Gift giving has been a part of business culture around the world since time immemorial. Even venerable sources such as the Torah and Egyptian hieroglyphs contain references to elaborate gift exchanges as part of ancient business dealings. In today’s global economy the world has become smaller and borders more porous, making international business and trade commonplace. Understanding and accommodate a diverse range of customs and traditions has become an important part of Business EQ, and gift giving is a critical part of that. Let’s look at a range of gift-giving traditions from around the world to help you with your next big deal.
Gifts are not expected but are often greatly appreciated by American businesses. It is a wise idea to go with something practical, so look for quality corporate gifts that the recipient can use and will keep you in front of their mind. Feel free to have your company logo emblazoned on the item, as self-promotion is certainly not taboo in the Land of the Free. Be careful though, due to strict anti-corruption laws, many larger US firms have blanket “No Gift” policies, so be sure to do your homework, or it might end up being awkward.
Gift giving is an integral part of Japanese business culture and arriving empty handed would be a major faux pas that gets you started very much on the wrong foot. The trick in the Land of the Rising Sun is to get the balance right: To paltry a gift and your counterparts will feel a little bit miffed. Too extravagant, and they will be humiliated. Your gift is more an expression of a desire to work together, so something more symbolic that is representative of your local region is usually the best option, even if it might appear completely impractical.
While not a formal part of the business culture, there are numerous unique points of etiquette that it would be wise to know before presenting a gift to the French. Interestingly, the most appropriate item is a coffee table book from your local area. Make sure NOT to include your business card with the gift as this is considered a tacky attempt at marketing, rather than a genuine expression of goodwill. You should definitely not give in to the temptation to present a bottle of wine, as the French are famously parochial about their vino and would usually much rather choose their vintage themselves.
Doing business with China is fraught with complication, and business gifts are no exception. The most appreciated gift is taking your counterparts out for a sumptuous banquet. If you’re going for something more durable, luxury brand items are the way to go, particularly if they are difficult to find on the mainland. If your gift is not immediately accepted, don’t fret! Many Chinese have the custom of refusing a gift up to three times before accepting as a sign of humility.
With places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi becoming global hubs of commerce, business with Middle Easter companies is becoming commonplace. The first rule in predominantly Muslim countries is that alcohol should always be strictly avoided. Food items such as chocolates, baked goods and dates have long been traditional choices. However, as the region has grown in stature, the quality of gifts given and expected has also increased. It is not uncommon to find expensive artworks or designer label clothing gifted to lubricate the wheels of commerce.
Whatever you’re headed for your next big international deal, ensure you do your research, as the right gift will help you make a great first impression.