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Gift Giving Traditions Around the World

Gift

Every culture appreciates gifting as a way to build and strengthen relationships. However, certain gifts can be considered as insult or offense.

So whether you’re at a business meeting in Asia or visiting a friend in Europee, there are destination-specific guidelines you can follow to offer and receive gifts without causing offense. Pay attention to the following:

Insist a little

China, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan

In many countries in East Asia, gift giving is a ritual full of old traditional rules. This means when offering a gift, you should expect to be refused once, twice, or even three times. Do not give up on the first try, but be sensitive to the rejection. This is done to avoid seeming greedy or impatient. When the person finally accepts, you’re expected to thank them.
If someone gives you a gift and want to be a polute, you’re well to do the same. Also it would be best if you do not open gift unless person do not insist, and the right way to show appreciation for their gift is to give a gift in return.

Hand it over with care

India, Africa, the Middle East, and East Asia

In Asia and the Middle East, how you handle gifts is very important. In India and the Middle East, the left hand is considered unclean so use your right hand to give and receive gifts (unless they’re so heavy two hands are required). In East Asia (China, Thailand, Vietnam), always offer or accept a gift with both hands, palms up.

Give gifts as a thank-you

Asia, Russia

Throughout Asia, gifts are given to show gratitude after receiving a gift and as a thank-you for hospitality. In Russia, send a small gift to your hosts after a dinner or overnight stay instead.

Leave sharp objects at home

East Asia, Brazil, Italy, Peru, and Switzerland

In more countries than you might imagine, scissors, knives, and basically anything pointy or sharp represents the severing of ties and relationships. So giving a sharp item means you want to “cut” your relationship.

Avoid potted plants or yellow tulips

Asia, USA, Europe

In the U.S. or Europe, a plant would be considered a nice gift – but this is not the case in Japan, where potted plants are thought to signify illness, so keep the plant to yourself! In Russia, yellow tulips are thought to stand for betrayal and the severance of a relationship, and any flowers given must be given in uneven numbers, as even numbers are reserved for funerals.

Avoid taboo objects

China, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan

In China, don’t give someone an umbrella. Giving a friend a umbrella as a gift means you want to end your relationship; if you give the married couple umbrella as a gift, you suggest you want to divorce them. (Note: It’s okay to offer an umbrella to someone if rain falls.)

Also avoid giving a green hat; in China and Hong Kong, they communicate the decidedly unfriendly message that your wife is cheating or your sister is a prostitute.

Why does the “green hat” have such a special meaning in China? One story says that in ancient China, the wife of the merchant had an affair with the cloth salesman. The woman made a green hat to her husband, when the husband went to work, the cloth salesman would know that his lover was in the house alone. Since then, green hat is a symbol for betray or fraud.

The Chinese avoid clock-giving because the phrase 送 钟 (sòng zhōng), meaning “give a clock”, has the same excuse as 送终 (sòng zhōng), “attending funerals”. These two homophonic phrases are related to the thoughts of the Chinese, especially to older people, they feel like you’ve thrown them out if you give them an hour.

Straw sandals and handkerchiefs are also taboo in these two cultures because of their association with mortality. Skip brooches and handkerchiefs in Italy for the same reason.

Chinese culture puts much greater value on the symbolism and presentation of the gift than on the gift itself.

Pick a lucky number

Asia, Europe

When you’re gifting multiples of flowers, money, or chocolates, always be sure to steer clear of unlucky numbers. In East Asia, even numbers are lucky. Number four, which has the unfortunate luck of sounding like the word for death in many Asian languages, is an exception. On the other hand, odd numbers, with the unsurprising exception of 13, are locals’ choice in Europe and India.
Eight are the luckiest numbers, so a gift containing eight pieces of something brings happiness to the recipient. Odd numbers are lucky in India, especially numbers ending in 1. There’s a couple of reasons for this. The first is that ‘1’ signifies a new beginning, whereas a round number appears to signify an end. The second is that giving money in an amount ending in 1 brings prosperity, because the extra number is a sign of growth. In Thailand, gifts given in sets of 9 will be considered lucky because of the number’s auspicious reputation among the Thai people. This reputation stems from the fact that when spoken aloud in Thai, ‘nine’ (‘Gao’) sounds similar to the Thai words for ‘Moving forward’, ‘Let’s go eat’, and most importantly… ‘Rice’!

Wrap it up

Everywhere

Etiquette experts from around the world agree that gifts should always be wrapped. That said, the symbolism of colors varies from country to country. Avoid white, black, and blue gift wrap throughout Asia, as they’re associated with mourning. White is often considered a color of great sorrow, and black as a color of sadness. And while yellow paper is cheerful and appropriate for celebratory gifts in India, in China it’s covered in black writing and used exclusively for gifts to the dead. In South America, black and purple are eschewed because of their association with death and religious ceremonies, and in Italy purple is simply considered unlucky. To avoid any of these faux pas, have gifts wrapped by a pro in your destination.

Western cultures

In Western culture, gifts are often wrapped in wrapping paper and accompanied by a gift note which may note the occasion, the receiver’s name and the giver’s name.

Asian cultures

In Chinese culture, red wrapping denotes luck because it is such a vibrant and strong color. They see it as happiness and good health.

In Japanese culture, wrapping paper and boxes are common. However, the traditional cloth wrapping called furoshiki is increasing in popularity, particularly as an ecologically friendly alternative to wrapping paper.

In Korean culture, bojagi are sometimes used for gift wrapping. A yedanbo is a ceremonial gift bojagi used to wrap wedding gifts from the bride’s family to the members of the groom’s.

No gifts, please

Yemen, Saudi Arabia

In these countries, receiving a gift from anyone but the closest of friends is considered embarrassing. It is expect that any gift you give will be thoroughly examined—it’s a sign of appreciation and respect for the gift and giver, who’s expected to carefully select the best quality available. For men, don’t give anything made of silk or gold. Silver is acceptable.

There should be a measure in giving.

There is no need to exaggerate and give over-expensive, but not overly cheap gifts, because only if the recipient and the one who gives it feel comfortable, the gift has fulfilled its purpose. In Sweden is considered unwise and inconvenient to give gifts to children that cost more than ten euros, as it might be understood that you are trying to buy the love of children.

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