol. You can call
the foreign embassies in Washington, DC to get specific answers
to your questions, or contact the U.S. Consulate and speak with
the protocol officer to get advice.
Do you know an
international gift giving custom not listed here? Please send
us an e-mail and we will add it to our list!
TO TOP OF PAGE
This article may be reprinted,
provided the following notice is used on the same page as the
This article has been reprinted
with permission of the copyright owner,
offers unique and elegant gifts, as well as gift-giving suggestions,
for holidays and special occasions.
To see our GIFT CATEGORIES, click here.
To SEARCH for a particular gift:
This page is part of the Netique®
We make gift-giving
effortless! We giftwrap, prepare your personalized enclosure
card and ship.
To visit the Netique Home Page,
819 Monroe Street