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It’s a time for giving… but what’s the gift etiquette when doing business overseas?

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Delight your international colleagues this Christmas with culturally appropriate gifts!

It’s tricky enough figuring out what to buy for close friends and family at this time of year, but what about when it comes to choosing gifts for colleagues and contacts in other countries? There’s quite a lot to learn when it comes to global gift etiquette, so we’re offering advice and tips on giving gifts in five of the UK’s most popular export markets, where giving presents to business associates may form an important part of your relationship.

China – have a witness present!

Gifts are often given in China to thank people for their assistance or in advance of a future favour. It’s important to only offer a gift when a witness is present; otherwise it might be seen as a bribe. Gifts are always reciprocated and it’s not unusual for the Chinese to ask what gift you would like. A polite option is to ask for something that demonstrates an appreciation of Chinese culture. Offer gifts towards the end of your visit and accept any gift you are given with both hands.

Japan – pack extra gifts for your trip

Gift-giving is an important part of Japanese business culture. It is well worth stocking up on a variety of gifts before a visit so you do not get caught out, but never give the same gift to two people of unequal ranking. Gifts are usually given at the first meeting and quite often the process continues as business dealings progress. When giving a gift to an individual you should do so in private, so as not to offend others. When offered a gift yourself it is polite to decline first before accepting. When you do accept, do so with both hands. Use both hands, too, when offering gifts to others.

Hong Kong – accept with both hands

Giving gifts is important in Hong Kong, but never open a gift in front of the person who gives it to you. This is seen as greedy. Always reciprocate if given a gift, and offer and accept gifts with both hands. In Hong Kong, as well as China and Japan, gifts from your home country are a good option.

Spain – focus on the wrapping

In Spanish business culture, gifts are sometimes given at the conclusion of successful negotiations. Gifts should be high-quality (but not too extravagant) and finely wrapped. Local artefacts and books about your home region are usually appreciated. Unlike in Hong Kong, when given a gift you should open it immediately in front of the giver.

Germany – a small souvenir

When doing business in Germany it is polite to give a small gift when contacts are made for the first time. Extravagant gifts should never be given – especially before a deal has been reached – as this can be misinterpreted. Small souvenir-type gifts may be the most suitable to thank people for their assistance and hospitality.

Gift etiquette when doing business overseas – our 5 top tips to avoid causing religious or cultural offence:

  1. Plan ahead and research the country. In some cultures gifts are expected and failure to present them is considered an insult to the culture. On the other hand, offering a gift is considered offensive in some countries.
  2. Alcohol and certain foods are inappropriate gifts in some cultures. For example, a bottle of wine would violate religious laws and cause offence in Muslim countries.
  3. The colour of the gift you give can be important. In China, for example, white is associated with death, while red represents good luck.
  4. Think about what your gift represents – in some countries, such as Switzerland for example, sharp objects of any kind are not appropriate as they symbolise the severing of a friendship. In China, clocks, handkerchiefs and straw sandals should be avoided as they are associated with funerals.
  5. Numbers are important in certain cultures. In both Japan and China, for example, gifts are often given in pairs. But four of any item should be avoided as it is associated with death.

So, with all that said, you’re now fully prepared to delight your colleagues and clients overseas with perfect and culturally appropriate gifts! Happy shopping!

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