Giv­ing gaffes and per­fect presents

Business Traveler (USA) - - CONTENTS - WORDS TERRI MOR­RI­SON Terri Mor­ri­son is a speaker and co-author of nine books, in­clud­ing Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: The Best­selling Guide to Do­ing Busi­ness in More Than Sixty Coun­tries, and her new­est book, Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: Court­rooms to Cor­po­rate

Global Gifts

Giv­ing gaffes and per­fect presents

Gift giv­ing is a revered tra­di­tion in many parts of the world. But there is an art to ob­tain­ing the right item, in the cor­rect color, prop­erly wrapped and per­fectly pre­sented. Just as an ap­pro­pri­ate gift can seal a per­sonal or pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ship, an im­proper one can eas­ily dam­age it.

Gift gaffes oc­cur ev­ery­where – even in the US. For ex­am­ple, if you’re ever in­vited to the White House, what type of gifts shouldn’t you give the Pres­i­dent? Food, drinks and com­bustibles (items which may re­lease fumes) as well as prod­ucts which are ap­plied to the skin (colognes, etc.). In or­der to pro­tect the Pres­i­dent and his fam­ily, the Se­cret Ser­vice cat­e­gor­i­cally de­stroys those items. It’s also prob­a­bly wise to avoid giv­ing live an­i­mals.


In 1984, Ms. Linda Con­lin worked in the Chief of Pro­to­col’s of­fice in Wash­ing­ton, DC. One of her “big­gest” chal­lenges came when the Pres­i­dent of Sri Lanka vis­ited Pres­i­dent Rea­gan at the White House and brought along Jay­athy, a baby Asi­atic elephant. While ele­phants are highly sym­bolic for both Sri Lankans and the US Repub­li­can Party, han­dling the un­usual gift was a night­mare of pa­per­work and quar­an­tine is­sues for Linda. Ul­ti­mately, ev­ery­thing was re­solved, and she ar­ranged for the pachy­derm to have a home in the Na­tional Zoo.


Be­sides live gifts, you should avoid items that are taboo in cer­tain cul­tures. See if you can match the gift faux pas with the re­li­gion or re­gion:

An­swers: A) 3) Ev­ery­thing from Cana­dian ba­con to hot­dogs is pro­hib­ited to ob­ser­vant Mus­lims; B) 1) Most Hin­dus are veg­e­tar­i­ans, and they re­vere the cow as a sa­cred an­i­mal; C) 4) Nei­ther Mus­lims nor Mor­mons con­sume al­co­hol, in­clud­ing many colognes, per­fumes and spe­cialty food items (i.e.: choco­late cor­dials and Di­jon mus­tard). D) 2) Knives can sym­bol­ize the sev­er­ing of a re­la­tion­ship.


Make sure your gift wasn’t made some­place that is con­tro­ver­sial for the re­cip­i­ent. For ex­am­ple, don’t give a South Korean ex­ec­u­tive some­thing made in Japan.

The wrong color of flow­ers or wrap­ping pa­per can in­sult in­ter­na­tional as­so­ciates as well. Never send white flow­ers to an Asian client. They are as­so­ci­ated with fu­ner­als. Also, do not ex­pect your Asian client to open the gift in front of you, lest they ap­pear greedy. And in many parts of the world, re­mem­ber to of­fer your present ei­ther with both hands, or just with your right.


The list of po­ten­tial blun­ders could go on, but let’s try a few cul­tur­ally-ap­pro­pri­ate gifts. Il­lus­trated books, his­toric items or tra­di­tional hand­i­crafts from your home state or head­quar­ters are ad­vis­able. These act as in­vi­ta­tions to come and visit. When guests ac­tu­ally visit, find out their hob­bies, buy tick­ets to games, shows, con­certs or mu­se­ums – and ac­com­pany them.


There are other, more al­tru­is­tic ways of de­liv­er­ing gifts as well. Ben­jamin Franklin was one of the most pros­per­ous men in the thir­teen colonies at the time of In­de­pen­dence. In his will, Franklin be­queathed ex­tra­or­di­nary gifts of 1,000 pounds each to Bos­ton and Philadel­phia. (That’s about $160,000 in to­day’s money.) The funds were to be loaned (at 5 per­cent an­nu­ally) to mar­ried men un­der the age of 25 who had com­pleted ap­pren­tice­ships, and wanted to start their own busi­nesses. When paid off, the money was re­turned to the fund. Franklin wrote: “I wish to be use­ful even af­ter my death, if pos­si­ble, in form­ing and ad­vanc­ing other young men that they may be ser­vice­able to their Coun­try.”

Franklin was pre­scient enough to re­al­ize that the need for such loans might even­tu­ally van­ish. So Ben’s be­quest had a time limit: af­ter 200 years, the cities could spend the re­main­ing money on in­fras­truc­ture. Bos­ton ul­ti­mately ac­cu­mu­lated some $5 mil­lion, while the City of Brotherly Love had a lit­tle more than $2 mil­lion. In the scope of time, per­haps phi­lan­thropy is the best gift of all.

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