Cultural Savvy is Smart Business


How to Avoid Blunders and Faux Pas








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

Not only do customs vary from culture to culture, but the importance placed on exchanging gifts, and the protocol associated with giving, will vary.

It is important to understand how various countries view gift giving.  Gifts may be viewed as thoughtful gestures, generosity, business development & promotion, bribery, or payment for special favors. 


Understanding the Etiquette & Protocol of Cultures


It is important to know the protocol is of each culture. This is the formal etiquette and code of behavior, precedence, and procedure that each culture considers important. Some cultures place less importance on a formal standard code of behavior than many other cultures. That is not to say that proper etiquette is not expected or should be ignored. 

For example, Japan is assigns a high level of importance to a code of behavior, for example: 

  • 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 

Why Do People Give Gifts?

People give gifts for a variety of reasons...

To build and maintain personal or business relationships

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. In Asian and Latin American countries, in particular, relationships are key to business success. 

Selecting an appropriate and proper gift requires knowledge & sensitivity. The art of gift giving is a tradition that has been around for a long time.

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
  • Reciprocity
  • 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
Copyright ©  2014  Joyce Millet   All Rights Reserved. 
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