Gift-giving is a gesture that transcends international borders and language barriers. It is an expression of care and respect that can come in many forms, depending on where you are in the world.
However, it is important to note that the rules of gifting vary greatly from culture to culture.
To help you avoid any awkward cultural missteps while traveling or living abroad, this guide provides an overview of some of the key do’s and don’ts when it comes to giving gifts around different parts of the globe.
Gift Giving Etiquette
Gift-giving can present a challenge when dealing with different cultures or customs. Different countries have varying expectations and traditions, and understanding these can be the difference between an appreciated gesture and an offense. To help you successfully navigate gift-giving around the world, we’ve put together some of the most important do’s and don’ts from some of the most popular destinations around the globe:
Give gifts for special occasions such as weddings and birthdays — this usually takes place within the first few weeks after an event. Dress in modest clothing when attending a celebration and always arrive with a gift in hand; typically this should be something meaningful, like dried fruit, gold jewelry, or something related to longevity.
Unwrap your gift in front of people – instead, wait until you get home before opening it. Don’t offer presents made of leather because cows are considered sacred animals in some Asian faiths; avoid giving white flowers because they are associated with funerals.
Observe etiquette if you are meeting somebody for a handshake, kiss on each cheek, or hug depending on country-specific culture as well as personal preference. Give gifts that reflect local artisanal traditions such as handcrafted wooden items or crystal trinkets for adults; children will enjoy mini replicas of local landmarks.
Present mismatched colors which can have unfortunate connotations, e.g yellow is associated with infidelity and purple is the color of sadness in many cultures throughout Eastern Europe – black is also considered unlucky in countries such as Germany or Belgium so should be avoided unless requested!
No matter where you’re shopping, the most suitable gifts depend on the recipient. An appropriate gift in one culture may be inappropriate in another; be mindful of local customs and traditions when selecting a present. Here are some tips that you can use as guidelines when choosing an international gift:
- Choose something useful or heartfelt: Consider what would be useful or meaningful for the person receiving it, like gift baskets or a nice card certificate.
- Do your research: Research into local customs and cultures helps ensure that you pick something that is appropriate for the recipient
- Ask locals for advice: Seek out advice from those in the area who know what would be best received
- Give something small with deep meaning: It is better to give something with deep meaning than a large lavish item
- Give money or alcoholic beverages: These can often come off as offensive depending on the region
- Give anything too personal or inappropriate: Pay close attention to religious, cultural, or political matters when selecting gifts– some topics should be avoided altogether
- Forget about proper wrapping techniques: Different cultures have different customs related to wrapping presents– pay attention so as not to make any unintended mistakes
What to Avoid
No matter where you’re visiting or whose house you’re staying in, certain presents could be seen as highly offensive if they have an alternative meaning in the host country. Therefore, it is important to familiarize yourself with your destination’s customs and certain items to avoid giving as a gift.
Here are some gifts best avoided when traveling:
- Furniture: Giving furniture could be interpreted as passing on the burden of caring for something large and unwieldy.
- Pets: While animals may make wonderful presents for some people, it is generally not a good idea when visiting a different culture since pet care may require resources not readily available in some areas. Additionally, allergies and other factors need to be considered before presenting a live animal as a gift.
- Jewelry: Depending on where you are visiting and who you are giving the gift to (business associates versus family members) gift giving jewelry could lead to misunderstandings that might taint business deals or personal relationships depending on the custom of that particular culture.
When it comes to wrapping, these are some dos and don’ts for popular countries around the world:
- Do: Wrap elaborately with high-quality paper.
- Don’t: Use white paper or brightly colored bows; both are considered inappropriate for formal occasions.
- Do: Include a card with your name and message on it before wrapping; this makes sure your recipient knows who gave them the gift.
- Don’t: Wrap an item in red or green unless you know it’s not considered bad luck or unlucky by that particular recipient; both colors are traditionally associated with funerals in some parts of England.
- Do: Write good wishes on the Chinese character “禮”, which symbolizes goodwill and gentleness.
- Don’t: Use stark colors like white or black as they’re often used at Chinese funerals; instead use softer colors like yellow, peach, or light blue.
- Do: Wrap collections of gifts together with a common color scheme or patterned paper; this is seen as being thoughtful and respectful in Japanese culture.
- Don’t: Rely heavily on tape since lacing string is more appropriate for formal scenarios.
Birthday celebrations in countries such as Japan may involve grandparents and extended family members coming together for a meal where due reverence is paid. Presents at such times can range from traditional items that imbue luck like ornamental cats for good fortune or envelopes containing money; however, these should always be presented with two hands as an act of respect.
Other similarly symbolic gifts may include wreaths for Greeks on their name day (usually associated with particular saints) or pottery sets for Mexicans during their ‘quinceañera’ celebration of reaching adulthood at fifteen years old.
Now that you are aware of the customs and guidelines of gift giving among different cultures and religions, you can ensure more meaningful and appropriate gifts for celebrations throughout the world. Whether you’re attending a holiday party in the United States or a traditional tea ceremony in Japan, always consider local customs to show your thoughtfulness and respect for other cultures. Remember, the best gift you can give is your genuine presence in any situation, no matter where in the world it happens to be.