A Present for Every Occasion: Gift-giving Traditions Around The World

Do you have friends or business acquaintances all over the world? Do you ever wonder about international gift etiquette? I’m also curious about other peoples travels. Please feel free to add!

China

Etiquette is very important in Chinese culture. Knowing the appropriate time and recipients for gifting is imperative in order to not only make a good impression, but to avoid accidental insult.

When giving a host present, the Chinese are most happy if the gift can be shared with the entire family. It is even more exciting if the gift is home-made or comes from some place other than their home. Mosts gifts western gifts are vastly different from anything china sees and therefore welcomed with enthusiasm.

You must never leave your gift in the shopping bag; the wrapping is very symbolic. For everyday thank you gifts and occasions the tradition is to wrap with red ribbon. Use silver and gold ribbon to show celebrations for wedding gifts, and black and white ribbon for funerals.

Avoid clocks and the number 4 when giving a gift (8 is a lucky number because it sounds like the word peace.) Pheonetics have a very strong meaning in the Chinese culture and both those words phoenetically sound like death omans and constitute bad luck.

Never give a gift to a single person in a business relationship because it will be understood as a bribe and will not be accepted. It is better if you address the gift to the entire company, in which case it will be eventually accepted with gratitude. I say eventually because in the chinese culture it is customary to decline a gift at least three times before accepting. It is rude to be to enthusiastic about receiving a gift.

France

When I went to Paris I learned that it is very important to give a thank you gift whenever you are invited to someone’s house. Being from the US, my first idea for a “thank you for having me to your house” gift would be a bottle of wine. While I’m sure it wouldn’t be thrown away, in France the host typically likes to serve their own wine. A more appropriate gift would be flowers, candy or liquor, something that is not so readily available.

Paris is a very Catholic city so Christmas is an occasion for gifts under the tree just like in the US.

One of my favorite moments with my host family was when I was able to give back to them by sharing a piece of my home. Upon arrival I gave them an oil painting of the Swan Boats, in a pretty gold frame. The family had never been to the US before, and it was a perfect ice-breaker directly initiating a conversation about Boston and Paris.

India

The first thing to think about when you go to India is NO DEAD COWS! It is illegal in almost every state in India to slaughter a cow. Most native Indian people are Hindu (about 80%) and a large percentage are non-alcohol-drinking vegetarians. While most people wouldn’t bring a slab of meat as a gift, it is also important not to serve meat if you invite Indian dinner guests. Alcohol is a popular international gift, but it is not as appreciated in this country. Alcohol is not banned by the Hindu religion, but it is often saved only for religious ceremonies and very special occasions such as weddings. Any gift given to an Indian family will be graciously received whether it can be used or not.

Italy

The most important thing I remember from my 12-day stay in Italy is do NOT bring flowers as a gift to your host. The only time people give flowers is at funerals, so if you want to avoid awkwardness and confusion, wine is always a good bet.

Japan

Japan is a country based on traditions and respect. It is very important to know the proper way to act so as not to unknowingly insult a colleague.

Just like in the United States, it is important to bring the host a small token or gift (food or drink.) Beware though, expensive gifts are not required because gift giving is reciprocated in Japan. If you bring something overly-nice to your host, they are required to give you something equally as nice when the opportunity presents itself.

Wrapping paper is very important in formal situations in Japan; always remember to wrap your present, even if it is something small. When receiving a gift wrapped present, it is impolite to open it immediately. Only in some cases is it ok to open a present right away, but even then you must ask permission first.

If you attend a wedding or funeral during your stay in Japan cash is a customary gift, similar to the United States. As for the money container, you must go to a store and purchase a special envelope with a red tie around it. Only then is the gift appropriate.

Most importantly, it is crutial to be humble. When my Japanese friend handed me a gift she quickly stated, “It’s nothing, it’s not a nice gift…” It suprised me but I waited until I got home to open it and found a gorgeous bracelot that I still love to this day. After inquiring around, a friend told me that in Japan it is customary to belittle your gift out of respect, even if you think it is a great present.

Turkey

Etiquette rule no. 1 before traveling to Turkey: The Turkish don’t stop eating until their guests stop, because they want you to finish everything and have a second helping, and thirds, and eat until you can’t walk and then let out a loud burp in appreciation. It is very insulting not to finish what you are served. This can be a big problem for vegetarians because the Turkish do not understand why people would abstain from meat. Especially in lower class homes, meat makes up an inexpensive and critical part of the Turkish diet.

Weddings are HUGE in Turkey. As a wedding gift, it is a Turkish tradition to buy the bride golden coins, worth a hundred or more dollars, to pin on her dress. Friends, relatives, everyone buys them – my friend’s mother spent time after college in Turkey and built very strong friendships. She buys the coins for families she knows. An older grandfather in the village even gave her money for her daughter’s coins, knowing that he wouldn’t be alive long enough to see their walks down the isle. At the wedding rifles are shot into the air and everyone has a blast moving freely with their arms raised above their heads, dancing around their partners.

It is also tradition to be invited to the houses of your acquaintances for warm goat’s milk.

UK

Brits love and quite frankly, expect, gifts from close friends when they return from holiday. I learned this the hard way when I got back to the London after memorial day and was the only person who hadn’t brought chocolate for the entire company. They really do expect gifts – sweets mostly, for the company.

My landlady came back from Germany and brought me a scarf, so basic female accessories are also the norm among good girlfriends. I noticed that guys give those little shot glasses quite a bit and get a kick out of them.

In the business world gifts are not expected. If you want to show your appreciation make sure to pick something small so it is understood as a gift and not a bribe.


4 Responses to “A Present for Every Occasion: Gift-giving Traditions Around The World”

  1. [...] gift back to its country of origin. And if you haven’t already done so, be sure to read my earlier blog entry to avoid other faux pas and pit falls of international gift [...]

  2. In India normally people give gifts during occasions like marriage, birthday and anniversaries. Mostly whatever gift given during marriage are noted down and whenever the right occasion comes, it is reciprocated remembering the value of the gift given earlier. In South India, inexpensive gifts mostly are idols or pictures of Gods. Birthday gifts usually include dresses like pants, shirts, sarees (South Indians), salwar cumeez etc. Useful gifts include silverware or silver coins (as gold has become very expensive nowadays). For marriage, if the family is middle class or lower middle class, people give money kept in sealed covers.

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