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An American woman living in Wisconsin volunteered to tutor1 English to a Japanese woman who had moved into the same community. “Before each lesson, and on each and every visit,” the American reported, “the Japanese lady brought me a gift — a book, some paper sculpture, flowers, or candy. It was embarrassing.”
Unknowingly, this American was experiencing a vestige of protocol rooted centuries deep in the Japanese culture.
In America, lavish, extravagant gifts are definitely out. An appropriate alternate to a gift is to take the deserving person to dinner, or to an entertainment or sporting event. On the contrary, gift giving is an institution and a revered custom in Japan. According to Business Tokyo magazine, among the Japanese “gift giving is a necessity, not merely a nicety as in the West.” In Japan the proper gift is thought to express the giver's true friendship, gratitude, and respect far better than words can. So if you plan to visit Japan or to have Japanese visit you here, be prepared.
So you know gift giving plays a very important role in nowadays society. Now let's see what's happened in other countries.
Australia is known for its friendly informality and lack of pretentiousness8. So modest gifts, such as a business diary, a paperweight, or a coffee mug might be presented as a memento9 of a visit of business meeting. At a trade show, T-shirts, ties, baseball caps, or a pin may be appropriate mementos. Anything more than these types of gifts could cause embarrassment.
The most common form of showing appreciation in Greece is probably an evening's entertainment. If you do present a gift, avoid personal items, such as ties and shirts. If you are invited to a Greek home, flowers or a cake for the hostess are an appropriate gift.
A West Virginia executive, visiting Germany for the first time, was invited to the home of his largest customer. He decided to be gallant4 and bring his hostess a bouquet of flowers. He selected a dozen red roses.
Oops! Terrible mistake! Social gift giving is popular and well-established in Germany but has certain do's and don'ts.
Flowers are often taken to a hostess of a dinner party at her home, but there are three taboos to remember: 1）red roses signify a romantic interest, 2）an even5 number of flowers signifies bad luck, as does the number thirteen, and 3）always unwrap the flowers before presenting them. This West Virginia was making what amounted to a pass at his customer's wife.
When visiting a German home, gifts that reflect your home country are popular, and you might want to bring small gifts for the children of the family you are visiting.
Gifts are customarily6 wrapped and many Germans spend considerable time designing elegant wrappings. Most shops offer gift-wrapping services, too.
When you are invited to a person's home for dinner, it might be nice to bring flowers or a box of chocolates for your hostess, although it is just as considerate to have the flowers sent the next day.
Yellow roses can signify “jealousy.” And in Italy never send chrysanthemums7, since they suggest death.