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The Art of Gift GivingIf only it were an exact science but it’s more complicated. Gift giving is a challenge and the rules vary from country to country - not to mention, from person to person. It’s a delicate balance between what and when you should bring or send a gift. What’s considered enough and what’s considered too much-- there are no hard-fast rules.
If you’re invited to dinner in France, it’s considered rude to turn up at the door with a bottle of wine. Call it hogwash but many traditional French people feel you’re condemning their wine cellar and it’s a perverse matter of honor. A bottle of champagne (chilled) is readily accepted but don’t count on it being served that evening.
A lovely bottle of cognac is always welcome – keep that in mind when cruising through the airport’s duty free shop. Some “etiquette experts” say guests should bring gifts that are representative of where they’re from. I tend to agree. However, if you’re American, do skip the six-pack of Budweiser when dining in someone’s home.
Flowers are another enigma. In “polite” French society, flowers are traditionally sent the day following the dinner. I’ve never understood this. If it’s been an all-out dinner party, the host or hostess more than likely has flowers and doesn’t especially want them after the party. Don’t bring them with you since most party-givers are flowered out. Plus, unless she (or he) has a lot of help, trying to juggle dinner and the guests is quite enough and no one needs to be in the last-minute floral decorating business. The solution is probably to send flowers the day before the party or take a plant that doesn’t need arranging.
Some say chocolates are always safe and that’s probably true – most especially if they’re first-rate quality. However, your box may be one of six piled on the table.
Business travelers are often gift challenged. This holds true not only for the colleagues with whom you’ll be meeting but for members of their staffs. Let’s face it, someone’s assistant can open doors and make life very much easier in terms of access. One former executive of Columbia Pictures Industries always sent thank you notes to assistants and often small gifts. Ray was a great believer that people move on and frequently up and was proven right on numerous occasions.
One executive I know who spends a great deal of time in Mexico, stocks up on sterling silver key chains and other accessories that cost approximately $7 each. She puts them in small fabric bags and they instantly assume the Tiffany look. Another always welcome gift is a beautiful picture frame. It doesn’t need to be sterling silver (most especially if you’re going to a country where silver is plentiful) but it should be elegant enough to merit space on a desk or in someone’s home.
Another executive I know makes it his business to find out about his business associates’ children. He’ll pack Tee-shirts in appropriate sizes with Big Apple logos. The kids love them and the parents are appreciative of his thoughtfulness. Also, Tee-shirts with anything written in English is bound to be a unique gift.
When do you give cash versus a gift? Clearly, the concierges of your favorite hotels appreciate cash. But you’ll be remembered for a gift you’ve specifically chosen with care. Don’t make the gift too personal; a book is often appreciated if you know a person’s interests.
Do bring gifts that are representative of where you’re from. Because I live in Paris and spend a lot of time in the US, I’ll frequently bring hard-to-get mustards, jams, honey and other items that are difficult or expensive to obtain where I’m going.
When I’m in the US, I buy enormous bottles of multi-vitamins and Aspirin at Costco. These are big hits with Americans if they’re on assignment in a foreign country. Depending on your relationship, a fast email enquiring what’s needed and wanted is often (more than you realize) appreciated. Even if you like to travel light, don’t be surprised if you receive a request for a large jar of crunch peanut butter.
Gifts are always a dilemma. If you have ideas for ones that are sure successes, please post them here.