As a frequent business traveler, I seek opportunities to bring thoughtful gifts from Austin when I travel to Central and Eastern Europe. My business counterparts enjoy original Texas products including AustinNuts, Lammes Candies Longhorns, and Texas Map linens.
So, how do I decide what gifts to bring to my European colleagues? Is there a difference between gift giving in the Czech Republic, for example, and Croatia? What are the various implications when giving and receiving gifts in Central and Eastern Europe?
Before exploring the best business gifts, let’s remember these important concepts:
- Research your organizational gift giving policy and that of your counterpart before buying or presenting gifts.
- If you have questions, consult your compliance officer or general counsel; and
- Never give cash or money to an elected official or a government employee of any country or nation.
Once approval is received, it is time to explore the best business gifts to give in Central and Eastern Europe. This geographical area is defined by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) to include these countries:
- Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Slovenia
- The Visegrad 4: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia
- The three Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Whether you are visiting a large office or a small company or have the honor of being invited to someone’s home, deciding what gifts to bring to your European colleagues takes time and thought. Here are our best tips for giving gifts in Central and Eastern Europe, ordered by country alphabetically:
Albania Business Gifts: As a relationship-based society, gift giving is frequent among Albanians in their personal lives though this does not extend quite as much in business. While it is not expected that gifts should be exchanged during initial meetings, small, neatly wrapped gifts from your home country are appreciated. “You could give a leather notebook, some nice pencils in a case, or a small painting for the wall,” says Ivana Milcevi Kalic. “Books are also good, Albanians read a lot.” Gifts are typically opened privately.
Bulgaria Business Gifts: In Bulgaria, companies may give and receive gift baskets to show appreciation for partners and colleagues. Examples could be a selection of cheeses and jams, nice teas, or a mix of wines and chocolates. The gifts will be shared among the office. Moderately priced clocks, notepads, pens, pencils, and desk accessories are appropriate gifts. Bulgaria is quite in tune with managing environmental impact, so gifts that are in line with corporate social responsibility measures are preferred.
Croatia Business Gifts: “Gift giving in Croatia is pretty simple,” says Alex Schmidt. “Gifts that you would give a friend could be similar to what you would give a business colleague. Wine and chocolate are very standard, and sometimes people make homemade wine and bring that. People give those types of gifts in professional settings as well.” Small gifts from your home country such as specialty foods are appreciated. Avoid expensive gifts, as it creates a burden on the receiver to reciprocate. Business associates do not typically exchange gifts during initial meetings, but later in the business relationship.
Czech Business Gifts: Appropriate gifts may include moderately priced desk accessories such as pens, calculators, and notepads. Liquor, such as Scotch and Bourbon, are appreciated. “It’s important to give small, moderate, and conservative gifts to win the hearts of these business associates, “says Sharon Schweitzer. “Czechs tend toward modest gift-giving.” It is polite for Czechs to refuse a gift one or two times and then accept it when the giver insists. Open gifts immediately to demonstrate appreciation. Bring stationery with you to send a thank-you note promptly.
Estonia Business Gifts: Gift giving among family and friends is common in Estonia, though not expected in business especially at initial meetings. However, you could bring a small, moderate home country souvenir for your business colleagues. Once the business relationship is established, a corporate gift basket at the holidays with your logo is a nice touch. If you’re invited to someone’s home, flowers would be expected. “Flowers are a big deal in Estonia, it’s a big part of the culture,” says Brad Christiansen. “You don’t give someone a single rose, as it’s a sign of romantic intention. You also don’t give flowers in even numbers, as even numbers are reserved for funerals.”
Hungary Business Gifts: Gift giving in business is not expected or necessary in Hungary. If you do decide to bring a small gift from your home country to your business colleagues in Hungary, appropriate gifts include moderately priced chocolates, flowers, or home country liquor tailored to your host’s personal taste. Avoid expensive gifts.
Latvia Business Gifts: In general, alcohol or sweets are good gifts to bring from your home country. Flowers are a typical gift as well, especially because they are so abundant and inexpensive in Latvia. “You might also bring flowers for your colleague on a name day or birthday, and male colleagues or associates will often bring the female in the office flowers, often tulips, on March 8th, International Women’s Day,” says Madara Devko. “If you are invited to someone’s home, especially if you are visiting for the first time, you would never, ever come with empty hands.” Ms. Devko advises choosing something that you can set on the table, such as a box of chocolates, a dessert, or a nice spirit as it will be shared with all the guests. “That is the Eastern European thing,” she says. “If you do visit, you always bring something, and it is usually enjoyed together.”
Lithuania Business Gifts: Business counterparts do not typically exchange gifts at the initial meeting, though later in the business relationship small, moderately priced gifts are appreciated. This could include wine from your home country, artisanal chocolates, or a basket of tea and sweets. If you are bringing business gifts for an office, be sure to have the appropriate amount for everyone to share.
Poland Business Gifts: Appropriate gifts for your business colleagues in Poland include home country specialties like nuts, sweets, or tea. “There was a long period of time where gifts basically meant bribes,” says Maria Grzywacz. “So today people tread lightly, and expensive gifts can be frowned upon.” Instead, more focus is placed on the symbol of what’s being given. If you are invited to one’s home, it is always polite to bring a small gift such as flowers. Avoid red or white flowers as they are patriotic colors and can hold political meaning as well as yellow chrysanthemums, as these are associated with mourning and funerals. Also be sure to remove the price tag from any gift; otherwise, it is offensive.
Romania Business Gifts: A small, inexpensive gift for your Romanian colleagues is appreciated, both in initial meetings and any subsequent visits. You might bring something traditional from your hometown or state, such as a favorite sweet. Gift giving in moderation is seen as a symbol of cooperation. Open gifts immediately.
Slovak Republic Business Gifts: Business associates do not typically exchange gifts at initial meetings though business counterparts may exchange gifts later. Moderately priced artisan gifts of alcohol, sweets, or nuts from your home country are appreciated.
Slovenia Business Gifts: Small souvenir-type gifts such as wine or chocolates are appreciated and are given at evening’s end. Avoid anything too expensive, as it may make your counterparts uncomfortable.
Gift Giving in Central and Eastern Europe in Summary
It is important to give small, conservative gifts to your Central and Eastern European colleagues. Many countries have limits on gift-giving value, so if in doubt be sure to do your research first. Avoid giving cash or its equivalent to a government employee or any elected official of any country.
Countries in the EU also must abide by certain policies set forth for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This means that social and environmental concerns are woven into their business operations and can be considered with your choice of gifts.
Be sure to consider your colleagues’ likes and preferences to add a nice, thoughtful touch. Aside from the most common gifts of chocolate, flowers, or alcohol, your Central and Eastern European counterparts may enjoy receiving desk accessories such as pens or notepads with a special touch from your company or home country. Just be sure to bring enough for the whole team! Curious to learn more about global gift giving? Check out more on the blog.
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a diversity and inclusion consultant, cross-cultural trainer, etiquette expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre, she is an attorney and mediator. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia, won a coveted Kirkus Star, and was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books. She’s a winner of numerous awards, including the British Airways International Trade Award at the Greater Austin Business Awards.
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