The exchange of gifts is a key part of many cultures, but what you give is as important as how and when you give it. (So much for it being the thought that counts.)
Here, a detailed guide to choosing the perfect present to bring to friends and colleagues overseas.
Plus: How best to receive—and refuse—a gift. I found this guide while reading Condé Nast Traveler Articles : November 2010. Enjoy
The giving of gifts is a language of symbols, and there are those who speak it like poetry. They see balance in pairs, endings in clocks, doom in the most innocent of flowers. Then there are the rest of us. We are the ones who had to ask ourselves why President Obama’s gift to Prime Minister Gordon Brown—a collection of American movie hits—constituted a gift-giving gaffe. Should the president have picked better movies? Included a DVD player? Thrown in some popcorn and a microwave?
The problem, as our British friends were quick to point out, was that the president’s gift lacked eloquence. What, exactly, was he trying to say? Maybe he didn’t know. “Not very inspired” was the verdict from Vogue.
What to say and how to convey the message in the form of a gift are conundrums that have absorbed cultural emissaries since the beginning of time.
China’s panda diplomacy goes back more than a thousand years and was a huge success when Chairman Mao revived it in the 1950s. Americans fell in love with Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, the two giant pandas that came to live in the National Zoo after Nixon’s famous visit to China in 1972, and we easily adopted them as symbols of friendship and peace. But whatever happened to Matilda and Milton, the pair of musk oxen that served as America’s ambassadors in the exchange? They quickly fell ill, unaccustomed to the Beijing heat, and though they recovered their health, the shaggy duo never achieved the level of popularity enjoyed by their adorable counterparts. When they died without procreating, the world did not mourn.
“In our abundant culture, where everybody has so much, gifts don’t mean as much as they do elsewhere in the world,” says Robert Hickey, deputy director of the Protocol School of Washington. “A gift should be a distilled symbol of your relationship.” In exchange for his gift to Brown, the president scored a first-edition biography of Winston Churchill in seven volumes, a framed commission for the H.M.S. Resolute, and a penholder. The penholder was only the latest artifact in a story going back to 1855, when the Resolute was rescued by an American whaler and later returned to England. A desk made from its timbers was presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes by Queen Victoria and has been used by American presidents ever since. The gift to Obama was crafted from the wood of the Resolute‘s sister ship, the Gannet, which once went on anti-slavery missions off Africa. The symbolism here is indeed exquisite. “It was only a penholder, but it was infused with meaning,” says Hickey. “That was a brilliant gift.”
Dr. Ellen Langer, a Harvard psychologist who has studied how gifts strengthen social ties, says that to give a really good gift, “you must ask yourself, What do I want the gift to convey, what are the various ways to convey it, and how might I be misunderstood?”
There are so many possible missteps in a gift that must bridge cultural gaps that it pays to be conservative until you know somebody’s particular likes and dislikes. In general, people meeting you for the first time will expect a gift from America. “It’s important to take something that reflects your culture,” says Lisa Mirza Grotts, a travel-etiquette consultant based in San Francisco and author of A Traveler’s Passport to Etiquette. That’s why etiquette and travel books stress photographs (as in coffee table books of your town or region), handicrafts, music, and art, as well as food, wine, and spirits. “A distilled spirit from your home state says warmth and hospitality,” says Sally Van Winkle Campbell, whose book But Always Fine Bourbon recounts the story of her family’s Kentucky distillery. “It implies you want to sit with that person over a meal or in front of a fire and get to know him or her better.”
Pens, key rings, paperweights, and T-shirts are also routinely recommended as business gifts. So are candles and chocolate. But what we often forget is what makes the pen, the T-shirt, or the chocolate special. When Grotts traveled to China with a state delegation, she brought small boxes carved from California redwood and designer scarves emblazoned with the Golden Gate Bridge—knowing, of course, that her hosts were likely to appreciate scarves and wooden boxes. As First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy presented visiting dignitaries with one-of-a-kind paperweights designed by David Webb and made from gems and minerals mined in the United States. Handmade Moonstruck truffles embody the flavors of Oregon, Lake Champlain chocolates the taste of Vermont. A Beanpod candle not only smells good and looks pretty but the wax is actually made in Iowa from American soy. In places where chocolate and candles are desirable gifts, these would be extra special.
