14 December 2017

Choosing Culturally Appropriate Business Gifts

christmas table

The holiday season is fast approaching: the days are growing shorter and colder, and streets, shops and markets are filled with bright lights and beautiful gifts. The exchange of gifts is often a key feature of seasonal holidays around the world, but choosing the perfect gift can be a challenge.

Of course, gift-giving is not just the preserve of birthdays and the holiday season. Some parts of the world view gift-giving as an integral part of doing business – one that helps to strengthen professional relationships. In this blog, we offer some advice on choosing culturally appropriate gifts that will be well-received by your overseas clients.

When is gift-giving appropriate in business?

Gift-giving is a great ice-breaker, and many cultures place considerable value on giving thoughtful gifts to cement a business relationship. However, not all countries or cultures feel comfortable with the idea of gift-giving in business. The UK, for example, has strict rules governing bribery and corruption, and as a result many UK businesses choose to avoid the issue entirely by setting a blanket ban on giving and receiving gifts (to avoid falling foul of the Bribery Act 2010).

For many cultures, though, gift-giving in business is customary, with no hidden agenda. It is a sign of respect and friendship, and it is as expected as a welcoming bow or handshake (for more on business etiquette around the world, check out our recent blog). Understanding the cultural setting will help you establish the most appropriate approach to gift-giving and ensure that there is no risk of misunderstanding (you can also refer to your organisation’s business policies or code of ethics for further guidance).

Selecting a culturally sensitive gift for your clients

Before you get started, it makes sense to establish the gifts that will not be welcome – the ones that are regarded as unlucky or disrespectful. In China, for example (where gift-giving is central to business etiquette), clocks and umbrellas are regarded as unlucky; and in Spain (where gift-giving is rare, but small tokens of appreciation are welcomed), flowers should be gifted in odd numbers (but never 13!).

Gift-giving is an expected part of business in many countries (such as China, Japan and Russia), so we encourage you to always be well prepared for any international business venture (which will help you avoid unexpected surprises!). Researching the local culture will help you to choose gifts that are culturally appropriate and will be received in the intended spirit of professional friendship.

Finding the right cultural balance when working with new clients is a fine art – and one that takes some practice. Contact us today to find out how our cross-cultural training courses can help you identify the most appropriate approach to gift-giving in your markets.

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