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Cultural Differences in Gift Giving – Gift Baskets Overseas Corporate Podcast ep. 6

Long Distance Short is back with another episode filled with gift-giving tips! Natasha, Director Of Digital Marketing at Gift Baskets Overseas, brings us a new guest: Larissa Heler — Gift Baskets Overseas Brand Manager in Europe — to talk about the very core of gift-giving: cultural differences and how to navigate them.  From the cost of your gift to the kinds of products you include, different countries find different things acceptable and knowing the local gift customs can save you from misunderstandings.  Stay tuned to learn about the cultural differences and considerations you should think about when sending corporate and personal gifts internationally.

Cultural Differences in Gift Giving: Podcast Transcript


Hello, everyone, and welcome back to yet another episode of “Long Distance Short” — Gift Baskets Overseas podcast on all things corporate gifts! But this time, we will go well beyond just corporate gifts, because our topic today — “Cultural Differences in Gift-Giving” — is easily applied not just to your business gifts, but also to personal and romantic situations, and we have a very special guest today: our very own Larissa Heler — Gift Baskets Overseas brand manager in Europe!

Hi, Larissa, thanks for joining us! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your international journey with Gift Baskets Overseas.


Thank you so much, Natasha! Yes, I’m very glad to be invited to this podcast. So, yes: my name is Larissa Heler, and I have been working at Gift Baskets Overseas for almost five years already as brand manager, responsible for our European local brands. I grew up in Eastern European culture, and later I was living and studying in Germany, Spain, and now I live in Mexico — this international experience gave me the unique opportunity to get to know different world cultures closer, and made me, so to say, an expert in intercultural understanding.

And you know, that’s exactly why I love… I love observing these differences and cultures, mentality, and precisely giving gifts is one of the aspects where you see this manifestation of different cultures! Actually, that makes it even more interesting, and sometimes, even surprising.


We are so lucky to have you, Larissa! So, let’s get to our first topic. Gifts are also such a big pleasure, so why do you actually need to be culturally aware when you give or receive gifts in different countries?


You know, I’m actually even convinced that to be culturally aware when we give or receive gifts is not even an option: it is already kind of a necessity in the global and interdependent world we live in today. Because, well… The world we live in today is not even what it was 20 years ago: we have, with all these migrational processes, — students and exchange programs, expats, — there is a higher rate in international marriages, friendships, and, of course, international business…

Did you hear the phrase: “Giving is an art?” So, just imagine: if gifting is already quite tricky sometimes in your homeland, imagine gifting abroad! Even a small mistake can lead to a negative feeling connected with with the sender. Sometimes, it can result in offense — and can cause uncomfortable situations, or, in worse cases, even spoil the first impression, or undermine the trust!

You may think I’m exaggerating, and, in case of any possible mistake, the recipient of the gift will just thank the sender for the nice gesture, and that’s it — what is actually the problem? However, it’s not as easy as it seems if we take a deeper look. So first, we might appear… you know, like, not open-minded, not global, not professional — because we didn’t… it may seem that we didn’t find the time to investigate something about our friends’ or partners’ culture.

Second, some cultures — and it’s actually a very important point here — some cultures have very superstitious elements, and, for example, if you give something that, in another culture, is considered a bad sign, believe me, they might never build any relationship with you.

A very funny story came to my mind in this regard: one friend of mine wanted to send a birthday gift to his girlfriend in the Eastern Europe, and do you know what happened? First, he sent a gift in advance, and second, he sent an even number of flowers, which in Eastern Europe is considered as bad luck. So the result was that the relationship was broken! Especially women take it very seriously. So please also take it seriously, and imagine that you can spoil everything!


Oh! What bad luck, indeed! So, one can spoil the relationship with a wrong gift sent at the wrong time, — and all it takes to avoid the catastrophe is knowing about the cultural norms and traditions in the country you are sending your gift to. But that’s romantic gifts; now, let’s talk about business. Are there any cultural differences in corporate gift-giving that you would like to share with us?


Yeah, definitely! For businesses, relationships built on trust are the key to build a solid international partnership, and that’s a good business, and as a result, the entire success. Gifts actually can mean many things in business: they are used to build — and especially maintain — relationships in the long term. So here, again, a small mistake can lead to a very negative first impression or undermine the whole trust in the business relationship. That’s why it’s extremely important to be aware about your partner’s culture. You know, this is simple respect, and demonstration of an appreciation of his culture. There is an infinite number of world cultures in the world, sure, and every culture has its own understanding of things.

To name a few differences, is, for example, the alcohol issue. As we know, while in quite many countries in the world, giving alcohol is considered to be a good gift: high-quality wine, or whiskey, — however, in Muslim countries, it is a big “no.” Another example is that you would never give a Jewish person or a Muslim an item made from any part of pork, or even simply a gift containing an image of a pig!

Another very interesting issue: for example, in some countries — like in France, in Arabian countries, — high-quality items are preferred, while in others, these kind of expensive gifts might be seen as if you wanted to influence the decision of your partner. So another very important thing is that, for example, in many countries in East Asia, when offering a gift, the recipient normally can refuse it up to three times — can you imagine that! But this is actually the way not to look greedy or impatient. So it is actually expected that you also do the same.

Understanding these traditions and customs will help you to avoid any embarrassment. So, please take your time to choose an appropriate gift depending on your business partner’s culture — of course, if you seek to build a better business relationship!