Langer points out that the purpose of a gift is to demonstrate that you care, and for your gift to do that, you must find out what caring means to the other person. That requires learning as much as you can about what he or she likes and dislikes. “There’s value in the process,” she says. “You end up feeling more connected to the person, so it’s not an empty gesture.” On that score, if a Brazilian friend’s favorite drink is Johnnie Walker, don’t bring Kentucky bourbon, and if a Russian friend has a passion for Chanel, don’t treat her to your favorite brand. “If you bring me a book of French poems and I don’t like French poems, that’s worse than worthless,” says Langer, “because it tells me I’m unseen and unlistened to and unknown by you.
“Some people like only the finest,” she adds. “If you can’t afford the best champagne, give them the finest of something you can afford. Don’t give them a second-rate champagne.”
On the other hand, never doubt the power inherent in the most humble of gifts. The first public sign of warming relations between China and the United States was not Nixon’s 1972 visit but the moment at the 1971 World Table Tennis Championships in Nagoya, Japan, when Chinese player Zhuang Zedong spontaneously offered a gift of friendship—a brocaded tapestry—to Glenn Cowan, a member of the U.S. team. Cowan, in turn, presented Zhuang with a T-shirt printed with an American flag, a peace symbol, and the words “Let It Be.” Photographers caught the moment, and within days, Mao invited Cowan and 14 others to become the first non-Communist Americans to visit the People’s Republic of China since 1949.
The Four Golden Rules of Gift Giving
What not to give is as important as what to give. Each country has its own religious and cultural taboos. Certain numbers tend to be either lucky or unlucky, and flowers are fraught with peril. Knives, scissors, and other sharp objects commonly signify the severing of ties. And don’t give a Coach bag in Argentina (known for its leather), a case of Dogfish Head imperial stout in Germany (proud of its beer), or a Tiffany silver bookmark in Mexico (a world silver capital). It’s a matter of national pride.
Gift giving is inherently reciprocal. Know what’s expected in exchange. In some countries, it’s fairly specific. When a Chinese New Year’s guest presents his host with two mandarin oranges, he receives two different mandarin oranges when he leaves. Japanese women who give boxes of dark chocolate to their male coworkers on Valentine’s Day typically receive higher-priced boxes of white chocolate a month later, on White Day. In many countries, the rules are so specific that when U.S. companies send a business delegation, the chiefs of protocol confer in advance to find out what gifts will be exchanged, who will receive them, what rank they hold within the company, whether the event will be photographed, and so on. A business faux pas in this regard may prove fatal. One rule of thumb: Never give the same gift to people of unequal rank. And when travelers are told to bring “small” or “modest” gifts, the advice should be taken seriously.
Don’t leave anybody out. Never give a gift in front of others unless you have something for everyone. Bring an ample supply of gifts, just in case. If you’re invited to dinner and you’re not sure who will be present, take something that can be easily shared, such as baklava or cherries. And don’t forget the kids.
Presentation matters. Commodore Matthew C. Perry gave Japanese rulers technological wonders housed in rough crates and was presented in turn with commonplace objects (brooms, charcoal) packaged with exquisite care. In The World of the Gift, author Jacques T. Godbout points out that wrapping allows the gift to be received without judgment: “The receiver of the gift only knows that a nice gesture is being made. His or her thoughts are not yet focused on the material or sentimental value of the gift.” In many countries, gifts are not opened in front of the giver so that nobody loses face in an uneven exchange. But there’s another reason. Paper and ribbons, Godbout observes, “add mystery and suspense to the gift and signify the spirit of the gift-giving action.” Tricia Post, of the Emily Post Institute, reminds us to pay attention to that small but exquisite interval when a gift is passed from one to another: “When you present a gift, do it respectfully. Make it look nice, give it with two hands, and enjoy that moment.”
Hidden meanings are everywhere in East Asia. In general, uneven numbers have negative connotations, and pairs—whether pandas or pomelos—have positive ones. So if you’re bringing wine to a dinner party, two bottles are better than one. When you’re planning a business trip, call and check whether gifts will be exchanged. Don’t be surprised if your host seems reluctant to accept your gift. In many countries, etiquette requires that he modestly reject it up to three times. “Keep politely insisting,” advises Makiko Itoh, a Japanese blogger who lives in Europe. “It’s a ritualistic dance.”
China (including Hong Kong)
The Skinny: Protocol in China is very specific, and anyone serious about doing business there will want to be well briefed—not only to avoid a faux pas, but to keep on the right side of the law. Chinese efforts to curtail corruption make business gifts “a sensitive issue,” according to Terri Morrison and Wayne A. Conaway, authors of Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands. The practice, they concede, is nevertheless widespread. In general, company-to-company presents are okay, and so is a banquet. For the leisure traveler, a little knowledge will help smooth social transactions.
