International Gift Giving Etiquette - Singapore

GIFT GIVING IN SINGAPORE*- Gift Giving Etiquette


General Rules

  • Singapore prides itself on being the most corruption-free state in Asia. Consequently, it has strict laws against bribery. Government employees may not accept gifts of any kind, especially money.
  • A large gift should be presented to the entire group. When giving small gifts, they should be given to everyone present.
  • You can offer a present as a welcome gift or a thank you gift but it should not be an overly expensive item.
  • Some suitable gifts: chocolates, a souvenir from your country, a corporate gift with your company logo, brand name gifts [which don't have to be too expensive].
  • To be polite, people will usually refuse a gift before accepting it. They believe that this will prevent them from appearing greedy. You can continue to insist that they accept the gift and, upon acceptance, say that you are pleased that he or she has done so.
  • Unwrapping a gift in front of the giver is not a part of Singaporean culture. This action implies that the recipient is greedy and impatient. Moreover, if the gift turns out to be a poor choice, it will result in awkwardness. Instead, the recipient will briefly say 'thank-you', set aside the gift, and then open it only after your departure.

Giving Gifts to the Chinese

  • Avoid bringing gifts of food with you to a Chinese dinner or gathering unless it has been agreed upon beforehand. To bring food may imply that the hospitality is inadequate--a terrible insult to a Singaporean host.
  • At Chinese New Year, it is customary to present a gift of money in a red envelope to children and to the non-governmental service personnel you deal with on a regular basis. The gift is called a 'hong bao.' Ensure that you give only new bills in even numbers and even amounts.
  • Instead of 'hong bao', it is also common to give mandarin oranges or hampers. For mandarin oranges, they have to come in even numbers, usually 2 or 4. You will give the oranges upon arrival at the host's house and when you are about to leave, the host will give you the same number of oranges in return.
  • The number '8' is a lucky number which means 'get rich' and the number '4' is an unlucky number which means 'die.' Therefore, when choosing a gift that has to do with numbers, try to go for '8' and avoid '4.'
  • Do not give clocks as presents because 'giving clocks' in Chinese is 'song zhong', which means 'arrange for the burial of deceased parents or an elder.' Other items that are associated with funerals are: straw sandals, white candles and joss sticks.

Giving Gifts to a Malay

  • Malays accept gifts with pleasure and will often reciprocate.
  •  If you are invited to a Malay home, try to bring small, practical gifts for the family, such as flowers, candies or toys for the children.
  • Malays prefer the colour green, so you might like to wrap your present in green. During Hari Raya Puasa [a Muslim celebration to mark the end of the month-long fast during the Ramadan], the Muslim Malays will give out green envelopes that contain money.
  • It is appropriate to bring food to a Malay dinner or gathering but it must be 'halal' [Malay equivalent of 'kosher'] and there should be no pork items.
  • Avoid giving these items to an observant Muslim: alcohol, perfumes containing alcohol, pork, pigskin products, personal items such as underwear, toy dogs or gifts with pictures of dogs, images of nude or partially clad women [even in paintings or sculptures with artistic merit].

Giving Gifts to an Indian

  • Indians love bright colours as they signify happiness. Therefore, you might like to wrap your gifts in bright red, yellow or green colours.
  • Should you give money to an Indian, make sure that it is in odd numbers. For example, give $11 instead of $10. Odd numbers are preferred since they are believed to be luckier.
  • Avoid giving frangipanis [a kind of flower popularly used by Hawaiians to make leis] as flower gifts, such as in a hamper or bouquet. Indians use this flower only for funeral wreaths.
  • Do not present Hindu Indians with gifts of food, including beef.
  • Hindu Indians do not use cattle products. Leather products of any kind should not be presented as a gift.

*Seow, Denyce.  Singapore Business Etiquette - Gift Giving.  Executive Planet.  16 Aug. 2004                           <>.

Above:  The flag of Singapore










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