Businesses generally go to a lot of trouble to set up international business meetings. That’s why they’re often reserved for important deals and transactions where face-to-face interaction can make or break a deal. Consider how much time and effort you spend traveling out of the country for what could be a short meeting, it’s no surprise that many people consider buying and bringing gifts to thank host businesses for having them and making the meeting possible.
However, international gift giving is probably one of the trickier aspects of international business. After all, every region and country has a different gift giving culture. Knowing when and what to gift can be confusing, but there are some basic principles you can use when preparing for an international business meeting.
Asia and the Middle East
You already know how to give corporate gifts in the United States, and in the English speaking world, the gift giving process is very similar. However, in other countries gifts are expected and the culture of gift giving is quite old. To best prepare for giving a gift, taking a little time and researching the history of gift giving and what is common in a particular region you’re traveling to will be beneficial.
In general, gifts are widely accepted and somewhat expected in Asian countries and the Middle East. It is important to note that when giving a gift in these regions tradition dictates that you use your right hand or both hands when presenting or receiving a gift. This is very important and great care should be paid to the process of gift giving in these regions.
China and Singapore
Giving a gift in China or Singapore may prove more confusing for some Americans. It’s actually quite common for somebody from that region to refuse a gift three times before politely accepting it. This is part of the process and you should allow the recipient the courtesy of allowing them to decline the gift three times before they take it.
Consider the Country’s History
Businesses in countries with a relatively long history of corruption like Colombia or Malaysia may be less likely to accept gifts, especially when large contracts or government negotiations are on the table. However, for smaller corporate meetings, a simple token of appreciation isn’t likely to be frowned on as long as its monetary value is low.
What Do I Give?
Choosing a gift can be confusing even if you’ve figured out that giving a gift in a certain region is expected or acceptable. There are a few options that will routinely work no matter where you are in the world.
Host a Dinner
Hosting a dinner at an upscale local restaurant is an excellent way to show your appreciation that members of a business took time to meet with you. By choosing a local restaurant you’ll also be avoiding any food-related gift giving faux-pas that you may not be aware of.
Business-related gifts are often easier to give when you’re meeting with one person or a very small group. An example would be a high-quality fountain pen. These types of business-related gifts are universal across all cultures, so you don’t have to worry about recipients not wanting or being able to use your gifts.
A Word of Caution
In the United States many people give gifts like wine, champagne or fine Scotch. While that can work if you know the recipient enjoys those things, alcohol can be problematic in Muslim countries and in other parts of the world. Steer clear of alcohol if you aren’t sure it’s appropriate.