The Art of Gift Giving Around the World


This time of year is filled with holidays, celebrations, festivities, and traditions around the world and that means you will probably be exchanging presents with your friends, family, or even business partners. However, if you think gift-giving is tricky at home, it gets even trickier when you take international traditions into account. There are a few destination-specific guidelines that should be followed when giving gifts abroad as to not offend anyone and so it would be a good experience for everyone involved.


In many East Asian countries such as China, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, when offered a gift, it is customary to refuse a few times. Accepting a gift right away is seen as greedy or impatient. When the person finally accepts the gift, it is customary to say thanks to them and these traditions should also be followed when you are being offered a gift.

Handling Gifts

Handling gifts is very important in Asian and Middle East countries. In India and the Middle East, the right hand is used to give and receive gifts as the left hand is often considered unclean. In China, Thailand, and Vietnam, a gift should be offered with both hands and palms up. This is a sign of humbleness and politeness in the East Asian culture.


Avoid Certain Objects

Many countries have objects that are negative omens or disrespectful when giving gifts and should be avoided. In East Asia, Brazil, Italy, Peru, and Switzerland, any sharp or pointy objects represent the severing of relationships. While China also believes umbrellas are a means to end ties, Japan believes that potted plants are meant to encourage the spread of disease. Straw sandals, handkerchiefs, and clocks are associated with morality for East Asian cultures and should be avoided as well.

Lucky Numbers

Some countries place a high importance on numbers and see some as lucky while others as unlucky. It is important to steer clear of unlucky numbers when gifting multiples of flowers, money, or chocolate depending on the destination. The number 4 is often associated with death in many Asian languages and should be avoided. If you are gifting money in Europe and India, odd numbers, excluding 13, is seen as lucky. Therefore, many families gift $21 instead of $20 for birthdays, weddings, and holidays.



Gifts are best when wrapped and etiquette experts from around the world will have to agree. Certain colors symbolize certain things from country to country. In Asia, it’s best to avoid white, black, and even blue as these colors are closely related with clothing colors people wear while mourning the dead. Yellow may be seen as a cheerful color in India, but in China, the color is solely used when leaving gifts for the dead. South America also considers black and purple to be associated with death while Italy considers purple to be unlucky.

To avoid many faux pas of gift giving, research your destination, their traditions, and the culture overall. You may also want to have gifts wrapped by professionals in your destination or talk to nearby locals about any gift ideas you may have.

In case of a travel emergency during your holiday vacation, make sure to download the Global Travel Plus Mobile App. With just a tap of a button, you can be connected to our 24/7 Operations Team. The app also includes many features that may be helpful during your travels such as Pre-Trip Information, U.S. Pharmacy Locator, and Global Embassy Locator.

Posted: 12/13/2019 9:00:00 AM