Singapore Gift Giving Customs

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Flag of Singapore sm.jpg

Flag of Singapore

  1. Officially the Republic of Singapore, is an island country located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula.
  1. Official Languages: English, Malay, Mandarin, Tamil
  2. Currency: Singapore Dollar, SGD or S$
  3. National Day: Independence 9th August 1965

Singapore is one of three remaining true city-states in the world. It is the smallest nation in Southeast Asia.

[edit] Business Gift Giving Customs

Singapore prides itself in being one of the most corruption-free countries in Asia, so there are extremely strict laws on bribery. Government employees cannot accept gifts of any kind, especially money.

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  • The polite way to give and receive a business card is to formally hold it with both hands, look carefully at it several times, then smile and show you have recognized and noted who the other person is. This is a form of respect to the other person.
  • Large gifts should be presented to an entire group. When small gifts are given, they should be given to everyone present.
  • A present can be offered as a welcome or thank you gift but it should not be overly expensive. A small business-related gift such as a pen with your company logo would be sufficient.
  • Suitable gifts include chocolates, a souvenir from your country, corporate gifts with your company logo, or brand name gifts.
  • Out of politeness, people will usually refuse a gift before accepting it. It is believed 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.
  • Gifts are usually wrapped. They should be presented and received with two hands, and opened after the presenter leaves.
  • 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.

[edit] Customs From Various Cultures of Singapore

Singapore is a diverse country with many cultures and each ethnic group has their own customs.

[edit] Chinese

  • Among the Chinese in Singapore, bowing is the traditional greeting. However, as a foreigner you would not be expected to bow. A light handshake is fine. The Chinese are more likely to be comfortable shaking hands with women.
  • Avoid bringing gifts of food with you to a Chinese dinner or gathering unless it has been agreed upon before the event. To bring food may imply that the hospitality is inadequate--a terrible insult to the host.
  • During the Chinese New Year, it is customary to present a gift of money in a red envelope to children and to the non-governmental 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.
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  • Instead of 'hong bao', it is also common to give mandarin oranges. The oranges must 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'. 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 (incense). Avoid these gifts if possible.

[edit] Malay

  • When meeting a Malay woman, wait to see if she extends her hand first for a handshake. If she does then it is OK to shake hands. If not, then bow slightly and place your hand over your heart as a sign of respect. Among men, a handshake is the norm when doing business.
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  • 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 color green, so you might like to wrap your present in green wrapping paper. During Hari Raya Puasa (a Muslim celebration marking 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, products made from pigskin, personal items such as underwear, toy dogs or gifts with pictures of dogs, images of nude or partially clad women.

[edit] Indians

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  • Many Indians will shake hands although the older generation and traditionalists still use the "namaste," which is a slight bow with palms brought together. Some of the more traditional Hindus may be uncomfortable shaking hands with women so it is always a good idea to use the "namaste" if you find yourself in this situation.
  • Indians love bright colors because they signify happiness. Therefore, you might like to wrap your gifts in bright red, yellow or green colors.
  • If 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 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 products made from cattle, as it is considered a sacred animal. Leather products of any kind should not be presented as a gift.

[edit] Related Links

[edit] Sources

Singapore Gift Giving Ettiquette
Doing Business in Singapore
Cross Cultural Training