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Gift or not to gift

“Is this some kind of a sick joke? They gave us shoes as gift, how insulting!’

“It is not just shoes, the wooden clogs are famous in The Netherlands. These clogs are actually pen holders which have been hand painted as well.”
“Who cares, a shoe is a shoe and you cannot disguise that fact…”

It was obvious, the government officials from this particular country, who were visiting The Netherlands, were not amused. In fact they were very much offended by the ignorant gift from the Dutch organisation. I was a silent witness to this drama some years ago during my initial visit to The Netherlands.

Value of footwear

In certain countries the foot and footwear is regarded as the lowest (read degraded) part of a person. So pointing at anything with your foot or giving a pair of shoes as a gift is regarded very lowly and insulting.

In countries like this, an offender who has committed a crime that is beyond forgiveness, is often subjected to being hit by shoes or slippers as well.


Giving and receiving gifts are a custom in almost every country. Some countries like Japan have a very gift exchanging customs. In some customs the gesture of gift giving is more of value than the gift itself. In some cultures it is rude to visit empty handed. So when faced with a dilemma of whether to take a gift or to regret not having brought one, I personally think that if you take something small, you will always be on the safe side.

Appropriate gift

Even though everyone enjoys receiving a gift, finding the right gift for someone who is from another culture than your own can be a tricky affair.

Gifts or souvenirs that are highly prised in one country may not hold the same value elsewhere. A high quality wine that could be a perfect business relation gift in France or The Netherlands, may not be as perfect a gift for a Muslim business partner who does not drink alcohol.

Choose your gift with care when on business trip to another country or visiting people of another cultural background. In order to overcome the mishaps with gifts it is best to take the time to enquire and learn more about the culture of the host or the receiver of the gift.

Better safe than sorry

In other words, don’t buy a gift in a rush. If you do not have the time to enquire about the culture of the receiver then it is best to rely one someone who knows about the cultural background of the receiver. Ask that person to purchase the gift. If you lack the time and such a personal resource then, it is best not to buy a gift at all. Better safe than sorry.

Protocol of gift giving

Also be informed about the protocol of gift giving which may make a huge impact on your business or relation. In The Netherlands, governmental officials are not allowed to accept gifts that exceed a certain price.

Unlike The Netherlands, in some countries, a gift that has been accepted will remain unopened till the guests have left. Sometimes a gift will be refused a couple of times before it is accepted. Not because the gift is not welcome, but it is more a matter of being modest and polite on the part of the receiver. If you are not sure, you can always leave the gift behind before you leave with a remark that diminishes the gift and gesture.

So it is rightly said that ‘the excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than its value’.