Thank you, Larissa! It’s very interesting; some of the things that you mentioned actually made me think about the assumptions that people in different countries, in different cultures, have regarding gift-giving. I would call them… obligations. Do you think there is such a thing, and how do these obligations differ across cultures?

Cultural Differences in Gift Giving - Gift Baskets Overseas Corporate Podcast ep. 6


Undoubtedly, every culture group has its own specific meaning that it attaches to gift-giving: while in some cultures, exchanging gifts might be a highly valued gesture with the purpose to express gratitude, to show appreciation and respect, with gifts actually playing a central role in business practices, in some others, gift-giving might be totally inappropriate, even rare, and sometimes, can even be seen as bribery! Especially if it is the matter of an overly expensive gift, as some companies may even define limits on the value of what employees may accept.

For example, Germany is more formal in this regard, and sometimes — depending on the situation, of course — a personalized outreach might be seen as a bit invasive, especially if you don’t know your partner well. There is a tendency towards concentrating more on the real business, and less on formalities or customs like gift-giving; however, the more you know the person, the more normal it is to give a gift, especially a corporate Christmas gift, as a sign of appreciation of partnership during the whole year.

In South European or Latin American countries, instead, relationship-building plays a central role in building a business, and thus, gift-giving is acceptable for more occasions, — and it for sure can help build stronger business relationships and friendships.

So I would say you have to approach it professionally, and consider some basic things, like: who is the recipient of the gift? Is it one person or the whole team? What is the status of this person within the company? Bear, also, in mind the company’s policy regarding the gifts: sometimes it contains conditions under which an employee may accept a gift; in some cases, it also defines what is allowed or prohibited. Just imagine a super uncomfortable situation when your recipient simply refuses your gift because of his company’s policy!

And, needless to say, please, do keep it professional — so, just not to confuse with the personal gifting, do not send perfume, jewelry, or clothes.


So, just to summarize: there is such a thing as a gift taboo. Could you please name some more examples?


Oh, there are quite many of them! Of course, it’s impossible to mention all of them, as it is a very country-specific issue, but I will name a few.

So, let’s start with Italy: for example, Italians try to avoid black and gold color because those colors are associated with funerals. Also, the purple color represents bad luck. In some Asian cultures, giving someone a knife is a really terrible idea: for example, sending a gift basket to a Chinese company representative, containing even a high quality knife set, may cause the ending of relationship, because in China, it is seen as a cut, or ending of something. So he might just think that it’s not a good sign, and he will never start business with you!

Another issue, as we already mentioned, is the type of flower — in case you want to give flowers. So, first, in Eastern European cultures, it is inappropriate to give flowers bundled in even numbers. Also, please exclude yellow flowers, lilies, or carnations. As far as China is concerned, long-stem red roses are better not to give to Chinese friends and family, and, for example, white flowers and lilies are not desirable for the Dutch people.

Also, a clock has a very interesting meaning in China, because in some Chinese languages, “clock” is pronounced similarly to a word for attending a funeral, so it is also believed that by giving someone a clock, they are being told their time is almost finished on Earth. Also, even if it’s a rainy season in China, you may want to think [twice] about giving someone from China an umbrella! Please be aware that it also represents closing or ending. And also, number four represents bad luck — so, just don’t send something with a number four, or a pair of fours.

Giving money — cash — is another tricky thing: like, for example, if you are aware about Lunar New Year in China and in many Eastern Asian countries, there is even a tradition that cash is given in a red beautiful envelope to Chinese friends and family. So these envelopes must be filled with money: that actually symbolizes good wishes and luck for the new year ahead. On the other hand, giving cash is another big “no-no” for many countries.

And, again, the important issue is giving alcohol: as I mentioned, alcohol is, for example, a taboo in Muslim countries; remember, also gifts containing pork, products from pork, such as gelatin, ham, might be offensive and not appropriate. So, remember that any meat product or ham need to be marked as “halal,” which means “permissible” in Arabic.

Also, just bear in mind the Ramadan time in Arabian countries: Muslims don’t eat or drink except at night during the holy month. One story came to my mind regarding Ramadan: when a woman from Europe came to Saudi Arabia, exactly during Ramadan, and offered a gift basket she brought as a gift to a business partner. She opened it and wanted just to share it — but her business partner was looking strangely, and was feeling uncomfortable. So, she asked why he did not eat a bit; her partner considered it as a complete lack of consideration on her part: see, she actually should have been informed about Saudi customs around Ramadan.

So, it’s good that we are all different: it makes our world not boring at all! What do you think?


Oh yeah! I think it’s so extremely important to know the cultural norms and expectations around gift-giving, be it a personal gift, a romantic one, or a corporate gift, — in order not to ruin a relationship, with the best of intentions that you have sending a gift.

Thank you so much for all the insight you provided, Larissa, — it was so nice having you on our “Long Distance Short” podcast episode! Thank you for joining us!


Thank you so much for inviting!


See you soon.



Wrapping Up Cultural Differences In Gift Giving

This has been another episode of “Long Distance Short” — your podcast for tips, tricks, and real-life stories of how to make the most of any long-distance relationship. If you want to learn more about a corporate gift campaign with, you can email the team at [email protected], call toll-free from the US and Canada at 1 888 673-2822, or request a call by going directly to the website:

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