Gift-giving can be tricky even at home, and if the recipient belongs to a different culture, there is an added layer of complexity! In many cultures, gift-giving is an entire ritual, and can easily convey a wrong message if done wrong.
What should and should not be given? When is it inappropriate to give a gift? How should it be presented?
We answer all the burning questions!
No Gift-Giving, Please!
In Yemen and Saudi Arabia, it is embarrassing to receive a gift from anyone but closest friends. If you do have a close friend from one of these countries, make sure to select the best quality available among the category and be prepared that the gift will be examined in order to express the appreciation for the good taste and wise choice. Silk and gold are generally only given to women.
What Are The Main Rules Of The Successful Gift-Giving?
In many countries, it is expected that vendors send gifts to senior positions in their clients’ companies. Russia and Egypt are examples of these countries.
If your gift if for a business colleague, check very carefully what is appropriate to give and how exactly. Apart from legal and tax implications (USA and Singapore, for example, downright restrict gift-giving), you can put yourself or the recipient in a problematic situation.
In general, if you are giving a gift to someone who already gave something to you, you might want to try and give something of similar value. Of course, that does not apply to families and close friends: nearly all formalities disappear after a certain degree of familiarity.
In Latin America, women giving gifts to men might look awkward as it can be misunderstood as a romantic interest. In those cases, giving something like a gift for his children or a gift that can be shared by his entire team would be more appropriate.
When To Give Gifts In Different Cultures
In Asia, gifts can mean gratitude or reciprocation. In Russia, on the opposite, giving gifts for hospitality or help is not common as it is perceived as a doubt of the host’s generosity and sincerity. However, “just because” gifts and gifts when paying a visit are common.
In some countries, some types of gifts are reserved for lovers or as a part of courtship. For example, you would not want to give a colleague a piece of diamond jewelry that is worn close to the skin, like a ring or a necklace (unless you work for DeBeers and give out samples, of course).
In Russia, where corruption is prevalent, you would make the client, an official or professional (for example, a doctor) uncomfortable giving a gift in public. If you really feel the need to give something, do it when you are alone, or they might feel the need to refuse.
What Is Better Not To Give In Different Countries
In Russia, thank-you cards are considered wasteful and impractical; a small gift is more favorably looked upon. In Russia, you should never give an even number of flowers, or give carnations or pine tree branches, as they are used in funerals. Yellow flowers may symbolize betrayal, so they are not given to lovers.
In East Asia, Brazil, Italy, Peru, Russia, and Switzerland, giving objects with a blade (like scissors or knives) has a negative connotation from just “bad luck” to “severing the relationship” meaning. In Russia, if your heart is set on giving a sharp object (for example, to a collector of rare knives), ask them to “buy” the gift from you for 1 ruble.
In China, giving an umbrella means that you wish to sever the relationship. In Hong Kong and China, clocks, handkerchiefs, and straw sandals are associated with aging and mortality, so it is better to skip those. In Russia, the clock holds the same meaning. In Italy, avoid brooches and handkerchiefs.
When paying a visit, avoid giving a potted plant as it is a wrong gift for a hostess or women in general. Please do not bring alcohol to the home of a Muslim family unless you know them very well and confident that they drink.
When giving something that has an obvious count, like flowers on stems, money, chocolates, etc., count it with care. In Eastern Asia, even numbers are lucky, except for number four, which sounds much like “death.” In Russia it is the opposite: it does not matter for money or food, but the even number of flowers is only put on graves.
What Are Some Gift-Giving Rituals?
In China, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, it is customary to express modesty and refuse the gift up to three times. Be ready to insist and show how happy it makes you give it to them, or say what precisely they did to deserve it. When a person accepts the gift from you, thank then for the honor.
In Russia, a recipient may say something “you shouldn’t have!” even if they expect to accept the gift. So it is quite common to downplay the value of the gift: you might say, “it is just a little something” or “oh, it is nothing.” This would not be considered an offense but rather a way to make accepting the gift easier.
In many countries, the way you hand the gift is important. In the Middle East, some African countries and East Asia left hand is considered unclean, so you pass the gift always with the right hand. In East Asia (Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, Vietnam), always give and accept a gift with both hands and an appropriate bow.
How To Wrap A Gift Correctly
This one is a bit easier: at least, everyone agrees that it is better to wrap the present. However, the specifics of the presentation vary.
In Russia, you can use a simple and rustic package, as Russians do not pay attention to cards and packaging as impractical (with the exclusion of the home-made cards). In Japan, on the opposite, presentation is critical, and even if you do not have the skill to be artful about it, you want to demonstrate the effort.
The only thing you need to keep in mind is the symbolism of colors. In Russia, pretty much any color would be fine. But in many countries, some colors are reserved for specific rituals. For example, in India, a white paper would be just fine, but in China, it is covered in writing and used for the gifts to the dead. It is safer to avoid white, yellow, and black paper in Asia. Purple is an unlucky color in Italy, and in many South American countries, both black and purple are associated with the ceremonies of honoring the dead.
About the Author
Antonia is a sociologist and an anglicist by education, but a writer and a behavior enthusiast by inclination. If she's not writing, editing or reading, you can usually find her snuggling with her huge dog or being obsessed with a new true-crime podcast. She also has a (questionably) healthy appreciation for avocados and Seinfeld.
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