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Gift Giving: Cultural Differences

Corporate gift giving is an opportunity to connect with your clients, strengthen ties. However, make a mistake in not understanding the culture of your client, can make or break the business relationship. Here are some common dos and don’ts:

1) The Gift Itself

Never give clocks to a Chinese as they symbolize “death”. Sharp objects such as knives, letter openers, or scissors should also be avoided, as it implies severance of a relationship. Blankets are believed to cause a decline in prosperity.

Although wine is a common and safe gift for most cultures, be sure to avoid alcohol (or products containing alcohol) and pork, which are offensive to Muslims.

Flowers normally make great gifts for women – however, avoid flowers which symbolize death or mourning. For example, lilies, lotus blossoms, and camellias are associated with funerals in the Japanese culture and frangipanis should be avoided for the Chinese culture.

2) Colours

In most cultures, colours such as white, blue or black are associated with funerals. Do not wrap gifts in these colors. Red, yellow and pink are seen as joyful colors, and are perfectly acceptable for gift wrap.

3) Group or Individual?

With clients you are not familiar with, it may be best to present a “gift to the company”, to avoid your gift being perceived as a bribe.

4) The Numbers Game

Avoid giving gifts in sets of four. The word “four” in the Japanese and Chinese Cultures is “shi,” which is also associated with the word for death.

5) Some “Safe” Suggestions

Products that are difficult to obtain or are extremely expensive in the country you are visiting make great gifts. Alternatively, gifts unique to your country, gifts that represent your company will also work.

In summary, international gift giving protocol varies with cultures. One that works in one culture, may be taboo in another.

For example, a lacquered lamp with a bamboo design is unique and symbolises business growth – this will be ideal to present to your Chinese business associates!


Click here for more designs of lacquered lamps.

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