Departments - March/April 2009

The Insider

Insight Into Global Business Gift Practices

By Catherine Eberlein Pfister


ach of the nearly 200 countries around the globe has its own culture, and ways of conducting business and developing business relationships. So how do you determine what makes an appropriate business gift for a colleague in Japanůversus a business person in India?

To sort through some of the clutter surrounding business gift practices, we asked the advice of two industry professionals: Carol Wain, president of the Incentive Depot located in Courtenay, British Columbia, Canada and Lisa Massiello, CRP, vice president of Employee Engagement & Recognition, Operations and Tech Group at Wachovia. Here's their advice:

Develop Credible Resources

Not all information Web sites or blogs are created equal, so do careful research. Ask business contacts in other countries which sites accurately reflect appropriate business etiquette in their country. If something sounds odd, use common sense to question it and verify it with other resources before relying on it. "I pulled up information on my own country, Canada, and one source indicated that 'you'd never shake the hand of a Canadian business woman,'" said Wain. "This is ridiculous, of course, so it made me question the validity of the site's information."

One source of information that both Wain and Massiello recommend is The Cultural Navigator, a Web-based resource platform from Training Management Corp. This platform is designed to enhance the development of managers working with global partners, colleagues, counterparts and team members across geographical boundaries, languages and cultures. It includes:

  • The COI, a cross-cultural assessment tool that can be applied to developing various managing and marketing skills across multicultural situations.
  • CountryScope, a reference and resource that provides information on 100 countries. It is designed to be a navigation aid for managing effectively in a global, multicultural business environment.
  • The Learning Zone provides Web-based learning services, as well as customized and off-the-shelf instructor-led training. There are opportunities to test your cultural knowledge on a wide range of issues.
  • The Global Management Toolbox, a channel that provides a variety of InfoPacks from international business ethics to working in a global team to
  • communicating across cultures and managing projects.

    You can even take the Cultural Navigator for a six-minute guided tour and free test-drive by going to Here you'll be taken through the platform and learn about the tools available.

    General Gift-Giving Tips
  • Quality is a standard to keep in mind for any gift you select, in any country.
  • Hosting a meal at a nice restaurant is always a good business practice.
  • If you're doing business in a country known for producing a particular product, local pride dictates that you wouldn't offer that item as a gift, especially if it was manufactured elsewhere.
  • Generally, useful business gifts are a good choice. Whether the business person is an executive or a staff member, they appreciate useful office accessories or electronic items such as laser pointers, PDAs, calculators and address books.
  • Universally, chocolate is a good choice. There are many fine quality chocolates that make exquisite gifts for business meetings, for taking with you to someone's home as a hostess gift, or for thanking a staff person who has helped you on a project. Because it can be boxed in various sizes, it also works if you need a gift for a large group.