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For most business leaders, the ROI of gift giving is important. Deciding how much to spend is the easy part. Choosing the right gift is much harder. Gift-giving gaffes can not only negate the value of the gesture in the first place, but can actually irreparably harm the relationship and damage the corporate reputation.
Whether you are giving gifts to colleagues, clients, prospective clients or employees, it’s important to be aware of the gift-giving practices in that country. Take our advice. If you want to keep business dealings on the up and up, make sure you do your research on the gift-giving customs in the recipient's country. Not every gift is created equal.
How savvy are you about what business gifts are appropriate in which countries? – Click to Tweet
When gift giving crosses international borders, there are a lot of Dos and Don’ts to keep in mind. In general, these guidelines will keep you safe in most situations:
Here are just three examples that illustrate how important it is to do your homework as you think about gift giving in the global business world:
Exchanging gifts is a highly valued custom in some countries. In others, it's considered unimportant or even inappropriate. Your best intentions won’t matter if the recipient is offended. Test your global gift-giving savvy and see if you're ready for the gifting season. (Check the end of the article for answers.)
1. In which country do yellow roses indicate contempt?
2. In which country is 30 minutes late considered punctual when arriving at a colleague’s home?
3. In Hong Kong, you should never give this quantity of items.
4. In rural areas in this country, gifts of sugar or tea are quite common.
5. If invited to a home in this country, bring a gift of chocolates, flowers, or a book about your home country.
B. New Zealand
6. Nicely packaged fresh fruit would be a good gift in this country.
B. South Korea
7. This country is highly child-centric and it is recommended you take gifts for your host’s children.
See below for answers.
Cross-cultural gift-giving gaffes are just one example of the potential pitfalls associated with a lack of cultural understanding. It can also derail global marketing efforts and international negotiations. Whether it’s gift giving or marketing or negotiations, it takes a Global Mindset to avoid insulting the people you’re trying to communicate with, or sending the wrong message, or breaking the law.
Here are some resources to help you build cultural awareness:
Global Gift Savvy Answers
1. A: Chile. In Chile, it is considered rude to arrive at a dinner party empty-handed. Bring chocolate or send flowers in advance. Just avoid yellow roses (they indicate contempt). Stay away from purple and black roses too (they symbolize death).
2. B: Greece. Punctuality is not particularly important in Greece. While Greeks are often late even for business meetings, foreigners are expected to be on time for business meetings. For social functions, it is assumed that everyone will be 30 minutes late; arrive at the hour listed on the invite and you’ll likely find your hosts in the shower.
3. C: Four. The number four is considered unlucky in Chinese culture, similar to how Western cultures view the number 13. In Chinese, the word ‘four’ is pronounced the same as the word ‘death'.
4. A: Kenya. Sugar and tea are difficult to find in rural areas where the general population cannot afford luxury items.
5. B: New Zealand. In New Zealand, gifts are generally not exchanged in a business setting. However, when invited to a colleague’s home, small gifts are acceptable.
6. A: Senegal. Exchanging gifts is not a huge part of Senegalese culture. Small gifts can be given when visiting someone’s house. Gifts should be always given with both hands, never just the left hand.
7. B: Sweden. Because Sweden is very child-centric, it is customary to bring an age-appropriate toy or candy when visiting a colleague with children. No children? Alcohol is an acceptable, and often highly appreciated, gift due to its relatively high cost.