International Gift Giving Etiquette - Indonesia

GIFT GIVING IN INDONESIA* - Gift Giving Etiquette


General Guidelines

  • During the first meeting, presenting your Indonesian counterparts with small gifts is one of the best ways to display your interest and sincerity in establishing a long-term business relationship. On this occasion, the gifts should be modest but thoughtful, such as tokens representative of your country or that feature your company logo.
  • You are also expected to give gifts to celebrate an occasion, when you return from a trip, when you are invited to an Indonesian home, when a visitor comes to tour your office or workplace, and to thank someone for providing you with a service.
  • Gifts of food are always appreciated by Indonesian Chinese, but avoid bringing food gifts with you to a dinner party [unless it has been agreed upon beforehand]. To bring food may imply that your host cannot provide enough. Instead, send food as a thank-you gift afterwards. Candy or fruit baskets are good choices.
  • Indonesian Chinese will customarily refuse a gift three times before accepting, since they believe that following this ritual prevents them from appearing greedy. In turn, continue to insist; when the recipients finally accept, say that you are pleased that they have done so. When you receive a gift, you will also be expected to follow the same routine.
  • Unwrapping a gift in front of the giver is not a part of Indonesian culture. This action implies that the recipient is greedy and impatient. Moreover, if the gift turns out to be a poor choice, “loss of face” will result. Instead, the recipient will briefly say “thank-you”, set aside the gift, and then open it only after your departure. You will also be expected to follow this ritual when you receive a gift.
  • Western advertising has popularized flowers as gifts. Make sure you give an even number of flowers because an odd number is considered an omen of bad luck.
  • Remember that personal gifts from a man to a woman can be misinterpreted as having a romantic intent. Consequently, Indonesian business protocol requires that a businessman say that his wife sent the gift.
  • At Chinese New Year, it is customary to present a gift of money in a red envelope to children and nongovernmental 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. Many employers give each employee a “hong bao” equivalent to one month's salary.

Appreciated Gifts

  • Modest but thoughtful gifts, such as tokens representative of your country or that feature your company logo can be appropriate, especially during first meetings.
  • With the exception of dinner parties, food can be a welcome gift on most occasions. Moreover, when visiting an area of Indonesia where a delicacy is available, it's expected that you bring samples back for your friends. When selecting a gift of food for an observant Muslim, however, meat products must be “halal”, which is the Muslim equivalent of kosher.
  • In Indonesia, songbirds are prized pets. Moreover, tapes and CDs of the music of champion songbirds are popular here, and make good gifts for those with affection for birds.

Gifts to Avoid

  • Avoid bringing gifts of food with you to a dinner party unless it has been agreed upon beforehand. To bring food may imply that the hospitality is inadequate--a terrible insult to an Indonesian host. Your safest option is to send food as a thank-you gift afterwards. Candy or fruit baskets are good choices.

Gifts to Avoid Giving to Indonesian Chinese

  • Refrain from giving gifts of knives, scissors, or other cutting tools to the Chinese, since they suggest the severing of a friendship or other close bond.
  • The following items are associated with funerals and should be avoided:straw sandals, clocks, handkerchiefs, gifts or wrapping paper in white, black, or blue

Gifts to Avoid Giving to an Observant Muslim

  • alcohol, perfumes containing alcohol, pork, pigskin products, personal items such as underwear, knives, toy dogs or gifts that picture dogs, images of nude or partially clad women [even in paintings or sculptures with artistic merit]

Gifts to Avoid Giving to an Observant Hindu

  • Be sensitive that observant Hindus do not eat beef or use cattle products. Consequently, leather items of any kind should not be considered as gifts.

*IndonesiaBusiness Etiquette - Gift Giving.  Executive Planet.  30 July 2004 <>.

Above:  The flag of Indonesia








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