How to Avoid Blunders and Faux Pas








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Global Gift Giving Protocol

Gift-giving customs vary from culture to culture.   What may be considered culturally savvy in one culture often becomes a cultural faux pas in another.

Not only do traditions and customs vary from culture to culture, but the importance placed on exchanging gifts, and the relevant protocol should be considered.



Understanding the Etiquette & Protocol of Gift-Giving


It is important to understand how various cultures view gift giving.  Gifts may be viewed as thoughtful gestures, generosity, business development & promotion, bribery, or payment for special favors. Understanding the proper etiquette and protocol of each culture will make a good impression and minimize the risk of committing embarrassing faux pas.

For example, you should not’t give an umbrella in China. Why? The word for umbrella “san – third tone” sounds like the word “san – forth tone” for “breaking up or falling apart”. Not a great way to build a friendship.

There are numerous cultures around the world where it isn't appropriate to give a sharp item, such as scissors, as it may mean “severing of cutting off the relationship.”

Giving a potted plant to someone in Japan might be interpreted as the illness “taking deeper roots.”

In Asian cultures, such as Korea, a gift may be refused several times before it is accepted, so as not to appear greedy.

For example, Japan assigns a high level of importance to a code of behavior, including:
The ritual of gift giving
How a gift is presented and received
What is said when a gift is presented and received
Giving/receiving a gift with both hands, often with a bow
Proper wrapping and color
Number of items in a gift
Knowing when to open a gift
Knowing how to reciprocate 
Gifts are Exchanged for a Variety of Reasons:
To build and maintain personal or business relationships
  To celebrate special occasions
To promote business products or services 
To enhance the image and reputation of the company
To show appreciation 
To show respect
To express an apology
To encourage or motivate
To celebrate or congratulate
To acknowledge your host

The Importance of Business Gifts

With few exceptions, good business relationships are built upon strong personal relationships.

Selecting an appropriate and proper gift requires knowledge & sensitivity. The art of gift giving is a tradition that has a long history in many parts of the world.

A British expression gives an excellent suggestion:  Avoid carrying coals to Newcastle."  People in Newcastle, a coal-mining town, would not appreciate receiving coal as a gift! In other words, avoid giving something people already have. Do not give wine to the French, beer to the Germans, chocolates to the Swiss, or tea to the Chinese.


Cultural Savvy Recommendations

Research the cultural do's and taboos for each of the cultures in which you do business.  Consider the following:

Status and title of people receiving gifts
Type & costs of gifts
Relationship to people receiving gifts
Wrapping gifts
Protocol of presenting gifts
Prepare a list of items that represent your local culture, region, country, company
Keep a detailed list of gifts that you have presented, and the names of recipients. Duplicating gifts shows a lack of thoughtfulness
Provide cultural training for employees who are responsible for making gift selections, and/or work with cultural experts that can make suggestions, or review your corporate gift giving programs

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