Gift Giving Customs Around the World

The art of gift giving around the world is fascinating. There is an etiquette and a language to how one can properly and politely give gifts. When considering colors, numbers, and cards, all of these things could be the difference between a great gift… or a horrible misunderstanding.

India, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia

To Indian and the Middle Eastern folks, the left hand is considered unclean. When it comes to exchanging money, handshakes, or gifts, is important to do so with your right hand. The same applies in Southeast Asian countries.

Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan

In East Asian countries, you should expect to be refused once, twice, or even three times when offering your gift. The reason for this is so that the recipient doesn’t seem selfish or demanding. The same custom is expected the if you are the recipient.  As the receiver, accept the gift with both hands, and palms up. This is a respectful way to accept said gift.

Gifts are not only reserved for special occasions, but also for gratitude. Give a small gift when hospitality is shown to you.
Don’t give gifts of scissors, knives, or anything used for cutting, because this can represent the “cutting” of business ties and relationships!

When it comes to items that numerous (flowers,food gifts) Numbers matter too. To East Asians, even numbers are lucky. The only exception is the number 4 (sound similar to the word “death” in Asian languages). You can read more about Chinese numerology here.

Saudi Arabia, Yemen

If you are not the closest of friends, giving a gift in these countries can be embarrassing. Acquaintances are never expected to give gifts, and you could be catching someone off guard. It is also a faux pas to give anything made of silk or gold to men.

When gifts are given, you can expect that the item will be thoroughly examined—it’s a sign of respect for the gift and giver.


In America, it is not uncommon to send thank you cards. To Russians, thank-you cards are thought of as pointless and impractical. A small gift to show your gratitude makes more sense. Do not give expensive gifts, for they can be seen as a bribe.

Around the Globe

It is safe to say that in every culture, it is a universal rule that gifts must be wrapped. With that said, there are also certain colors to dodge!

In China, yellow gift wrapping paper with black writing is reserved for the dead. Generally, it is best to avoid black, white, and blue gift wrap throughout Asia, because these colors are often associated with mourning. In South America, it is best to deter from using black and purple, because it is correlated with religious ceremonies or death.

To learn more about country-specific gift giving etiquette, visit this website for information. What surprised you the most? Let me know in the comment section below.

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