The act of gift giving is a special sort of science. Between all of the holidays, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and special moments in between, we get a lot of practice with presents, and yet sometimes it’s still so hard to pick out the perfect gift for any certain someone. Still, we’ve all heard horror stories about well-intentioned presents having the complete opposite effect. Now, not to increase your anxiety over gift giving, but did you know that many everyday items carry rude connotations when given as gifts, at least in certain cultures?

You’d like to think that anyone would be happy to receive something useful as a present, but then remember how it feels when your friend offers you a piece of gum. Perhaps it’s their favorite flavor and they just really want to share, but nonetheless you’re left with a nagging worry about how badly your breath must stink. These misunderstandings can happen on a much larger scale when cultural differences come into play. So, to help you all out, here’s a little guide to gift-giving manners.

In Tokyo’s most popular shopping district, Shibuya, there is a special manner school, which gives consultations to many, including TV and movie producers, regarding proper etiquette. In regards to gift giving they discourage people from exchanging any sort of gift that might bring unpleasant images to mind. Now, we’re not just talking about those bad-taste items, like a book of dead baby jokes for your friend’s baby shower. Something like a set of knives to a couple on their wedding day can also carry unpleasant connotations. It certainly doesn’t seem congruent with the act of joining together two households! In the same vein, to give someone a fancy lighter at a housewarming party might be less of a blessing and more an invitation for trouble.

At times, social status plays a role in what is or isn’t appropriate to give. For example, if you give a person socks or shoes, it gives the impression that they are beneath you and you tread across them. If you give someone writing utensils, it implies that they aren’t working hard enough. With that in mind, these items might be okay to pass off to your peers and subordinates, but it wouldn’t be appropriate to give them to your boss.

Sometimes language plays a large part in what makes an acceptable gift. In Japan, the numbers four and nine are sometimes pronounced the same way as death and pain or hardship (shi and ku, respectively). And so, giving someone any kind of four-piece set as a present is considered unlucky and could be construed as you wishing death upon the recipient. Likewise, in China it’s in bad taste to give someone a clock because the word for it sounds similar to the one for waiting beside someone’s deathbed. Who knew that a timepiece could have a meaning so morbid!

In fact, it’s not just the people who speak different languages in different countries. The plants do too! Oftentimes, different flowers are said to hold different meanings. Theoretically, it’s possible to confess all your feelings to a person using only the “language of the flowers.” However, many flowers have multiple meanings and may change in meaning depending on where you’re from, so it’s probably best not to rely on the flowers alone to convey your message. Speaking for myself, I’d really appreciate a nice card to go with my aromatic arrangement. If you really must give flowers, though, be sure never to give a potted plant to a Japanese person who has been hospitalised–this suggests that, since the plant has roots, they too will be there for a long, long time.

Of course, when all is said and done, gift-giving manners are secondary to the act of giving someone exactly what they want. If ever you find yourself at a loss for ideas or anxious about sending the wrong impression with the gift you have in mind, there is no shame in asking a person what they’d like to have. Sure, it ruins the surprise, but you know for a fact that the recipient will be satisfied, and isn’t that what matters most?

Source: web R25