Monday, June 19, 2006

Cultural Gift Giving is an Important Part of Global Etiquette

It is not the message sent that counts, but rather the message received.

What message are we sending and allowing our international counterparts to receive through our American gift giving policy and procedure?

Note: In the Western world, gift giving is rare in business. In fact, culturally, it may even carry negative connotations. Gift giving may even be construed as an attempt to bribe. However, this is not the case in other global cultures, which we are frequently interacting with more and more around the world. For example, some global corporate business requests actually do conflict with U.S. standards causing ethical concerns. A few items of interest include international business partners asking for houses and beautiful mistresses. Obviously, global corporations can not get involved in this too deeply, however, certain global corporate exceptions to the other cultures gift giving requirements can and should be implemented. Each corporation must determine their own limits. Surely you are familiar with the statement, “When in China, do as the Chinese.”

We have at least three options available

Our first option is, we need to determine whether or not to challenge our ethnocentric U.S. policy around gift giving or we need to decide to leave this counter-culture battle alone and continue with our limited gift exchange policy. In other words, we go back to business as usual.
Which is it?

· Who cares what other cultures think?
· Who cares what other cultures think!

If we chose to refuse the gift giving policy change and an effort to challenge it by selecting option 1, we will continue to operate in the present one-size fits all gift giving policy and procedure. We need to remember, what is appropriate in the United States may be and is indeed inappropriate in many other gift exchanging cultures.

If option 1 is deemed ugly, then secondly, we need to determine a plan to challenge the status quo of the present gift giving policy. We need understand all the stakeholders, and rewrite corporate policy for a more global business etiquette which addresses the importance of meeting other cultures on their turf. Ultimately, this change will lead us toward becoming less ethnocentric in our U.S. policy. It will also enhance international respect and trust, leading to better global relationships.

In support of option 2, implement a global corporate perspective, in which, every individual is perceived as being important and that each person deserves to feel valued, respected, and included. This means we must take a closer look at other cultures and their way of doing things. We welcome with open arms, hearts and minds, and appreciate difference. At the end of the day, our global success as a corporation, and also as individuals, will come from our personal and professional ability to trust, engage, interact with, and support each other and global customs, including unique cultural ways.

In the Confucius Sphere, which includes China and Japan, serious gift giving is part of their culture, the gift is perceived as the beginning of trust and a long healthy relationship.

Our final option is number 3 or Thirdly, we implement the new policy, written in support of the second option by seeking approval and change through all stakeholders.
One observed faux pas and concern in global business results from a lack of cross cultural understanding in building global business relationships. The Chinese call this relationship building Guanxi. As American’s our faux pas and lack of concern for other cultures, can lead to unfortunate misunderstandings which in return may result in perceived callousness, even offensive behavior and a culturally observed perception of ignorance. Cross cultural awareness and an adept even savvy understanding of foreign etiquette is extremely important in today’s global society. Understanding gift giving and global etiquette can help build better working relationships with foreign colleagues, clients, customers, and friends.

What is your Corporate Gift Giving Policy?

GlobeSmart Tool and Gift Giving

In order to highlight some of the different aspects of cross cultural gift giving etiquette a few examples may be obtained in the GlobeSmart tool.

Click on the GlobeSmart link

Navigate to China> Culture & Customs> Business Protocol> Gifts

Navigate to Japan> Culture & Customs> Business Protocol> Gifts

Navigate to Russia> Culture & Customs> Business Protocol> Gifts

The above are a just a few of the many examples of cross cultural differences in gift giving etiquette.

If you do not have a GlobeSmart license for your business, click here:




In my opinion, it is advisable for corporations to try and ascertain some facts about the gift giving etiquette in other countries you are working with and interacting with in global business. By doing so, we maximize the potential of the cross cultural encounter.

Global and Cultural Gift Giving Etiquette Involves the Following Points:

1. Who is receiving the gift? Is it a person or a group? What is the status of the receiver(s)?
2. What types of gifts are appropriate or inappropriate?
3. What is the protocol associated with gift giving and receiving?
4. How should the gifts be presented? When is the gift opened?
5. Should the gifts received be reciprocated?
6. Should we reciprocate if a gift is given?

Become very familiar with the term "Face." Losing face is inappropriate in other cultures.

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