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Are your gifts insulting?

By CNN's Tammy Oaks

When giving flowers be sure not to give ones associated with funerals
When giving flowers be sure not to give ones associated with funerals

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Giving a gift has long been an accepted social tradition in business, but knowing what presents are appropriate for foreign clients can be difficult.

To avoid embarrassing situations and sending unintended messages, special consideration should be given not only to the gift but also to how it is wrapped and presented and why and when it is given.

For instance, in Japan and China gifts should not be wrapped in white paper as it symbolises death. The colours blue and black should also be avoided in China because they are associated with funerals.

Avoid using red ink when signing a card or notes in China as it symbolises death and the end of a relationship. Sharp objects also imply the severance of a relationship so steer clear of letter openers.

Present gifts with two hands in both countries, downplay the importance of the gift and give the present at the end of the meeting.

According to Terri Morrison and Wayne A. Conway's book "The International Traveller's Guide to Doing Business in the European Union," plants and flowers can be dangerous.

What would you do if you received a culturally inappropriate business gift?

Politely refuse it
Accept it
I don't accept business gifts

Many countries associate certain flora with funerals or graves. For example, Germans consider heather, which is placed on graves, bad luck in the home. And chrysanthemums are inappropriate in Spain and France where they are used for funerals.

Yellow flowers are best avoided in France because they symbolise infidelity, while in Mexico they are associated with death.

Morrison and Conaway, in their book "The International Traveller's Guide to Doing Business in Latin America," say gift giving can be part of establishing successful relationships with Latin Americans.

When giving gifts to Latin clients, they say these items should be avoided: Knives or scissors because blades represent the severing of a friendship, carved elephants because some Latin Americans have an entire folklore about them, handkerchiefs because they are associated with weeping and sorrow and items wrapped in black or purple because they are colours symbolic of Holy Week (Semana Santa) processions.

When presenting gifts to Muslims be sure to avoid pork and alcohol, as they are offensive, and always present gifts with the right hand.

Gifts are intended to show appreciation and respect and should not been seen as trying to buy favour. Some corporations have strict policies on the practice so it is best to check with the company first.

Avoid making cultural faux pas by researching the country and company before presenting a gift.

Embassies and consulates can provide guidelines for international customs and the U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service ( is a good resource for providing information on cultural etiquette.

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