Gift Giving Customs in Asia

By David James

David James

Gift giving is important in Asian countries, because of the significance of interpersonal relationships in their cultures.

Depending on the country you visit and the nature of your business there, you may want to take a number of appropriate gifts for the people you will see. Here are the countries in which gifts are especially appropriate, ranked in order of gift giving significance:

  1. Japan
  2. South Korea
  3. Thailand
  4. Indonesia
  5. Malaysia
  6. The Philippines
  7. China
  8. Taiwan
  9. Hong Kong
  10. Singapore

The placement of Chinese cultures at the end of the list is not because gift giving is unimportant in those countries but because business entertaining is considered more appropriate than a gift. It is often desirable for a visitor to host a dinner — or even a large banquet — for a business counterpart, sometimes in reciprocation for a dinner or banquet previously hosted by the counterpart.

Here are a few culture-specific tips on gift giving:

  • In Chinese cultures, do not give clocks as gifts (the word for clock in Chinese sounds like a word relating to funerals, and they are symbols of bad luck).
  • Do not give whiskey or other forms of liquor to Muslims. This applies primarily in Indonesia and Malaysia.
  • Gifts indicating the number 4, or a gift of four of something, are unlucky in Chinese cultures, South Korea, and Japan. The number 13 is unlucky in all Asia-Pacific countries.
  • Knives and scissors symbolize severance of relationships in some cultures. This does not seem to apply to letter openers and desk sets, however.
  • Gifts that might carry romantic connotations should be avoided in Asian cultures

This excerpt is reprinted, with permission, from
The Executive Guide to Asia-Pacific Communications

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