The exchanging of corporate gifts serves many functions – to improve relationships, thank staff for their hard work and to even raise your company's standing within the industry. Choosing the perfect present is tricky enough but when there are additional cultural issues to be sensitive to, it can feel overwhelming. Here are just a few pointers to consider when giving a cross-cultural business gift.
Sometimes it is easy to recognise when a gift might be inappropriate — for example, giving alcohol to a Muslim. However, ensure you do not accidentally cause offence with an ill-considered present. A leather briefcase would be a bad choice of gift in India, where cows are regarded as sacred animals. Make sure to do some research first. In some cultures it is the custom to give increasingly lavish gifts, whereas other countries would regard this as boastful. Anything that is overly personal, such as clothing, is best avoided. Something tasteful that represents your country or business is a good choice, providing it is not too heavily branded with your company logo.
Every aspect of international gift giving should be carefully thought out, including the packaging. Some countries tend not to wrap gifts but as a general rule it is more advisable to do so. Black paper is best avoided for its sombre overtones but in many Asian countries the colour white is also associated with mourning. Red paper, however, is considered very lucky and would be looked upon more favourably. Including a card or leaflet about the gift, particularly if it reflects your region or is especially unusual, can also be a nice touch. Remember that international corporate gifts need to travel well, so should be portable, durable and guaranteed not to cause an issue with customs or airport security.
Different cultures have different ways of physically giving a gift – in Japan, gifts should be given and received with both hands, rather than just one. In Singapore, it is usual to refuse a gift several times before accepting, but even once taken the gift would be opened away from the giver so as not to appear greedy. However, in Italy the recipient would open the gift immediately in order to express their thanks.
Ensuring you have carefully researched the protocol for giving cross-cultural gifts will not only help you make a more favourable impression, but also minimises the unfortunate possibility of inadvertently causing offence to your valued clients.