Tips for International Gift Giving

Hi Deanne, 

© Deyan Georgiev -

© Deyan Georgiev –

I have a question about gift giving. I am going to Manila and I am meeting with potential book buyers, distributors and publishers and I am also meeting with some government officials. I want to give the coordinator a gift – but what?


Rebecca K., Albuquerque, NM 



Great question, and congratulations on your opportunity! How exciting!

When visiting a foreign land, it’s always a good idea to do a little research on area customs for etiquette and gift giving. Plus, there are the practical aspects to consider, such as packing and presenting the gifts.

A rule of thumb I like to follow, no matter where I’m going, is to give specialties from my locale, or souvenirs from where I live. Things like locally-made foodstuffs and candy, souvenir pens, postcards and keychains are easy to transport and won’t break the bank. As a businessperson, small promotional products with your company logo could also work.

I did some research on gift giving and business etiquette in the Philippines and it seems like my rule of thumb will apply—in particular, it sounds like candy is usually a big hit in the Filipino culture.  In fact, there is a word in the Filipino language for such souvenirs: pasalubong, which means “homecoming treat.” The best advice I found is to stick to candy, as any other type of food might be construed as an insult that the recipient is too poor to properly provide for the household.

With this in mind, look for locally-produced confections, such as something from Señor Murphy in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. (The chile pistachio bark looks yummy!) Additional items might include a photography book of the Sandia Mountains or Sante Fe, or Native American pottery. Look for something that highlights and showcases your area. Souvenir items like this will give your recipient something to remember you by, long after the candy is consumed!

If you are lucky enough to be invited to someone’s home for dinner, flowers are the perfect hostess gift, but avoid chrysanthemums and lilies.

Two more things to remember about gift giving in the Philippines: presentation counts, and gifts are opened in private. To the first point, use brightly-colored wrapping paper—there are no restrictions on color—and lots of festive ribbons, even a special embellishment. (Note: The TSA has the right to unwrap your gifts if, when scanned, the gifts if they set off alarms or need further inquiry. Consider traveling with the items unwrapped and wrap them at your hotel.)

To the second point, if you receive a gift, it is a major faux pas to unwrap it in front of the giver. Likewise, do not expect your recipient to open her gifts in front of you.

Finally, because you’re meeting with government officials in an effort to secure business, it’s important to keep in mind the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Essentially, it prohibits giving a thing of value to any foreign government official for the purpose of improperly influencing that official in order to obtain or renew a business opportunity. In other words, no bribes. The Department of Justice offers the following guidance in its free Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (download it here):

“A small gift or token of esteem or gratitude is often an appropriate way for business people to display respect for each other. Some hallmarks of appropriate gift-giving are when the gift is given openly and transparently, properly recorded in the giver’s books and records, provided only to reflect esteem or gratitude, and permitted under local law.”

So, keep the gift items nominal in value (no luxury cars!) and keep a record of the gifts. The Department of Justice doesn’t pursue small gifts unless they are part of a pattern of giving with an intent to influence. Consult the Guide for more information.

Good luck, and have a great trip!!


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6 Alternatives to an Easter Basket

The Easter basket is the quintessential Easter gift. It’s pretty much a no-brainer this time of year. Traditionally, a wicker basket (usually in a pastel color) is filled with artificial, plastic grass that in no way resembles what a bunny might ingest. When I was growing up, my parents would reuse both our baskets and the grass from year to year, and at at some point the baskets were past their prime.

Reusing items year to year is great, and my parents certainly got their money’s worth from our baskets. But today another great tradition is re-purposing items for something other than what they were originally intended. In that spirit, here are 6 ideas to ditch the wicker basket this Easter and create a “basket” where the vessel becomes part of the gift and can be used by your recipient every day—not stored away and used once a year.

As a bonus, several of these ideas are less expensive than a traditional handled basket. Still, it’s a good idea to include the cost of the vessel in your overall Easter gift giving budget.

