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TCMPiCorporate Gifts in the Time of Global Business


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Giving business gifts to international partners can be tricky. Knowing the basics of cultural traditions can go a long way toward ensuring your gift meets with approval.

Business gift giving customs vary so widely from country to country that even U.S. Presidents and globe-trotting executives have been caught in embarrassing situations. To avoid potentially awkward moments, take the time to learn a few pointers on giving corporate gifts in international relationships.


Gift giving rituals are deeply rooted in Japanese culture. To your Japanese business partners, the manner in which you give the gift is arguably as important as the gift itself.

  • Types of Gifts: As always, try to select a gift that reflects the recipient’s interests and tastes. Gifts do not need to be overly expensive or ostentatious. However, expensive gifts are not seen as bribes so it’s probably okay to give luxurious gifts, especially to the higher ranking company representatives. Do not give business gifts with company logos. HINT: Be careful to not give a more extravagant gift to a lower ranking person. It could be seen as an affront to the senior person.
  • Wrapping: The Japanese expect gifts to be wrapped but not flashy or colorful. HINT: Avoid white paper since white symbolizes death.
  • Presentation: Never surprise anyone with a gift. Always give a subtle indication that a gift will be forthcoming and always present the business gift at the end of a visit, not at the beginning. HINT: Present the gift (and this goes for business cards as well) with two hands.
  • No-Nos: Never gift a gift of questionable quality. Never present a gift to a member of a group without also giving gifts to all other members of the group. Don’t give gifts in sets of four since, in Japanese, the word for four (“shi”) is associated with the word for death. HINT: Above all, do not give a monetary gift.
  • Other things to know – Business gifts in Japan are usually given at mid-year (around July 15) and at year-end (around January 1). HINT: In Asia it is important to downplay the importance and value of the gift. This is seen as implying that the relationship is important but the gift is not. It is common for the recipient to decline a gift two or more times before accepting. Don’t give up; the recipient will eventually accept!


As in so many areas, when it comes to corporate gifts, China is a rapidly changing country. Such gifts were frowned upon and gifts to government officials have been illegal for some time. To stay out of trouble, it’s a good idea to give group gifts rather than individual gifts as these are seen as your company presenting a gift to the Chinese company and not to an individual or group of individuals.

  • Types of Gifts: Avoid gifts that are overly expensive or ostentatious. Unlike Japan, in China it is highly desirable to give gifts with your company logo as this is seen as a form of advertising rather than as a gift.
  • Wrapping: In China, the colors white, blue and black are associated with funerals and you should not wrap your business gifts in these colors. On the other hand, joyful colors such as red, yellow and pink are highly desirable. HINT: Do not write anything in red ink; it is the symbol of a severed relationship.
  • Presentation: As in the Japanese culture, it is proper etiquette to present gifts with two hands.
  • No-Nos: Never give a clock as a gift. The word for “clock” in China is similar to the word for “death.” Sharp objects such as knives, letter openers or scissors imply the severance of a relationship; do not give them as gifts. HINT: Giving gifts in single or odd numbers also implies separation.
  • Other things to know: It is common for a Chinese recipient to decline a gift two or more times before accepting. The assumption is that the giver will outlast the recipient and the gift will be accepted.

Pacific Rim Countries

Pacific Rim countries are very similar to Japan when it comes to corporate gifts. While not as steeped in ritual, these recipients are likely to downplay the importance of gifts they give and you should do the same. HINT: In these countries gifts are presented at the end of a visit and it is considered impolite to open a gift in front of the giver.

  • Taiwan: Do not give gifts made in Taiwan.
  • Thailand: Wrap gifts in brightly colored paper and add ribbons or other embellishments. HINT: It is considered offensive to rip the wrapping; it must be removed carefully. Gifts should be modest.
  • Korea: If at all possible, give an expensive gift as generosity is highly valued in Korea.
  • Malaysia: Malaysia is a Muslim culture and you should avoid giving pork, knives, alcohol or highly personal gifts here. Present your gift with your right hand ONLY. In Indian sections, stay away from black and white gifts and wrappings; choose yellow, red or green instead.

Middle Eastern Countries

In the Arab culture, generosity and politeness are very important when it comes to business gifts. Generally Arabs like to present their gifts first and you should try to match the gift with one of similar quality.

  • Always give and receive gifts with your right hand ONLY. Avoid alcohol and pigskin products and never give a gift to the wife of any Arab business partner. HINT: Do not even inquire as to the wife’s health or well-being.
  • Consider leather goods (other than pigskin), silver (but not gold), precious stones, cashmere (but not silk), crystal or scents.

Latin American Countries

In Latin American countries, giving business gifts is common and widely appreciated. Thoughtful and generous corporate gifts are seen to reinforce business and personal relationships.

  • You are not expected to present a gift at the first business meeting. Avoid leather gifts, since most of the world’s finest leathers come from South America.  HINT: Be careful of the type of flowers you give. Some varieties are used for funerals only.


Giving corporate gifts can be a risky venture. For more detailed information on the customs of any country, you should do your research. Online resources are helpful but for up-to-the-minute, first-hand information, contact the country’s embassy in Washington, DC or the U.S. Consulate’s protocol officer.

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