Global Gifts: Gift-Giving Customs Around the World

giving gifts

The art of giving gifts can be truly challenging. It starts with searching for the right item that fits your budget. Once you’ve found one, you have to consider proper gift-wrapping as well. Then, you have to find the perfect timing to hand over the gift and then pray that the recipient will actually appreciate the item you so carefully bought and wrapped for them.

All these already sound difficult, but think about how even more difficult it would be if you’re going to give a gift to someone from a different country with entirely different gift-giving customs. What may be considered polite and thoughtful in one culture may be seen as extremely offensive in another.

So whether you’re about to do a business meeting in Tokyo or simply visiting a friend you haven’t seen in a while in some tiny village in Provence, there are a few culture-specific things you have to keep in mind when giving gifts. Yes, it’s the thought that counts, but it still pays to be informed. Here are some traditions you have to be aware of when you travel:

Hand your gift over with extreme care (India, Africa, the Middle East and East Asia)

In both Asian and Middle Eastern countries, the way you handle gifts is highly important. For example, in India and the Middle East, people see the left hand as unclean, so when you give and receive gifts, it’s appropriate to use your right hand.

If the item is too heavy, then you can use both of your hands. In East Asia such as China, Vietnam, and Thailand, Vietnam, offer or accept a gift using both of your hands, palms up at all times.

Choose a lucky number (Asia, Europe)

If you’re thinking about giving many gifts such as flowers and chocolates or buying hampers online, make sure you avoid getting them in unlucky numbers. In East Asia, for example, even numbers are considered lucky, except for number four, which sounds similar to the word for “death” in many languages spoken in Asia, such as Japanese.

In Europe and India, however, odd numbers are more preferred, except for 13.

Forget about giving sharp objects (East Asia, Italy, Peru, Brazil and Switzerland)

sharp knife


Items such as knives, scissors, and anything that’s sharp or point is frowned upon in many countries when it comes to gift-giving around the world due to their symbolism. They’re believed to represent cutting ties and relationships with other people, which is exactly the opposite reason you’d want to give someone a gift in the first place.

These objects are also believed to bring bad luck to the recipient.

In many cultures, the act of gift-giving can be compared to a traditional dance. There are certain steps you have to be familiar with and move in tune with the music, without stepping on anyone’s toes, literally and figuratively, for it to be a truly enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

So, keep all these things in mind when you put on your dancing shoes.