Beach bucket – Include beachy accessories like sunglasses and sunscreen among the expected Easter fare like marshmallow chicks and chocolate rabbits.

Paint can – Most home improvement stores will sell you clean, empty gallon-size paint cans. They’re lightweight yet sturdy, and with their simple, strong lines they’re a great alternative for little boys. After Easter, they can be used to store art supplies, toy cars – really anything small and collectible that seems to multiply. Hang them on the wall with a coat hook, screw them right into the wall, or simply place on a shelf for easy organizing.

Organizing basket or tote – This is oh-so-practical and great for any age group or decorating style. Available in a range of sizes, materials, colors and prices at retailers nationwide.

Storage box – This is similar to the organizing tote idea, but this one has a lid to keep the contents under wraps. I always seem to find a good supply of these at Home Goods. (Tip: This would also be a good alternative for creating a gift basket for Mother’s Day.)

Garden pot – This idea is a huge hit with boys and girls alike! In addition to traditional Easter candy and toys, include seed packets, small gardening gloves and a few garden hand tools. After Easter, children will have a fun activity that teaches them about nature and responsibility (they have to water their plants!).

Felt character bucket – These little gems are inexpensive and quite popular. They may be found at major retailers around the country. And while they don’t really have an everyday look or use, they’re just so fun I had to include them!

In each instance, fill the vessel with paper shreds, excelsior or plastic grass, just like you would a basket, and include the same goodies and gifts. Each of these options may even be wrapped in cellophane (use a clear cello gift bag, available at craft stores and Cost Plus World Market stores, for greater ease) and tied with a simple grosgrain ribbon bow.

But don’t stop here. Wherever you’re shopping this season, look around for more alternatives. There’s no need to rush around looking for an “Easter basket.” Think about photo boxes, galvanized metal pails, or even a wastepaper basket. Pretty much any container can become an Easter basket! There’s even one idea on Pinterest using a beer carton for a man’s Easter basket! Now that’s ingenious.

Click here for tips on putting together a gift basket – perfect for Easter!

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Birthday Gift Inspiration Finder

© bigshotd3 – Fotolia

When you’re stumped for a birthday gift, inspiration may be no farther away than the local flower shop. For centuries, a different flower has been associated with each month of the year. There are some variations (for example, in the U.K. April’s flower is the Sweet Pea; in the U.S. it’s the Daisy), but the list below show gives the typical flower-to-month associations.

No one knows for sure how or who started the associations, although it is believed the Romans first used flowers as gifts. Since most of the flowers associated with each month are naturally plentiful in that month, this is a likely origin of the tradition.

So, how does one turn a flower into a gift? The typical thought might be to present the birthday recipient with a bouquet of the representative flower, and that may be the best route to go in some situations. Online floral retailers like and have search engines where you can enter the flower you’re looking for and see only those arrangements that include that particular flower. This is a great way to give a gift from afar or at the last minute. (Guys, I’ve not met a woman yet who doesn’t love getting flowers at work!)

But think beyond the vase, and give thought to the flower’s appearance, color and scent. Use these attributes as an inspiration point. Look for a fragrance featuring the flower, or a luxurious item like a silk scarf or cashmere gloves in the same color as the flower. For October birthdays, I suggested making a gift basket with Calendula tea and marigold-colored stoneware mugs. Also, several fine porcelain manufacturers create beautiful home accessories painted with birth month flowers.

Or, consider the flower’s meaning. Yes, meaning. In the early 18th century, the “language of flowers” became popular in England with many books written on the subject. Every bloom held meaning, and every nosegay told a story. Even the color of the flower could project its own meaning. In the chart below I’ve included some of the most popular meanings for each flower. Use these meanings to spark a gift idea. For example, for a January birthday, consider a golden horseshoe pendant, a symbol of good luck, as the carnation too symbolizes good luck.

