Attitudes and values are the foundation of every country’s culture and the building blocks for many traditions. To understand gift giving traditions in Germany, you should first understand German etiquette and culture in general.
Masters of Planning & Punctuality
Well-known for their punctuality and efficiency, Germans appreciate rules and regulations. They cherish a sense of security which comes with predictability and are less likely to appreciate spontaneity and improvisation. This is why Germans are not the biggest fans of surprises, neither in business nor in personal life. Don’t get me wrong, they do love gifts, but only during occasions that are generally accepted and when gift exchange is expected.
Careful planning is another national trait. Rules and regulations allow people to know what is expected and plan one’s life accordingly. Germans are one of those nationalities who start getting ready for holidays well in advance. This includes not only decorating and planning, but also holiday shopping and gift giving in Germany.
There Is No Place Like Home
Germans are very proud of their homes. In their culture where communication is mostly formal, the home is the place where one can be free of any regulations. This allows their personalities to shine.
A German’s home is the perfect reflection of its owner’s mentality. They are often neat and organized. Even though only close friends and relatives are welcome into the privacy of the house, stylish home decor gifts are welcome. Such things are often sent as housewarming gifts and include things like aromatherapy candles, photo frames, or useful kitchen items. Cut flowers and potted plants are more great gift ideas. Flowers will hit the mark regardless of the occasion and your relationships with the recipient. Hands down, flowers are truly the most universal gift suitable for both personal and business gift giving in Germany.
Business Gift Giving Etiquette in Germany: Rules & Tips
Germans truly believe that there is a proper time and place for every activity, hence work and personal lives are strictly divided. A highly individualistic nation, Germans demand the highest standards in everything.
Business is viewed as something serious, and there’s absolutely no room for humor and informality in a business context. Gifts suggesting any kind of a joke can be misinterpreted, and are absolutely unacceptable. Keep in mind that business etiquette is of great importance to your German counterpart, and ignoring it might seriously hurt your business relationships.
How To Budget For a Business Gift to Germany
Nowadays it’s not just bankers, politicians or executives that have to be particularly careful when receiving gifts, but also everyday employees. That said, there is rarely a “maximum limit” on a business gift in Germany. Still, you should keep in mind that overly priced gifts might be viewed as bribes. But honestly, unless you’re giving expensive tickets for a sporting event, an art piece, jewelry, or a watch, you shouldn’t worry too much about it.
Of course, a lot depends on the status of the recipient and the corporate code of conduct in their workplace. For example, accepting gifts from one’s employer has more restrictions and can lead to complications without specific rules. Exchanging gifts between colleagues, on the other hand, is less problematic as this is usually classified as a private and not an official matter.
Still having doubts? Just ask or check the company’s site. Many large companies have internal compliance guidelines with regards to gift giving and receiving where they also state a suggested price range for the gift’s value.
Guide to Gift Giving in Germany
Even though gift giving among business associates is not as common in Germany as it is, for instance, in the US, it’s quite popular on social occasions and holidays. Gift exchange in personal life, on the other hand, is very common and loved by Germans.
So, what can you actually send your good friend, family member, significant other, colleague or business partner abroad to make the best impression? Here are some tips:
- “Made in Germany” is recognized worldwide as a label for high quality products. Germans are connoisseurs of good quality in everything including gifts. Small, well-made, but not overly expensive items like office equipment, pens or liquor are great business gifts. Photo frames, leather goods, and spa gifts are excellent personal gifts for any occasion.
- One of the most “Green” countries, Germany takes environmental issues extremely seriously. Germany leads Europe by having the greatest solar and wind electricity generating capacity on the continent. Nature oriented, many Germans would really appreciate a gift made from recycled or sustainable materials. Even wrapping your gift in recycled craft paper will help you demonstrate your thoughtfulness and awareness of a matter Germans really care about.
- When sending flowers to Germany keep in mind that they should come in uneven numbers (except number 13, which is considered to bring bad luck). Bouquets and flowers arrangement should come wrapped in craft paper or cellophane.
- Famous beer lovers, many Germans will enjoy a beer basket where their favorite drink is paired with delicious snacks. Make sure to go with local beer, since many of the finest brands in the world are already produced and widely available here. By doing so, you will also demonstrate your knowledge, recognition and appreciation of the local culture.
- Wine and other liquor will also be well-received. Make sure you choose an up-market label to satisfy the local’s refined tastes. Imported wine from Italy and France will also be a good choice, unless you’re able to find wine from Rhein-Main region in Germany that takes great pride in wine production. And don’t forget about to send good cheese or a fruit platter. After all, what is good wine without a pairing of good food!