When to Give: A good way to show appreciation for a home-cooked meal is with an invitation to a restaurant. At the conclusion of business negotiations, present small tokens of gratitude to all members of a delegation and something a little nicer to the boss. Individual colleagues may exchange gifts of friendship after they’ve established a close relationship, but to do so in front of others (or in front of a camera) is bad form. If you’re invited to a wedding (a common practice among business associates, whether you know the wedding couple or not), give crisp new bills tucked in a red envelope bearing your name. About $30 is standard for a new acquaintance; more will be expected if you already have an established friendship with the couple. Avoid denominations of four.
The Presentation: Even simple gifts should be nicely wrapped in plain red, pink, yellow, or gold paper (black, white, gray, and blue carry mournful connotations). Present a gift to your host on arrival, using both hands, and say something about “a modest token of my appreciation.” Never give a gift unwrapped. (“It’s considered rude, rude, rude,” says Grotts.)
For a Colleague: “The Chinese like logos,” says Grotts. “It’s important to them that items have that official touch.” Acknowledge seniority with a gift that’s a cut above, and make sure nobody gets left out (pack plenty of extras). An elegantly wrapped food that can be shared can take the place of individual gifts.
The Gaffe: Odd numbers are ominous, and so is the number four, which is associated with death. Also funereal are cut flowers, straw sandals, and white objects. Fans, handkerchiefs, and umbrellas denote sorrow and tears. Green hats are for cuckolds. The word for clock, zhong, is a homonym for “the end,” which makes any timepiece a bad idea. In general, avoid giving anything beyond the receiver’s means to reciprocate, thus causing him to lose face.
The Foolproof Gift: “The Chinese are huge into stamp collecting,” says Grotts. “They also like nice pens.” Gerald Hatherly, a travel specialist with Abercrombie Kent, recommends oranges (symbols of wealth) and strawberries (newly popular in China and easily shared). Fruit should be nicely wrapped and not given in sets of four. Grotts recommends steaks and other gourmet foods. “But food isn’t an acceptable gift to bring to a dinner party,” she warns. “Send it after.”
The Skinny: While predominantly Hindu, India has the second-largest Muslim population in the world, so you’ll need to guard against offending either culture. In general, gifts tend to be modest and are not expected in a business context.
When to Give: Bring a gift when invited to someone’s home but not to a first business meeting.
The Presentation: No black or white paper. The standard recommendation is red, green, or yellow. Offer your gift with both hands or the right hand, never with the left only. Gifts are not opened in front of the giver.
For a Colleague: Something small—nothing expensive or flashy—that reflects pride in your home country.
The Gaffe: Observe both Hindu and Muslim food restrictions (see “Keeping the Faith”), avoid leather, and give alcohol only if you know for sure that it will be appreciated. Avoid animal motifs—especially pigs and dogs, which are considered unclean. An exotic American sweet, such as maple candy, may be regarded with suspicion—as in, “Are you sure it doesn’t contain eggs?”
The Foolproof Gift: “Indians have such a sweet tooth, that’s really the best way to go,” says Lucy Davison of Banyan Tours. American-made designer chocolate is a good choice. Sanjay Saxena, of Destination Himalaya, likes to give Ghirardelli chocolates made in his hometown of San Francisco. Also appropriate: brightly colored flowers, such as red or yellow roses (but not frangipani, which is reserved for funerals).
The Skinny: The Japanese are prolific gift-givers, to a degree that overwhelms Westerners and even the Japanese themselves. Tales are told of executive closets packed with unopened gifts, and of locals hiding holiday plans from friends and coworkers so they won’t be expected to shop for souvenirs. Blogger Makiko Itoh says that because Japanese houses are small, you should bring something consumable, like food or alcohol (she herself brings chocolate).
When to Give: Gifts—both business and social—are exchanged in midsummer (the gift is called ochugen) and at year’s end (oseibo), and when visiting a corporate office for the first time. They should be presented at the end of your meeting, says Grotts. “Rushing into it is a sign of ending a relationship before it begins.”
The Presentation: In Japan, the variety of handmade paper used, the color of the cord, and even the way the paper is folded has meaning. The standard advice is to let the experts do it. The store or your hotel will oblige.
