With the holiday season drawing near, many people are preparing to exchange gifts. Additionally, there are many other traditions that involve gift-giving. But there are cultural differences regarding the giving and receiving of presents, and understanding what they are is critical if you’re engaging with someone from another country or culture. With that in mind, here’s a look at cultural variations in gift-giving.
Cultural Variations in Gift-Giving
Jewish and Islamic Faith
While giving a gift featuring the image of a pig or containing pork might not seem like an issue to many people, it’s potentially problematic. Jewish persons typically don’t consume pork because pork isn’t kosher. Similarly, Muslims consider pigs unclean, so they don’t eat pork either. Since that’s the case, you don’t want to give any food gifts containing pork or ingredients derived from pigs.
Even giving a gift that depicts a pig could be an issue. As a result, you won’t want to provide them with presents featuring an image of the animal or one made to look like a pig. Additionally, if you’re giving a gift to someone who follows the Jewish or Islamic faiths during the winter holidays, avoid wrapping paper that features imagery that’s solely Christian in nature. Instead, choose something more neutral or secular.
For Muslim gift recipients, don’t give alcohol as a present. Drinking alcohol is forbidden by their faith, and even indirect association with alcohol isn’t allowed.
In Japan, it’s critical to give and receive gifts with great care and respect for tradition. Presentation is an important part of the equation, so you want to ensure that any gift you give is nicely wrapped.
When you present or receive a gift in Japan, do use both hands. Additionally, don’t expect the recipient to open the gift in your presence, as it’s customary to wait.
Another critical thing to avoid when selecting a gift is sets of four or presents referencing the number four. How the Japanese word for four is pronounced sounds similar to the word for death, so four is considered unlucky.
As in Japan, it’s customary to give and receive gifts using both hands in China. There’s also usually a sense of reciprocity when it comes to gift-giving in China, so it’s not uncommon to give or receive presents as a sign of appreciation for a previously given favor.
Another part of the Chinese gift-giving tradition is an initial refusal. It’s not a signal that they don’t want the gift. Instead, it’s good manners to initially decline what’s offered. In some cases, they may even refuse two or three times before accepting. As a gift-giver, you want to politely insist that they take the gift during these initial refusals and then thank them when they accept it. Similarly, if you’re offered a gift, you can follow the tradition by initially stating a present isn’t necessary before taking it after they insist.
Finally, avoid giving specific items to Chinese recipients. Sharp items like scissors, knives, or letter openers are viewed as signs of the severance of a relationship, so don’t give them as gifts. Additionally, clocks are best avoided, as the phrase for “give clock” can sound similar to the word for “funeral” in certain dialects. Don’t give a gift feature a set containing four items either, as four is unlucky in China. However, you can give four items if they’re part of two pairs instead of a set of four. Lastly, handkerchiefs are associated with crying and sad occasions, like funerals, so they aren’t considered appropriate.
Middle East and India
When you’re giving a gift in the Middle East or India, don’t involve your left hand. The left hand is considered unclean in both of those countries. Since that’s the case, you want to make sure that you only give or receive presents using the right hand whenever possible. However, if the gift is particularly heavy, you can use both hands in that situation.
Saudi Arabia and Yemen
In Saudi Arabia and Yemen, do exercise caution when determining if giving a gift is appropriate. Usually, presents are only exchanged by people in incredibly close relationships, so it’s not wise to give gifts to people you know casually. Additionally, it’s normal for the recipient of any gift to inspect the present closely. This is actually a sign of respect and appreciation, as they’re essentially admiring the gift.
In Russia, how much a gift is worth needs to make sense in the context of the relationship. Additionally, it’s best not to give anything overly expensive to a business-related contact, as a high-value item might get interpreted as a bride or otherwise improper. Additionally, when giving gifts to business associates, wait until the end of any meetings or transactions to avoid any misperceptions of improperness.
When giving flowers, do make sure that there’s an odd number. Additionally, avoid yellow blooms, as they’re associated with funerals.
As you present a gift, it’s normal to play it down. Additionally, if the recipient initially refuses, it’s acceptable to simply place the present on a table as you leave. Opening gifts when the giver is still present also isn’t the norm.
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