- Even though the best chocolate in the world comes from a different part of Europe, a lot of Germans have a sweet tooth. Satisfy your recipient’s love for chocolate when you send a sweet surprise or delicious cake. By picking a gift basket that combines both sweet and savory treats, you will kill two birds with one stone and feed their cravings for both.
Gifts to Avoid:
- Don’t send red roses to business partners and colleagues since they are strongly romantic. It’s safer to send yellow and tea roses instead. Carnations usually symbolize mourning. Lilies or chrysanthemums are funerary flowers.
- Stay away from personal items (the main taboo in the corporate world) and toiletries which are far too intimate even as personal gifts, unless your recipient asked about it.
- Avoid clothing items, as they are personal and may have issues with fit or style. Scarves, however, are acceptable gifts according to German business protocol.
- Very unusual or exotic gifts (especially gourmet) might be too bold for Germans who appreciate predictability and are not too keen on unexpected surprises.
- Overly expensive gifts.
Most Popular Holidays in Germany
Ostern (Easter) – April
German Easter traditions are very similar to the ones in the US. They include such universal holiday symbols as Easter eggs, Easter baskets filled with candies and sweets, and, of course, the Easter bunny.
Suggested gifts: Easter gift baskets, chocolate, flowers
Maifest (May Day) – May, 1
A national holiday, Maifest celebrates the coming of spring and nature’s awakening after cold winter. On this day the food is plentiful and beer and wine flow freely.
Suggested gifts: flowers, gourmet gift baskets, beer baskets, wine gifts
Muttertag (Mother’s Day) – Second Sunday in May
Very similar to Mother’s Day in the US Muttertag honors the most important women in our lives with great pomp and gaiety. It’s traditional to shower beloved moms with flowers and gifts on this day.
Suggested gifts: flowers, chocolate, cakes, spa gifts
Vatertag (Father’s Day) – June
Father’s Day in Germany is different from the family-oriented American holiday. It’s more like a men’s day out with a bar tour at the end of the day.
Suggested gifts: tea coffee gifts, wine gift baskets, beer gift baskets, gourmet gifts
Weinfests in Germany – July, August
Did you know that Germans love wein? That’s right, and Weinfests are almost as popular as the Oktoberfest.
Suggested gifts: wine gift baskets, fruit baskets, gourmet gifts
Schultüte (First Day of School)
German kids can’t wait for the first day of school as it’s time they receive a “Schultüte”, a festive paper cone filled with sweets and little gifts. Starting elementary school is a big deal in Germany (almost like a graduation or wedding) and parents make sure to shower their first-graders with gifts.
Suggested gifts: sweet gourmet gifts, chocolate, cookies gifts, toys and games
Oktoberfest – End of September – Beginning of October
The home to the world-famous Oktoberfest beer festival is Munich, capital of Bavaria. One of the most popular holidays in the world Oktoberfest annually attracts thousands of beer lovers from around the world.
Suggested gifts: beer gift baskets, gourmet gift basket
Erntedankfest (Thanksgiving) – First Sunday in October
Just like Thanksgiving, Erntedank is a harvest-themed festival with rich history and traditions. It’s primarily a religious holiday, but with dancing, food, music, and parades.
Suggested gifts: tea coffee gifts, wine gift baskets, fruit baskets, gourmet gift baskets
Martinstag (Martinmas) – November, 11
Martinstag celebration is a combination of Halloween and Thanksgiving. It has become the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season in Germany.
Suggested gifts: wine gift baskets, fruit baskets, sweet gifts, gourmet gifts
Sankt Nikolaus Tag (St. Nicholas Day) – December, 6
One of the most favorite children’s holiday in Germany, St. Nicholas Day is the time for presents. Nikolaus comes at night and fills children’s boots placed in front of their bedroom doors with gifts and chocolate.
Suggested gifts: chocolate gift baskets, cookies gifts, toys and games
Weihnachten (Christmas) – December, 25
Many American Christmas traditions have roots in Germany, so holiday observances are quite similar in both countries.
Suggested gifts: spirits, fruit baskets, gourmet gift baskets, cakes
Silvester (New Year’s Eve) – December, 31
A colorful night filled with bright celebrations, fireworks and feasts, Silvester consists of parties, sparkling wine and kisses at midnight.
Suggested gifts: gourmet gift baskets, sweet gifts, fruit baskets, chocolate, champagne gifts
There are many more reasons to celebrate from birthdays and anniversaries to graduations and housewarmings. The idea is to make sure your gift reflects your connection with the recipient, without being too forward or gaudy. Make sure whatever you send includes a personal message, and a follow up call to see how they enjoyed it! It’s truly the personal touch that matters more than the gift itself.
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