Month Flower Meanings
January Carnation Love, fidelity, admiration, good luck
February Violet/Crocus Modesty, simplicity, peace
March Daffodil Rebirth, unrequited love, vanity
April Daisy Innocence, loyal love, gentleness
May Lily of the Valley Happiness, humility and sweetness
June Rose Love, gratitude, appreciation
July Larkspur Joyful, fickleness, sweet
August Gladiolus Integrity, sincerity
September Aster Thoughts, aspirations (literally “star” in Latin)
October Calendula (Marigold) Hopefulness, grace, sun
November Chrysanthemum Cheerfulness, friendship, abundance
December Holly Sweetness, self-esteem










Gifts inspired by a memory, an object, a thought or even the recipient herself can benefit from a personalized note to reinforce the meaning behind the gift. Click here for tips on writing a gift note.

Happy gifting!

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Socially-Conscious Giving

© Frog 974 –

One of the secrets to giving gifts that really make an impact is to find a gift that speaks to the recipient’s values. In my book, Gift Giving for Busy People, I talk about imagining yourself in your recipient’s home or office and ask you to see what’s there. What does she fill her space with? What colors do you see? What sports teams does he follow?

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, what we spend our time on, what we surround ourselves with and where we retreat for some relief all point to what we value most in life.

Now I’d like to add something to the value mix: social issues and lifestyle. Think about the causes your recipient supports, or any significant aspects to his or her lifestyle. Is she vegan? Has he stopped consuming alcohol? Does she contribute time and money to a homeless shelter?

Being aware of these parts of your recipient’s life takes gift giving to a whole new level. For example, giving someone a pink sweater when she looks best in blue is a slight miss; giving someone a leather wallet when she’s vegan and anti-cruelty to animals is a bomb. “It’s the thought that counts” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

I once committed such a gifting sin. I wanted to give a gift to a speaker and coach who inspired me to finish my book. He had once worked as the manager for the lead singer of a rather famous rock band, so when I found a wine that was a play on the band’s name, I thought it was the perfect gift.

Except, my recipient and his wife didn’t drink alcohol. I was very grateful for my recipient’s graciousness in receiving my gift and making light of my faux pas (he still had friends who drank with whom he would share the wine), but it taught me a valuable lesson.

Although you may have different beliefs or make different choices, take some time to think about these aspects of your recipient’s life. My friend Lisa gave up all animal products years ago. While I still enjoy a good leather handbag, I’ve come to learn about brands that feature cruelty-free, manmade products.

It is possible to give the perfect gift that speaks to all the facets of your recipient. It just takes a little more planning and research. Show your recipient you understand her, and the gift is that much more special.

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Creating a Yearlong Gift Giving Plan

Early in a new year is the perfect time to create a gift giving plan for the year. Think of it as goal-setting for your gift giving!

Creating a gift giving plan gives you a bird’s eye view of your gift giving needs, allows you to budget accordingly and ensures that a gift giving occasion doesn’t surprise you. Here are a few simple steps to create your personal gift plan for this year; set aside about 20 minutes and pull out your calendar, address book or wherever you keep track of important dates before getting started.

  • Working month by month, create a big picture view of all birthdays, anniversaries, known occasions (such as graduations and weddings), as well as holidays. Much of this step is copying from last year’s calendar, but be sure to think about special occasions occurring this year. For example, I know of two graduations coming up, and my oldest brother is having a milestone birthday this year.
  •  Although not everyone on your list will receive a gift—some may receive a card, for example—you’re creating the universe of occasion and dates to remember. For the holidays, write down each person for whom you plan to purchase a gift.
  • Be sure to include holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Easter and Halloween if you give gifts or send cards at those times.
  • Write each occasion into your planner, or schedule it on your phone. Then make yourself a reminder note at least one week ahead of each occasion. This should give you plenty of time to purchase a gift or send a card. If you believe you will need more time (say you’re knitting your niece a scarf) make the reminder entry as early as necessary.
  • The winter holidays are typically a heavy gift giving season, but look for groupings or clusters in the rest of the year. Maybe you have six birthdays and an anniversary in April. That’s a signal you will need to budget more for those times of the year.
  • Create an annual budget, paying particular attention to winter holidays or any cluster times identified above.
  • Use  the Smart Solutions Gift Tracker to write down everyone you need or want to select a gift for, a price point for the gift and any ideas or things to remember. (I help you think through every person on your list to arrive at the perfect gift in my book!) Throughout the year, if an idea comes up or a recipient mentions an item he or she needs, jot it down on the tracker. As each occasion nears, consult the gift tracker for ideas. Download the Smart Solutions Gift Tracker in PDF format or in Word format.
  • If you purchase gifts ahead of time, be sure to mark it on the gift tracker and store the item in a gift drawer.
  • For card-only occasions and holidays, use an online service such as to remind you to send a card or e-card to each recipient on your list.

