Gift giving in the business arena is a task to be taken seriously, as the opportunity to cement a relationship can be lost if the situation is not handled properly. The challenge is to make your gift both appropriate and appreciated:
Choosing the appropriate gift requires a careful study of your target country's gift culture, for a blunder in this arena can be the cause of a tarnished relationship or media embarrassment. No matter what country, always keep in mind:
- A perfect gift shows great research and thought (example: someone who collects something special would appreciate an addition to his/her collection).
- A perfect gift is chosen specifically with the recipient in mind (your customer may have mentioned a passion for poetry, thus a book of poetry would be appreciated).
- If you are not familiar with the gift giving customs of a particular country, ask the advice of a business colleague, an official in the local consulate of that country, or a business person from that country who is now living here.
- Your gift should not be too costly, or the recipient could consider it a bribe.
- A gift relating to the person's profession is always meaningful (an antique dictionary might be appropriate for an attorney who displays antique furniture in the office).
- Steer clear of corporate logo gifts, they can seem like an advertisement, not a present. As a general rule, any gift displaying a corporate logo should do so discreetly, not so the logo overshadows the gift item.
In Japan: Japan is considered the most gift-giving culture in the world. Here are a few tips:
- When visiting Japan, always let your Japanese colleague give you a gift before you give him one. You would make him lose face otherwise.
- You should give your Japanese host a reciprocal gift after you have received yours, but always a more modest one than the one he gave you.
- Never give a gift in front of others unless you have something to give everyone in the room. Gift giving is a private, intimate ritual.
- Be aware that your gift may not be opened in front of you. Do not be insulted by this.
- Present and receive a gift with both hands and a slight bow.
- Take a gift with you if you are invited to a private home. A book, candy, or flowers are appropriate.
- The Japanese take great pains in their wrapping of gifts. There should be color in the wrapping, instead of a funeral all-white scheme. Avoid ribbons and bows when gift wrapping.
Favorite Gifts for the Japanese:
- The Japanese enjoy brand name gifts "Made in the USA" such as Tiffany's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, or Nordstrom.
- The gift does not have to be elaborate or costly, but the store you shopped in gives it a special value. In fact, printed wrapping paper from the store is much appreciated.
- Special products of your company are excellent choices; however, avoid humorous logo gifts.
- A book is an excellent choice--a beautiful coffee table book with photographs of your geographical area is appropriate.
- CDs or tapes of American symphonic, rock or folk music are appropriate (if you know the personal preference).
- Good quality, somber-colored neckties for men.
- Silk scarves and good handbags for women.
- Obviously, do not present a gift that was "Made in Japan" or any other Asian country.
- Avoid the numbers "4" and "9"--they mean death and suffering.
In China: Technically speaking, gift giving is against their law. However, two perfectly legal and honorable gifts are the banquet (which matches the lavishness of the one they held for you) and a collective, symbolic gift "from your side to their side"--this is publicly given for the entire Chinese delegation, and is given to the leader of that delegation.
- High quality pens are a luxury in China.
- Gifts are given after all business negotiations are finished.
- Don't give commemorative medals or tokens, since they may be mistaken for foreign currency, which the Chinese are not allowed to accept as gifts.
- Avoid giving clocks. The English word for "clock" is a homonym for the Chinese word "funeral."
- Avoid writing in red ink, it means you're cutting off a friendship.
- In Italy, don't give chrysanthemums, as they are symbols of mourning. Also, the number 17 is considered unlucky (13 is the luckiest) for flowers as well as overall good fortune. And avoid purple, the color of death in Italy.
- In Germany, flower bouquets should always consist of an uneven number, and never give 13 flowers. Red roses are reserved for lovers only. Excellent gifts are those which give a taste of America and its culture.
- In Great Britain, gifts that demonstrate thoughtfulness and consideration give the most pleasure. Entertainment in the form of meals, drinks or a night at the theater or ballet generally take the place of gift giving.
Female Executives Giving Gifts:
- The position of women in other countries may be far less advanced than in the United States, so an American woman executive should refrain from giving gifts to her foreign colleagues until she knows them fairly well. She should wait until a foreign colleague gives her a gift (unless she is the honoree of a party he is giving).
- If she has met the wife of a foreign colleague, she may bring a small gift for the wife when she goes to that country on business, for that is something easy for a male executive to accept. Cosmetics, designer perfume, or costume jewelry are appropriate.
- From one woman executive to another, a travel case, nice tote bag, or an umbrella make suitable gifts, even if they have NOT previously met.
- If a woman does know her foreign colleague well, she must refrain from giving a personal gift (such as a bathrobe). A desk accessory would be appropriate, or perhaps a leather picture frame, with the suggestion he use it to display a family photo. A gift of food is also appropriate.
General International Gift Ideas:
- The latest gadget is usually appreciated by a foreigner, but make sure to include a battery adapter.
- A best-selling book on foreign policy or on American business practices would be of interest to English-speaking associates.
- A box of fine stationery with a conservative color is always welcome.
- Music tapes or compact discs of classical music, jazz, folk, country, or rock are also a good idea.
- Clothing is welcome, if you know the size. Consider blue jeans and all Western wear, American-made sweaters and sweatshirts, running shoes, ski caps with American ski organizations and team names, or sports team t-shirts.
- Designer-name accessories (ties, scarves, belts) are always appropriate.