For a Colleague: “The Japanese are very label-conscious but not showy,” says Grotts. Expensive business gifts will not be seen as bribes, but striking the right balance can prove tricky—a too costly gift imposes unwanted social debt, an overly modest one insults. Take your cue from your Japanese hosts, and do as they do. Cognac, whiskey, and wine are reliable choices. Well-known luxury brands are preferred. Also good are expensive-label scarves for women and ties for men.
The Gaffe: Avoid as funereal: green tea, lilies, lotus blossoms, camellias, and anything white. Company logos are viewed as promotional (read: cheap). Four or nine of anything is a bad omen.
The Foolproof Gift: You’ll find gift fruit in department stores, where it comes elegantly boxed and carries a hefty price tag. If there are kids in the household, bring small toys or something that can be shared, like cookies or candy.
Singapore represents a mix of ethnicities, primarily Chinese, Malay (most of whom are Muslim), and Indian. Adapt your behavior accordingly. Because of anti-corruption laws, business gifts should be modest and given in company-to-company exchanges. Never present them to government officials.
The Skinny: In Thailand, a Buddhist country, gifts are typically modest—flowers, for example, or a memento from home, such as a book of photographs. Three is a lucky number; six is unlucky.
When to Give: If you’re invited to a wedding, give about $30 in an envelope. At New Year’s, baskets of fruit and other food items are often presented as gifts from one company to another.
The Presentation: Thai’s love bright colors (especially yellow and gold) and ribbons; avoid green, black, and blue.
For a Colleague: Company T-shirts, calendars, pens.
The Gaffe: Because Buddhists consider the foot the least sacred part of the body, do not give shoes, slippers, or socks. Marigolds and carnations are for funerals.
The Foolproof Gift: Fruit, flowers, or candy.
CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA
In countries whose citizens have little faith in impersonal institutions or are particularly mistrustful of foreigners, building relationships can be a lengthy process. Gifts, which are essentially about creating and maintaining relationships, play an important role.
“When you are invited to someone’s home, you never talk about business,” says Elena Brouwer, an etiquette specialist who lives in Florida and travels often to Latin American countries. “Never, ever.”
The Skinny: Flowers are typically sent before a dinner party, or the day after. Avoid purple (reserved for funerals) and 13 of anything. Also avoid items carrying your business logo. “That is not a gift,” says Brouwer. “That is the company promoting itself. People think it’s very tacky.”
When to Give: Always bring a gift when you’re invited to someone’s home, and include any children in the household.
The Presentation: Wrapping has fewer rules than it merits in many Asian countries. Generally, avoid purple and black, the colors of mourning. Beyond that, just make sure your gift is nicely wrapped and that you include a card. A gift bag is acceptable.
For a Colleague: Offer gifts only in a social setting. Don’t be in a rush; give the relationship a chance to develop.
The Gaffe: Showing up for a dinner party empty-handed. In a pinch, bring flowers.
The Foolproof Gift: High import taxes make iPods a popular gift. Personalize them with your choice of music and videos. (President Obama loaded the one he gave Queen Elizabeth with a souvenir of her Williamsburg trip.)
The Skinny: The online magazine of the Ethisphere Institute, an international think tank, advises that while business gifts are “not expected” in Brazil, “a traditional gift from the person’s home country is considered an appropriate gesture. The exception is when you are invited to someone’s house. Always bring a gift such as flowers for the hostess—orchids are recommended.”
When to Give: “A business gift is usually given at the end of the year to important clients and their partners,” says Martin Frankenberg, a travel specialist based in São Paulo. “It’s also common when visiting someone for the first time, or anytime you’re coming from another country, but it shouldn’t be too expensive.” Paul Irvine of Dehouche Land, a South American-based real estate company, advises business travelers to call the secretary of the person you will be meeting to see if presents will be exchanged. “It’s usual for someone coming from abroad to want a little souvenir of Brazil, in which case you’d reciprocate with one from your country.”
The Gaffe: Brazil has recently made efforts to clamp down on bribery; avoid any gift that might be construed as such.
The Foolproof Gift: Brouwer says that Brazilian kids like T-shirts depicting American icons—”but no flags.” She brings ones with Disney World and Miami Beach logos (she lives in Florida). For the grown-ups, something for the home.
The Gaffe: As in Argentina and Brazil, it is rude to come to a dinner party empty-handed. Bring luxury chocolates or send flowers in advance. Wrapping paper and an enclosed card are mandatory.
The Foolproof Gift: According to Brouwer, a bottle of fine whiskey makes “an excellent gift.” Birds of paradise are the preferred bloom.
The Gaffe: Don’t bring silver; Mexicans are justly proud of their own.
