How to master gift-giving across cultures

Gift-Giving-Etiquette-Cross-Culture

 

For many of us, December is a month that involves buying and giving gifts. This year, you might feel inspired to get some for loyal clients – or clients you’re trying to impress.

After all, who doesn’t like a present?  But gift-giving can be complicated, especially if your client is from a different culture.  Here are some definite “dos” and “dont’s” when it comes to cross-cultural gift giving:

– Know the best time to give a gift.  Most of us would say that any time is a good time to get a gift.  But there are some seasons or holidays that put us in a more festive mood, or even, depending on the culture, when we might expect a gift.  Writer Kathryn Tyler advises doing some research to find out the most festive time of year for your client.  For example, for Muslim clients or clients in areas heavily influenced by this culture, the three days after Ramadan is a typical time for exchanging cards and presents.  She also points out that even in Christian cultures, gift-giving days related to Christmas can vary by country or region.

– Be aware that giving a gift may not always be appropriate! As this article reveals, certain cultures regard gift-giving as a business no-no, or at least as something that has to be done very carefully.   For example, while a Japanese client would appreciate, or maybe even expect a gift, a client in China would find it strange to get a gift for no apparent reason – so make sure you stick to holidays or showing gratitude for specific events.   In places like Malaysia and Paraguay, gifts can seem tied to corruption, so they probably should be downright avoided.

– Don’t assume your gift will be a perfect fit.  As you might be able to imagine by now, since every culture has its own gift-giving protocol, not every gift works across the board.  For example, you probably shouldn’t offer a Chinese client a clock or watch, as, in Mandarin, the word for “clock” sounds like the word for “death”.  This insightful Quora comment thread digs deeper into the issue, explaining that in some parts of China, including Shanghai, giving apples is taboo for a similar reason.  At the same time, many of the commenters say that giving a clock or watch isn’t entirely unheard-of, but you should probably play it safe and think of something else.

So what do you do?  If you know the client well, why not pick a more personalized present for them?  Tyler mentions a colleague who gave a hockey team’s cap, pennant, and jacket for a German client who loves the sport.  If you’re not close with your client, keep in mind that most people love good food.  Business etiquette expert Kimberley Roberts suggests giving the gift of a meal at a nice restaurant. You could accompany your client, or give them a gift certificate to a great eatery near them – or one by you, if they travel a lot to your area.  To make it more memorable, choose a restaurant that offers food from your own country/culture.  Just make sure that any dietary issues a client might have, whether health- or culture-related, can be accommodated.

Gift-giving across cultures may be complicated, but if you get it right, it can mean a successful business relationship.  If there’s only one thing you take away from this article, make it that you should research your client’s culture before you purchase a present.  We hope you found this advice helpful – consider it our gift to you!

by Alysa Salzberg

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