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Corporate Gift Giving - etiquette & policies

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International gift giving customs

The world of corporate gift giving is more than just that of giving a nice present; few deals will be secured without a gift changing hands. Though it’s practically an international currency, the customs of giving and receiving gifts vary dramatically from country to country. A gift given at the wrong time, or even in the wrong color could cause enough offence to cost you your business deal. So, what initially seems a harmless and thoughtful practice is filled with potholes if you don’t take into consideration the nationality of the recipient. In order to help you avoid a cultural faux pas, we have gathered below a few of the more glaring things to consider.

Causing religious offence will result in business relations souring rapidly so be conscious of this when purchasing a gift. Bottles of wine might be standard in many workplaces but won’t be welcomed if the recipient is of a religion that doesn’t allow alcohol. Dietary needs should also be addressed if buying a food gift. If you’re not sure of the recipient’s religious bent, steer clear of food gifts altogether.


Of all the regions in the world, Asia is swathed in the most traditions and customs. Unsurprisingly therefore, it also has the most complex rules when it comes to gift giving and is where you’re likely to run into the most trouble. Many of their beliefs are symbolic- scissors or anything bladed symbolize the end of a relationship, clocks are associated with funerals. In China, red is a lucky color but white, black and blue associated with death; note this when choosing wrapping paper for your gift. Similarly, handkerchiefs symbolize mourning and the number 4 and number 9 are bad omens. When given a gift in China, the recipient will initially refuse it. But don’t give up! Your role is to insist three times and on the third time it will be accepted.

Europe is less of a danger zone when it comes to gift giving though a few things should be considered. The French like to be flattered and an intellectual gift will do just that. Count your flowers before presenting them to your Italian host, as even numbers will cause offence. Giving wine in the Netherlands suggests their offerings are inadequate, but over the sea in Norway, wine is expensive and so a welcome gift.

All in all, the international world of corporate gift giving is a bit of a minefield. Don’t just take the gamble; a little time research into what to give and when will pay dividends.