The Foolproof Gift: For flowers, the safest is an all-white bouquet, sent by a very good florist (have your hotel recommend one) in advance of a dinner party or the day after. Avoid purple, yellow, and particularly red, which has a reputation for casting spells.
What to give on the continent that has everything? The best advice is to do your research. Mrs. Obama gave her songwriting French counterpart, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a Gibson guitar, and the two became fast friends. If you haven’t a clue, stick with the tried-and-true: picture books, music, and so on. Don’t overdo it or you’ll embarrass your host, and remember that throughout Europe the trend is away from the exchange of business gifts.
The Skinny: Europeans still follow the old tradition of giving an odd number of flowers—except 13. Business gifts to avoid include anything with a company logo (considered tasteless), anything personal (no perfume or clothing), and anything expensive. In some countries, including Germany and France, a gift of wine implies that the host’s cellar is inadequate.
When to Give: Invited to dinner, most people would bring candy or send flowers the day after. In business, wait until negotiations are finished, when something modest will suffice.
The Presentation: Always wrap; score extra points by swaddling your gift in an elegant and eco-friendly furoshiki—these traditional wrapping cloths, once used by Japanese traders, are gaining popularity around the world. Don’t include your business card. Gifts are opened immediately.
The Gaffe: Restrain yourself when giving business gifts.
The Foolproof Gift: An American sports souvenir, a round of drinks or a meal, or an invitation to a sports or cultural event (theater, a concert) are all acceptable ways to express gratitude to your British hosts. For a dinner party, flowers or champagne.
The Gaffe: White chrysanthemums (they’re for funerals), yellow flowers (they imply infidelity), and anything with a company logo.
The Foolproof Gift: Tania Chamlian, a New Yorker who spends several weeks a year in France, says that if you should find yourself in Paris and in need of a last-minute hostess gift, your best bets are “macaroons from Ladurée, cocoa-flavored eclairs from Jacques Genin, or chocolate from Chapon. Also high-end food baskets and of course champagne.”
The Gaffe: Don’t give wine in Germany, unless it’s very, very special. Opt instead for fine chocolates or imported liquor, especially bourbon or whiskey. Other things to avoid: red roses (they’re for romance) and lilies, chrysanthemums, and carnations (which are all for funerals).
The Foolproof Gift: Brouwer says her German friends are crazy about cowboys and love books about the Old West.
The Gaffe: Brooches and handkerchiefs are associated with funerals.
The Foolproof Gift: Select a gift of wine with caution. Unless its vintage is superior, give whiskey instead.
The Gaffe: Large gifts make the Dutch uneasy; keep them small and appropriate to the occasion.
The Foolproof Gift: Imported liquor and Belgian chocolate are prized.
The Skinny: Travel agent Gwen Kozlowski of Exeter International says that business gifts are often consumable and food- or drink-related. Because hunting is popular with the Russian elite, Kozlowski also suggests a high-end rifle for an aficionado. A book about animals might be a safer choice. She also points out, “Birthdays are huge—bigger than Christmas, bigger than anything.”
When to Give: As a thank-you for a private dinner party or a visit to someone’s home.
The Presentation: Gifts are given in the original wrapping from the store; Russians say it’s because they like their trees.
For a Colleague: For a top client, Kozlowski recommends “something personal and unique, such as a painting or other artwork.” For a male colleague: cologne, a designer tie, or a high-end mobile phone. “For ladies, it’s always flowers and perfume. If it’s a momentous occasion and they’re a close colleague, even jewelry would be given. Brand names are king.”
The Gaffe: Birthday presents can be given late but not early—and no baby gifts until the baby is born (it’s very bad luck). Don’t give yellow or white flowers, or an even number of stems.
The Foolproof Gift: Books are always a good gift, and so is a silver picture frame. Writer Leah Ingram, a graduate of the Protocol School of Washington, recommends Tiffany for travelers to label-conscious countries like Russia: “That little blue box is known around the world.” You can get a sterling silver money clip, key ring, or ballpoint pen for $150 or less.
The Gaffe: Don’t give another country’s crystal; the Swedes have their own.
The Foolproof Gift: Liquor is very expensive and thus much appreciated.
The Gaffe: Unlike their European neighbors, Turks do not open gifts in the giver’s presence and neither should you. Gifts should be halal (see “Keeping the Faith”).
