Italy: Gift Giving
Gift giving in Italian business is not standard practice although it is fairly common for suppliers to give a gift to clients around Christmas time. These range from a bottle of very good wine/Italian champagne to hampers to luxury food products. For particularly important customers a more expensive gift such as a silver ornament, clock etc may be used. Many multi-national companies have rules about their employees accepting gifts, often with a limit to the value. So a bottle of wine may be a good present whereas a set of crystal glasses is not.
It is also very common that a potential or current customer may be given some examples of product to take home and try after a company visit especially if they make a high value product. It would not be usual to bring a gift to a new business contact however if you are meeting someone who you have known for some time or worked with at a distance a small gift from your home town would be appreciated. It should not be expensive otherwise the recipient may be embarrassed.
If you are invited to dinner at someone’s home you should always bring a gift such as a bottle of very good wine, flowers or chocolates. It is better to bring one bottle of good wine than three medium priced ones! Again a thoughtful gift from home would be much appreciated. If it is from you home town or country be prepared to explain the history/traditions of the gift. Italians value highly the differences and customs between their own regions and would be interested in learning more about yours.
Gifts are usually opened at the time they are given and received.
Your gift could be a prestigious brand name that is at the same time small and not obviously expensive.
Gifts of alcohol or crafts from your own country are often good choices.
If you want to give a gift to someone who has been particularly helpful around the office, good choices include fine pens, a framed print/picture, silver key chains, or small electronics. Regardless, make sure your gift is a reputable name brand!
Secretaries generally appreciate a gift of flowers or chocolates but it would be common to give these only if they have been particularly helpful.
If you are invited to a home, bring gift-wrapped chocolates or flowers. Never give an even number of flowers. Do not give chrysanthemums as they are used only for funerals. Likewise, red roses are reserved for romantic occasions.
If you are invited to a home a good wine or spirit from home could be an excellent choice as Italians are interested in learning about other countries. If you live in Italy, it would be nice to offer to bring e.g. a dessert when dining at someone’s house. One that is typical of your country would be very appreciated. Be prepared to explain in great detail how you made it and the exact ingredients used! Italians are very interested in all aspects of food and especially something novel that they have not heard of before.
If you are staying with a family, good gift selections can include coffee table books about your home country, or anything that reflects the interests of your hosts and is representative of your country.
Holiday cards are a nice idea as card sending is not common in Italy, so your card will be received with great interest. Italian post is notoriously unpredictable so ensure that your cards are mailed in plenty of time if you wish them to arrive for a certain occasion e.g. Christmas. Thank you cards are also not widely used – thanks are usually given personally at the time of receiving a gift or by telephone otherwise. Again, a thank you card (especially one in English) would be greatly enjoyed.
Gifts to Avoid
Gifts showcasing your company's logo
Brooches and handkerchiefs--these items are associated with funerals
Gifts wrapped in black or purple paper--traditionally, these are the colours of mourning
Knives or any other type of sharp object--such items may be interpreted to suggest the severing of a friendship or other close bond
The wrapping and appearance of your gift is very important (as important as the gift itself) so it is worth investing some time in making it look beautiful. If you buy a gift in Italy the shop will usually wrap it for you.