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How to avoid cultural gift-giving faux pas that can cost you clients


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Gift giving can be a great way to show your appreciation to clients; it sends a positive message and builds better relationships to encourage further business.

Well, it usually does.

In certain cultures, a poorly chosen gift is often more than just a disappointment — it can be a blatant sign of disrespect.

So, if you aren’t familiar with a client’s cultural background, giving a gift haphazardly can create some awkward moments and might even cost you repeat business.

Below, we’ll explore a few common gifts that can leave clients feeling less than impressed and offer some suggestions concerning cross-cultural gifting so you’re able to select great gifts for all of your future clients.

Common gifts that should be given with care

Obviously, learning each and every gift-giving taboo just isn’t feasible. However, exploring a few of them will help you understand why learning a little about each client’s cultural background before buying a gift is important.

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A BBC article on taboo gifts discussed why gifting the following common items can cause great offense and plenty of awkwardness:

In Chinese culture, giving clocks as a gift is taboo.


After helping a client purchase a new home, have you ever gifted them a clock because you happened to notice the perfect spot for it in their living space?

If so, hopefully they weren’t Chinese. In Chinese culture, the gifting of clocks is a huge taboo; it suggests the recipient’s time on this earth is coming to an end.

Not exactly the best way to congratulate a client on his or her new home purchase!


In Mexican folklore, yellow flowers are associated with death.

Flowers can be acceptable for thanking clients following successful transactions. However, if you aren’t particularly familiar with your client’s cultural background, flowers aren’t the best go-to gift.

Many cultures find meaning in the color of flowers. In Mexican folklore, for instance, yellow flowers are associated with death. In France, on the other hand, yellow flowers suggest infidelity.

If you’re not careful when giving a client flowers, you might send a strong, seriously negative message unintentionally.


Giving knives can be interpreted as an act that could sever the relationship.

More and more people are getting enthusiastic about cooking, and you’ve probably had at least a few clients who love the idea of stocking up on new items for their kitchen upon moving.

Why not help them out by gifting them a new set of high-quality knives?

Well, unless you’re ready to conclude the client-agent relationship following closing, gifting something else is advisable.

In multiple cultures, including in the U.K. and Japan, the gifting of knives is interpreted as an act that could sever the relationship.

To be on the safe side when gift shopping for cooking enthusiasts, selecting something other than knives is usually the way to go.

How to avoid gift-giving taboos as a real estate agent

As you might imagine, trying to memorize what you should and shouldn’t give to clients isn’t a good use of your time. However, opting not to get clients gifts for fear of offending them isn’t a good strategy either.

When you’re unfamiliar with your clients’ cultural background, consider this your opportunity to learn a little more about it. Read up on gift-giving customs in their culture, and apply your new knowledge when selecting something for them.

Most importantly, don’t forget to focus on what you learn about clients as individuals throughout the relationship-building process when shopping for gifts.

Showing clients how little you care with generic gifts can be even more offensive than committing one of the cultural gift-giving faux pas mentioned above.

Pat Hiban is the author of the NYT bestselling book “6 steps to 7 figures – A Real Estate Professional’s Guide to Building Wealth and Creating Your Destiny,” the founder of online real estate sales training site Rebus University, and the host of Pat Hiban Interviews Real Estate Rockstars, an agent-to-agent real estate podcast with Hiban Digital in Baltimore, Maryland. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

Email Pat Hiban

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