The Foolproof Gift: Flowers are not typically given as a hostess gift, but “for thanking extravagantly, you send big bouquets of flowers,” says Engin Akin, Turkish cookbook author and hostess extraordinaire. Orchids are considered very posh. “When invited to dinner it’s usually a box of baklava, chocolates, or something for the house like a candle or decorative item.” The traditional hostess gift: badem ezmesi, a delicacy made with crushed walnuts, or an ornamental object for the home, such as a vase. At the end of Ramadan, bring sweets for the children.
THE MIDDLE EAST
In much of the Middle East and North Africa, especially Muslim countries, “you give gifts based on how important the relationship is,” says the Protocol School of Washington’s Hickey. Very often, however, the value of business gifts is restricted to a token amount. “That’s where you really have to do your thinking.” As tools of knowledge and learning, books and writing instruments have symbolic value. For a Muslim host, good choices are fine leather (except pigskin), silver, porcelain, crystal, and cashmere. Don’t assume that it’s safe to bring wine or alcohol because your hosts imbibe; other guests may not and are likely to be offended.
Give and receive gifts with the right hand, or both hands if the object is heavy. In some countries (such as Saudi Arabia), gifts are opened in front of the giver and examined carefully to show proper appreciation. In others, such as Egypt, they are set aside, still wrapped, with a polite thank-you.
The Skinny: Egypt is roughly 90 percent Muslim. Most etiquette guides recommend sweets (chocolates, local pastries) for the hostess.
When to Give: Whenever you are a guest in someone’s home.
The Presentation: James Berkeley of Destinations Adventures International says that wrapping, though often elaborate, is not mandatory; wrapping paper can be hard to come by in Egypt. “The latest fashion is to wrap a present in a lovely cotton or linen towel, with a bow.” Often, gifts are wrapped twice: a layer of ordinary paper with a bright and decorative paper on top, “but it’s not like anyone’s going to count.” Wide ribbon is better than narrow. Social norms against handing over a gift with the left hand have relaxed considerably, says Berkeley.
For a Colleague: Small electronic gadgets are popular gifts, as are compasses, quality pens, and items by Egyptian jewelry designer Azza Fahmy, who has a line of silver business gifts.
The Gaffe: Don’t give flowers. They’re traditionally for funerals and weddings only. Gifts should be halal (see “Keeping the Faith”).
The Foolproof Gift: In a pinch, pick up a box of Egyptian sweets (typically made with lots of honey and nuts). In Cairo, Fauchon, Mandarin Koueider, and Cafe La Poire are good sources. Present them to the host, not the hostess, and bring small gifts for the kids.
“There’s not a lot of business-gift exchange in Israel,” says Terri Morrison. “In that regard, it’s like a mini United States. Instead, people will take each other out for a show or a sports event.” For a dinner party, bring flowers or sweets. Don’t bring a non-kosher gift to a kosher household or invite a group to a non-kosher restaurant without checking first to make sure it’s okay.
The Skinny: Gifts should be modest, and make sure they’re halal (see “Keeping the Faith”). “You just don’t want to do anything that’s over-the-top,” says Rita Zawaideh of Caravan-Serai Tours.
When to Give: If invited to a Lebanese home, bring sweets or flowers for the family, never for an individual.
The Presentation: Wrapping doesn’t have to be formal but is expected. Gifts for your host should be given as you come in the door.
For a Colleague: Coffee-table books, mugs, and calendars are all good choices. A gift for the secretary or assistant may be appropriate. If it involves crossing gender lines, beware: A man should always say the gift is from a female colleague or family member.
The Gaffe: A gift that says “Made in Israel” will not go over well.
The Foolproof Gift: Flowers are a good idea, and so are crystal or silver plates for holding candy or nuts. If the family has children, bring them something.
United Arab Emirates
“In the UAE, gift-giving is very common, appreciated, and an integral part of the culture,” says Lindsey Wallace of Linara Travel.
The Skinny: “Traditional gifts to friends include an elegant tray filled with chocolates or a fully stuffed and cooked lamb,” says Wallace. For special occasions—weddings, newborns—UAE nationals give lavishly, including diamonds, gold, and jewelry to the bride or newborn girl.
When to Give: For birthdays, newborns, marriages, and when a service is rendered.
The Presentation: Wrapping “isn’t terribly important,” says Wallace. Present a gift in person if you can; otherwise, send it to the recipient with a card.
The Gaffe: Be very careful not to suggest the gift is meant as a bribe.
The Foolproof Gift: Chocolates, a home accessory, or flowers are common. If children are at the home, it is customary to bring toys or sweets.