In many cultures, giving gifts in the workplace is completely normal. Whether you’re hosting clients, visiting your manufacturing plant, recognizing an employee with an award, etc., there are many occasions where giving a plaque, trophy, pen set, barware, or anything else is a way to tell someone “Thank You” for their service or your business relationship. But just because most cultures give each other gifts in business doesn’t mean that all gifts are created equal, or that all the traditions are the same. In fact, some are very different. You can give a client a luxury professional gift you think is beautiful and thoughtful and end up accidentally insulting them if you don’t know about their cultural norms. It’s important to respect everyone’s culture and traditions, so in international business, you should definitely educate yourself on the appropriate gifts and norms.
A Look at How Different Cultures Deal with Business Gifts
Now, when we’re talking about corporate gifts, we’re not talking about the shady stuff like exchanging of funds, strategic partnerships, etc. We’re talking about those tangible tokens of gratitude we give business partners throughout relationships to strengthen and lengthen them. So how do different countries differ in corporate gift-giving culture?
- Gifts should be given at the end of a meeting/visit.
- Small, inexpensive gifts from your home country are considered polite.
- You should never bring vodka as a gift.
- Never give: very expensive gifts, flowers bundled in even numbers
- Do give: nice wine, rare food items
- Gifts are exchanged at first meetings, but typically not often after that.
- You should never give a gift with your right hand.
- You should always bring flowers or sweets to a social gathering.
- Never give: anything made of leather, money in even numbers
- Do give: high-quality engraved pens, fancy chocolates
- Always receive a gift with your right hand.
- Oud is always a good choice for a gift.
- You should only give gifts to those closest to you professionally.
- Never give: gold or silk to men
- Do give: expensive gifts of very high-quality
- It’s common for someone to ask you what you want before buying you a gift.
- Gifts should always be reciprocated in business.
- Give gifts in pairs.
- Never give: engraved clocks, cheap gifts
- Do give: engraved pens, decorative plates and trays
- Gift-giving is central to business relationships.
- It’s polite to refuse a gift once or twice before accepting it.
- The focus is on the act of gift-giving.
- Never give: gifts with company logos or things you can find all over Japan
- Do give: gifts that are of high-quality and professionally-wrapped
Important Things to Consider when Giving Corporate Gifts Internationally
There are a few things to keep in mind while deciding what types of business gifts and practices are appropriate for your circumstance. As we can see from the examples above, a very important factor is the etiquette around the act of gift-giving itself: you have to think about the hand-off, the frequency, the appropriate time to do it, and the appropriate way to receive and reciprocate gifts.
The other big thing to research before you decide on the appropriate corporate gift for the occasion is your own company’s policies. Gift-giving in business is a delicate balance of showing appreciation in a big enough way but not so big a way that any inference of bribery can be made. Most companies have policies and/or social norms on gift-giving, so first make sure you’re not breaking any rules before you go searching for the perfect executive gift for your occasion.