International Gift Etiquette - United Kingdom



  • Giving gifts is not a normal part of British business culture. Indeed, British business colleagues are quite likely to feel embarrassed to receive any gift at all. The only exception would be at the conclusion of a deal when it might be appropriate to give a unique commemorative item to mark the occasion. Such items might be gold, silver, or porcelain with a suitable inscription. Again, to avoid embarrassment on the part of the recipient, the object must be restrained, tasteful, and not ostentatiously expensive. It might be helpful to ask yourself whether the recipient would gladly display the gift in his living room or consign it to the attic at the earliest opportunity.

  • Small gifts such as a pen or a book, again suitably inscribed, would be suitable tokens of genuine gratitude and flowers or wine/champagne suffice to thank (junior) colleagues for their services. Do not, however, appear patronising or unduly forward (especially if the recipient is a woman).

  • Alternatively, it will often be appreciated if you invite your hosts, or others you wish to thank, out for a meal or to the theatre/opera.

  • It is always good form to buy a round of drinks for your colleagues after work. (This is also the most common way of celebrating someone’s birthday.)

  • Business gifts are never exchanged at Christmas but it may be appropriate to send a card, particularly as an expression of thanks to your business associates but also as a means of maintaining valuable contacts. Bear in mind that the UK postal service was founded at about the same time as the antiquated railways so ensure that your cards are mailed in good time.

  • In the unlikely event that you yourself receive a gift, you should be sure to reciprocate. Assuming that you have been caught unawares, you will not have an offering of your own to hand so the best option is to extend an invitation to dinner or, if time is really short, then run to the nearest wine merchant for a bottle of the best champagne you can afford.

  • If you are invited to a British home, it is standard practice to bring wine, flowers, and/or chocolates for your hosts. Do not feel offended if the host does not open your gift of wine that evening but adds it to his cellar; it does not mean that the gift is unappreciated (or that the host would rather drink your fine vintage claret on his or her own at a later date) but quite simply that he or she has probably already chilled the white wine and opened the red that are appropriate for that meal.

  • Champagne, though, is never unwelcome and can always be put quickly in the fridge for an after-dinner toast.

  • Spirits, on the other hand, are a matter of personal taste and best not given as a present. A bottle of your favourite bourbon may languish unopened in the drinks cabinet for years.

  • The usual European caveats apply when giving flowers: no red roses, white lilies, or chrysanthemums.

  • If you know that you are going to stay with a family, it is a good idea to bring something from your own country. Your hosts are letting you into the intimacy of their home, so a coffee-table book about your area or some artefact that typifies it would constitute a way of letting your hosts into some of the secrets of your own home. If you are unprepared, then your time in your hosts’ house should allow you to think of something they would really appreciate even if you have to mail it from home on your return.

  • Whenever you have been a guest in a home, you should definitely send a hand-written thank-you note. Indeed, it is a thoughtful gesture to thank your hosts in writing for any hospitality, even a short drinks party.

*Dray, Paul.  United Kingdom Business Etiquette - Gift Giving.  Executive Planet.  16 Aug. 2004                           <>.

Above:  The flag of United Kingdom








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