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China: What you need to know about the gift culture

By Josian Phillips, 

The gift culture in business to business China is virtually ritualistic. Presenting a modest gift to your business contact is a good idea just be mindful as the gift should not be anything that might suggest bribery. Something that reflects our customs or your products is going to be a good safe option.

A fine tipple (well, the Dalmore 62 may be going too far but the Chinese certainly have a thirst for whisky), fine pens, gadgets and the like are all good choices. But you do need to know that there are 2 things you should never gift. These 2 things are clocks and green hats.

A clock would signify the end.

The Chinese for “sending clock” has the same phonetic pronunciation as “burying your parents” or “going to a funeral”. In a business situation, if you were to send a clock it would be interpreted as a sign that you wished the person’s business to end. Best avoided then.

A green hat would put you at a distinct disadvantage.

You may want to give one. You may be a flat cap manufacturer, a sporting clothes tailor, an Olney, Orvis or Barbour. You may be an exquisite milliner – the Chinese certainly have a penchant for high design. Or even a branding company with green baseball hats in your line. You may then be tempted to make a gift of your latest sporting tweed flat cap, deerstalker, green technical waterproof keeper or your divine green felt foldaway trilby to your treasured Chinese business contact. Don’t do it. In China, green hats are a bad omen to wear – or as a gift. There is a strong historical association with infidelity and prostitution, where the infidel was gifted a green hat. This gift choice would certainly not put you at a competitive advantage. Indeed, it is true to say that green hats are not (yet) going to work as an export product either, so you may wish to trial the dark charcoal or peat browns instead of the green highland tweed. Forewarned is forearmed.

Further reading: Doing Business in China, Jihong Sanderson

Further enjoyment: The Single Malt Whisky

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