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International Gift Giving

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 20 Aug 2018 | comments*Discuss
International Gift Giving Corporate Gift

Corporate gift giving has already been discussed in another article on this website but when it comes to international corporate gift giving a completely new set of etiquette and rules can apply. This is worth discussing on its own merits as what might be an appropriate gift for one country could cause offence in another so it’s useful to look at a few examples.


Gift giving in Japan is a way of demonstrating friendship, respect and appreciation and it is something which is deeply ingrained into Japanese business culture, perhaps here more than any other country in the world. Although gifts can be simple, unlike certain countries, if you do gift anything that’s expensive or extravagant, it won’t be viewed by the Japanese as a bribe. You need to be careful when you wrap gifts however. Never use white paper as the colour white symbolises death in Japan and avoid using flashy or gimmicky paper. Don’t surprise your Japanese hosts with your gift. Let them know that you would like to present them with a token of your appreciation first before holding it out to them with two hands. And, if you have one gift to present to an entire group, make sure that all the recipients are present before you offer the gift. Also, you shouldn’t place too great an emphasis on the gift itself as it’s the ‘relationship’ you have with your hosts which is considered the most important thing – not the gift itself and don’t offer them a gift which has a company logo on it or is of poor quality. That’s not to say you need to spend a huge amount but what you do present should be of good workmanship. Suitable gifts might include a good quality pen which is a symbol of knowledge in Japan.


Because of their background in Communism, you need to be extra careful when thinking about presenting a corporate gift in China. It’s still illegal to offer a gift to a government official and, although gift giving is not strictly outlawed, done incorrectly, it can be perceived as a bribe. This is why you should only present a gift to a group of Chinese business people, not an individual. In that way, it’s perceived as a gift from one company to another company. Because of this, it is recommended that your gift also features your company logo on it but you should never buy expensive gifts and certainly not offer them to any individual. Don’t be offended if the recipients refuse your gift at first. They are not being dishonourable. This is simply part of Chinese culture. You need to perhaps persist with your offer two or three times but, eventually, they will graciously accept it. And, as in Japan, you should offer your gift with two hands.

Never offer a clock as a gift as the Chinese word for ‘clock’ is very similar to their word for ‘death’ so this should be avoided, especially with older people who are more aware of this tradition. The colours blue, black and white are also associated with funerals and therefore should be avoided too. Wrapping paper should be in red, pink or yellow as these are regarded as jubilant colours but don’t use red ink to write on any labelling as this indicates the severance of a relationship as do any gifts such as knives, scissors, letter openers or anything that’s sharp. These sorts of items should be avoided. Gifts should also be given in pairs and not odd numbers as even numbers signify good luck whereas odd numbers imply loneliness or separation.

Middle East

In the Arab world, gift giving is important and a symbol of respect and generosity. You’ll usually find that an Arab will make their gift offering to you first and it will usually be of a high standard of workmanship and value. To reciprocate, make sure that your gift is of similar good quality. Suitable items will include gifts made of leather, silver, cashmere, porcelain, crystal and other precious stones but you should never gift an Arab with leather products made out of pigskin or alcohol and never present a gift to a host’s wife. That is considered disrespectful. In fact, you should never even enquire about an Arab colleague’s wife.

Other Areas

In Latin America, gift giving isn’t so much of a ritual as it is in the countries just described. Nevertheless, it does play a part in their culture and helps to cement business relations. Simple things like presenting a box of chocolates, a fine bottle of wine or a nice bouquet of flowers to your host’s wife if, say, you’re invited to their home for dinner, is considered a nice gesture which demonstrates respect and cultural awareness, although if you choose flowers, make sure they’re not varieties which are associated with funerals in Latin America. You should, however, not choose a gift which is made out of leather as most of the finest leathers come from South, not Latin, America.

Here are some further tips to consider:

  • Taiwan – don’t gift anything that says ‘Made in Taiwan’
  • Malaysia – Avoid anything that could be associated with offending Muslim culture
  • Thailand – bright coloured gifts are well-received
  • Korea – be generous, don’t buy cheap
Here in the UK and throughout most of Europe as well as in the USA, Canada and Australia, gift giving isn’t something that is really expected. If you want to show a token of appreciation to your host it’s perfectly acceptable to offer a gift, although it shouldn’t be of anything of great intrinsic value which could be considered a bribe. Simple mementos such as pens, diaries and other such things with company logos on are quite adequate but hardly expected. That said, if you’re ever invited to a colleague’s or client’s house for dinner, you should show your gratitude by buying a modest gift, such as a bouquet of flowers, for the hostess.

Finally, it is recommended that you do your homework before thinking about international gift giving. If the place you’re going to has not been featured here, you should find out how gift giving is perceived in the specific country you’re travelling to and try to find out what sort of gifts are traditional and appropriate as well as any gift giving rituals you may need to observe.

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