From Beijing to Berlin, New Delhi to New York – South African business is fast expanding its global footprint. We’re seeing more international headquarters popping up in our major metros and, conversely, more SA companies establishing offices far afield. With this comes the need to strengthen our foreign relations by brushing up on international gift-giving protocol.
Though business etiquette is somewhat standardised around the world, learning more about different cultures and beliefs can only hold us in good stead. This is especially true when it comes to giving gifts to international colleagues. The last thing you want is for a well-intended gift to insult a revered business partner.
This series takes a look at cultural nuances to consider when giving gifts to business partners from our top trading counties.
Best Practice for Giving Business Gifts in China and Japan
Understanding Eastern Customs
The Eastern customs differ significantly from ours here in South Africa. In China and Japan, a firm handshake is seen as offensive, you must keep your handshake as soft and short as possible and limit your eye contact as too much eye contact can be seen as a challenge.
Other similarities include exchanging business cards before a handshake. Always present your business card to your client with both hands. It is a good idea to place any business card received in a holder, not a wallet as this will be seen as disrespectful. Remember to point your feet away from your clients as feet are deemed unclean.
Reserve gift giving for the conclusion of business deals (if you try to give a gift beforehand it is seen as bribery and trying to rush proceedings).
Do not be offended if your gift is refused! It is customary for a gift to be refused 3 times before it will be accepted. Likewise, if you are offered a gift, it is polite to do the same
Giving gifts to Chinese business partners
For the most part, Chinese business culture prohibits gift exchange as it can be considered bribery, which is illegal. If you choose to proceed with giving a gift, instead give a gift to the organisation as a whole and not an individual.
- Wrap gifts in red and avoid white at all costs.
- Don’t ask your recipient to open their gift! You’ll embarrass them.
- Make sure your gift has meaning, and explain the meaning to your recipient the thought behind the gift is of great importance in China.
Gifts for Japanese business partners
The ritual of gift giving in Japan is more significant than what you give you as a gift. Remember to place emphasis on your relationship above all else, this is often illustrated by the gift giver down-playing their gift irrespective of its monetary value.
Be respectful, give and receive gifts with both hands. Remember that humility is vitally important so avoid extravagant gifts. If you are travelling to Japan, take a few gifts with you so you can reciprocate if you are given a gift. Open it in private.
- It’s better to give gifts to a group instead of just one person. Don’t give a senior and junior business partner the same gift. Keep a variety on hand.
- If you give a gift to an individual, do so in private.
- The presentation is everything. The gift should be in perfect condition, and the wrapping should be pristine but not heavily decorated. Wrapping gifts in cloth that can be reused in a soft colour (not white) are best.
- It is considered lucky to give gifts in pairs.
Navigating Corporate Gifting Around the World, with Hamper World
Our International Gift Giving series will explore business gifting best practice from all over the world. Join us next time as we’re delving into the wonders of incredible India.