The golden rules of successful gifting

Writer Penny Fleming, quoting Harvard psychologist Dr. Ellen Langer, mentions that to give a good gift, “one must ask oneself, What is it that I wish it to convey, and what are the ways to do so, and perhaps how might my intentions be misunderstood? Incidentally, the expert has studied how timely gifts tend to strengthen social and personal ties.

In an elaborate article featured in Travel Opinions, the columnist rightly mentions that gift giving is inherently reciprocal so know what’s expected in exchange. In some countries, it’s fairly specific. What does this signify?

1. When a Chinese New Year’s guest presents his host with two mandarin oranges, he receives two different mandarin oranges when he leaves.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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. In many countries, gifts are not opened in front of the giver so that nobody loses face in an uneven exchange.

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. When you present a gift, do it respectfully. Make it look nice, give it with two hands, and enjoy that moment.

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.

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