Gift giving has been around probably as long as the human race itself; although the ritual has been traced back to the Romans who would give each other a token meant to wish the recipient good luck in the New Year. This token was known as a strenae. According to tradition the strenae was originally merely branches plucked from the grove of the goddess Strenia who was the Roman goddess of strength and endurance. From these meager beginnings the art of gift giving has evolved and changed depending on cultures traditions, customs and religious beliefs in countries throughout the world.
Giving gifts is now surprisingly complex yet an important part of the human interaction and helps to define relationships and strengthen bonds on a small scale with family and friends as well strengthen or repair relationship and bonds on a major scale as those between countries. Gift giving is an art and as with any art it is meant to evoke delectation in its recipient as well as the person giving it.
When giving business gifts, the gift should reflect your thoughtfulness, good taste, attention to detail and most importantly show an understanding of the recipient's customs, beliefs and traditions. Rules and customs regarding the giving and receiving gifts vary from country to country and cultures within those countries. Whether you are doing business in another country, doing business with a company in another country or doing business with a person with different beliefs than yours, it is important that you have an understanding of the recipient's customs, tradition, beliefs and company rules before you present a gift to them. To give an idea on how simple gifts given with the most thoughtful intentions will be perceived by other cultures.
- If you wish to give a gift to a Chinese client, it would be considered poor taste to give them a clock as a gift. It would also be considered to be in poor taste to give an individual gift, instead a group gift should be given.
- A gift of Lobster which is a very popular gift in the States during the holidays is viewed as a distasteful gift for people of the Jewish faith.
- Giving a gift such a football (made of pigskin) or alcohol to people of the Muslim faith is also considered also to be a distasteful gift and against their religious beliefs.
- To give a gift to the wife of an Arab colleague or client is considered to be in very poor taste.
- When doing business in Singapore bear in mind that businessmen there are not allowed to accept gifts.
- Countries such as Malaysian consider gifts given before a firm relationship is established to be a bribe.
- In India you would not give a gift made of leather or any beef product because the cow is a sacred being to them.
- Countries such as Japan, Indonesia and Philippines the exchanging of gifts is expected and has been part of their culture's traditions for centuries and is a sign of respect. The way a gift is presented to the recipient is as important is as important if not more so than the gift itself. When presenting a gift, to a Japanese associate or clients, whether shipping the gift or giving it in person, it is important to never allow it to arrive unannounced, make sure that the recipient is aware of its impending arrival. If giving the gift in person, it should be given at the end of your visit so that it can be opened later once you have gone.
- When presenting a gift in person in Japan or Hong Kong, it is important that that you do so using both hands.
- In the Middle East you would present the gift using the right hand.
- In Singapore when presenting a gift to a client it is tradition for the recipient of the gift must turn down the gift three times before accepting it. It is important to make sure you offer the gift three more times to ensure that the gift is accepted.
- It is usually in poor taste to give a gift that displays a company's logo on it. Clients in Spain, Portugal and Greece would not view this as a gift but a blatant form of advertising and find it offensive.
Gift giving has always had a central place in business practices, helping to build and strengthen the bonds between businesses. When considering the giving of a gift to a client or person it is important that you do some research to find out what would be appropriate gift for the recipient. This research is useful to prevent offending the intended recipient customs or religious beliefs, but also may help you to find out more about the person such as special dietary restrictions, for an example sending a person who is diabetic a gift basket filled with chocolates and candies looses the impact that was intended. One should never underestimate the impact that a gift can have on a relationship whether business or personal. Knowledge of the recipient will assist you in the selection of a gift that has a more personal touch creating a greater impact. Here are a few general gift giving etiquette tips that may help prevent awkward or embarrassing gift giving situations.
- When giving gifts to people of a different culture, do some research to find out about the recipients culture, traditions and beliefs and use this information to create a more personalized gift.
- When giving business gifts give gifts that reflect you as well as your company's image.
- Never give gifts that display your company's logo (Items with a logo tend to be viewed as an advertisement not a gift).
- Prior to giving a business gift check with the recipient's company to find if they have a policy on their employee's accepting gift and if there is an expense cap.
- Have an understanding of the recipient's culture, customs and beliefs about receiving gifts and the proper way to give them that respects their traditions and culture.
- When choosing gourmet products for business gift-giving, such as gift baskets, know the contents of the gift to make sure none of the items will offend the recipient's religious beliefs or customs.
- For maximizing the impact that a gift has, personalize it by factoring in the recipients outside interest, customs and personal likes. Use your imagination and make the gift stand out (in a good way).
- With any gift you give the gift should reflect the value you place on the relationship whether business or personal. The more important the person is to you the more attention that should be put into the gift you give them.
- Remember that the note attached to the gift has as much if not more importance than the gift itself. Whenever possible handwrite the note and always make it personal and heartfelt
One thing to take away from this is that a person should never under estimate the impact that even the smallest of gift can have on a relationship whether business or personal and one should have an understanding of the person or company's customs, culture, traditions and religious beliefs before giving a gift. Gift giving is a wonderful thing and if done properly will allow a business relationship to blossom grow and flourish, yet if done improperly can cause a relationship grind to a screeching halt or destroy it completely.