How and when you give a gift, including the kind of gift, depends on where you are in the world. Different cultures have varying rituals governing giving, receiving and reciprocating gifts. If you intend to travel or work in a foreign country soon, you might want to read up on the subject. According to Brittani Banks:
Giving gifts is a surprisingly complex and important part of human interaction…
Since it’s likely you will be in a situation at some point where the giving and receiving of gifts come into play, you would not want to make matters awkward for yourself and your hosts by committing cultural errors.
The Practicalities of Gift Giving
Ordinarily, when people in Western societies exchange gifts among one another, the question of which hand you use to hand over, or receive, a gift is not an issue. Yet, cultural mores in countries like India dictate that you do not use the left hand for gift giving; in Muslim cultures the left hand is used for body hygiene, and is therefore regarded as unclean. You can use both hands at the same time, or the right hand, but not the left one for gift giving. In many Asian societies, using both hands to give and receive a present would be appropriate; is shows you respect one another, and appreciate what is being offered.
Receiving and Unwrapping a Gift
It’s common practice in some countries – like the United States, Argentina, or Turkey, for example – to immediately open a gift you’ve just received (usually with curious onlookers peering over your shoulder). The idea is to thank the person who gave the gift on the spot, and express how much you like it (even if you don’t). Meanwhile, in some African cultures, including countries like India and Japan, it is not polite to open a present immediately when you receive it – unless they ask you to do so, or you got permission from an older person. Normally, you would wait until the guests have left before unwrapping a gift. Wayne Conaway explains that:
One reason they don’t open a gift right away is that there’s no chance of embarrassing the giver or the receiver if it is inappropriate.
As a westerner, do not think that your Chinese or Japanese friend or hosts are rude and unappreciative when they decline a gift from you right away. Custom dictates that they refuse a gift at least three times before accepting it. If they do accept it right away the first time, they fear that they will come across as being rude, immodest, and greedy.
Returning a gift with a gift at some point in the future is a common practice throughout the world; not reciprocating with gifts would be regarded as rude, disrespectful, and might be interpreted as an act of sabotage of the relationship with the original gift giver. Parents tend to remember, for years, which of their friends or family members did not bring their child a birthday gift 3 or 5 years ago.
The value of a gift also matters. In Turkey, for example, if you received a medium coin at your wedding, people expect that you return the favor with a medium coin at a later date. Should you return one with a lesser value, you could be courting trouble, and the nature or strength of the relationship with the original gift giver could be in jeopardy.
If you are in a foreign country and wish to give a gift to your host or a colleague, it would be wise to speak to one of the locals about how you are supposed to go about it. Evidently, there is more to gift giving than simply buying something, and wrapping it in fancy paper.