When looking to give gifts in an international context, cultural sensitivity can make the difference between an appreciative reception and a strained one, as well as creating a positive memory enduring afterword.
Here are some examples, based on an internationalHRForum.com article worked into the December issue of Toastmaster magazine:
- Wrapping colours and designs can have an impact: in Asia, the colours white and black are often associated with funerals; red and gold wrapping in appreciated in East Asia, but not a white box, nor should a gift ever be unwrapped
- Symbolism matters: to Chinese whether they be in the Far East or San Francisco, a clock is not a good gift, because in Mandarin the word for clock is similar to the word for death; also, the number four in Chinese culture is associated with death; in Korea, handkerchiefs are associated with sadness; cutlery in Asia represents the cutting of a relationship
- Appropriateness matters: leather goods are bad in India, due to the Hindu tradition of sacred cows; liquor is a no-no in many Muslim countries, but brandy or scotch are invited to Japan; also in Japan, citrus fruits are welcome, especially in well-packaged boxes where they can be shared by a group
- In Asia, gifts are typically not opened in front of the giver
- In Europe, flowers should be sent in an odd number, and not be red roses (considered too personal)
As a general guideline, gifts reflecting one’s home country are appreciated by someone in another land, especially if the gift is difficult to find in the recipient’s country.