Australia: Gift Giving
Selecting and presenting an appropriate business gift
Generally, gift-giving is not part of Australian business culture, and it is best not to send a gift to your business counterpart at any time, including holidays, unless you receive one first. Holiday cards are very apprropriate, particularly as a ‘thank-you’ for the business done during the previous year, and should be posted in time to arrive the week before Christmas.
Although gifts are not expected for casual social events, if you are invited to a home for dinner, it's okay to bring a token gift of flowers, chocolates, a craft from your home region, or a bottle of wine.
Be mindful of Australian custom to ‘bring your own’ (byo), which is often expected for less formal occasions like barbeques or picnics (very popular in Australia). Best practice is to ask when invited if you should bring something.
Another Australian specific custom is the ‘bring a plate’ request. Again, this is for less formal gatherings, and means that you need to put some finger food on a plate for everyone to share. If you are told to ‘bring a plate’ check with your host/ess what type of food (sweet or savoury) would be the best.
Generally, if you are giving a gift any product relating to your home country is a good choice. Do not give expensive gifts, as they could be perceived as ‘boasting’. Your thoughtful choice is considered more important than the actual cost of the gift.
When you receive an invitation to lunch, dinner, barbeque, party, wedding, birthday, or any type of occasion it is polite to respond. In Australia, the midday meal is called lunch, and the evening meal is usually called dinner or tea (if after 6.00pm/18:00). Supper is a meal later at night.
Invitations can be given to you in writing, or face-to-face. Written invitations usually ask for RSVP - which comes from French ‘repondez s'il vous plait’, and means ‘please reply’. You should always reply whether you accept or not. The invitation will tell you how to reply and by when.
Australian hosts are specific about how many people are invited. If your whole family has been invited, inform your host how many people will come. Usually it is assumed that a family includes the parents and their children. It is not uncommon that only adults are invited, particularly if you receive an invitation from your business counterpart.
Australians can be sensitive when someone cannot accept their invitation. If you are unable to attend, or you don’t feel like it, the best way to refuse is by saying ‘Thank you, but unfortunately I/we already have other plans at that time’, even if you don’t have other plans. To say that you are too busy, or don’t feel like it, will be seen as extremely rude.
Once you have accepted an invitation, and you find out that you cannot go, you must tell the reason to your host, but never say that you received a better offer from someone else. This will be seen as very rude and will damage your relationship with the person.
If you accept an invitation for a meal it is ok to tell your host what you cannot eat, for example that you are a vegetarian, or that your eligion prohibits you from having certain foods/drinks. Australians will appreciate and respect your customs.
As with business meetings, time is important for other appointments as well, and arriving late is not polite even for social gatherings. If you are going to be late, your hosts will appreciate a phone call advising them of your anticipated arrival.
Paying the Bill
Usually the one who invites pays the bill, even if a host is a business woman. However, the guest is expected to make a gesture and offer to pay.
Once a relationship is established, the bills are often split in half (‘going Dutch’), or each person pays for their own.
If a guest wants to pay, it is best to make arrangements ahead of time so that no exchange occurs at the table.
If invited to a dinner party at a private home, you will be expected to make yourself at home. Spouses are often included in business dinners, particularly if the host is also married.