By taking just a few minutes now to think about your upcoming gift giving needs, you will be better prepared to give the perfect gift, or to simply remember someone on their special day.

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4 Steps to Stress-Free Gift Giving

© mao-in-photo –

December is arguably the busiest shopping month of the year, with shopping centers and malls historically reporting the most traffic this month. It’s no wonder: on average we will spend about $750 purchasing gifts and cards for our family, friends, coworkers and pets this year, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s a lot of shopping; it’s going to be a busy month! Therefore, it’s important to keep track of where, how and on whom that money is spent.

To help track of holiday purchases—and gift purchases year ‘round—I created a Gift Tracker to record dates, names, gift ideas and a budget for everyone on your list. Click to download the Gift Tracker 2012 in Word or a PDF version. The tracker is only part of the story, however. Use the tracker in conjunction with the overall Gift Giving for Busy People system.

When I was developing my POPS (Plan, Organize, Prioritize, Schedule) plan for personal success, I knew it could have applicability to the gift giving side of life. Nearly everything I do for holidays, home decorating and even entertaining follows that basic outline. So why not gift giving? The one adjustment I make when applying POPS to gift giving is to make it personal.

Thus, here are the four simple steps to streamlining and simplifying your gift giving, whether it’s the holidays or any day:


Creating a gift giving plan gives you a bird’s eye view of your gift giving needs, and lets you budget accordingly.

  • Create a big picture view of all birthdays, anniversaries, known occasions and holiday gifts. The holidays are a heavy gift giving season, but look for groupings or clusters in the rest of the year. Maybe you have six birthdays and an anniversary in April. That’s a signal you will need to budget more for those times of the year.
  • Create an annual budget, paying particular attention to winter holidays.
  • Use a gift tracker to write down everyone you need or want to select a gift for, a price point for the gift and any ideas or things to remember.


Look at your gift giving behaviors. Are you typically a last-minute shopper, picking up some knick knack on the way to the office party for the grab bag? Or do you plan ahead? Even if you do plan and purchase ahead of time, is there a frenzy every time you need to wrap a gift? Once you identify what causes stress in your gift giving continuum, think about ways to make that task less stressful. Being organized might be the answer! Here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Use a gift drawer so you’re never caught without a gift. What is a gift drawer, you ask? Read on.
  • Designate supplies just for gift wrapping, and keep them handy.  Read more.


Perhaps the biggest stressor in gift giving is “what” to buy or make to give to your recipient.

In Gift Giving for Busy People, I go into great detail with a series of questions designed to help you arrive at the perfect gift for your recipient. For now, try this exercise. Close your eyes and imagine yourself walking through a shopping mall with your recipient. What is she drawn to? Notice the stores, the items and the colors and see if any themes emerge. Or, would he even be caught dead in the mall? Where would he rather be? What would he rather be doing? What gift ideas come from those answers?

It is necessary to step into your recipient’s shoes for a moment to determine what is important to him or her. This includes being aware of your recipient’s social conscience and lifestyle; for example, you would not want to give a leather purse to a vegan. The reason this works is, people respond best when their values are supported. Challenge their values and they will withdraw or become defensive. This is true in any interpersonal exchange, whether it’s a business meeting, a family dinner, or a gift exchange. A gift giver should always keep in mind the recipient’s values, rather than his or her own.

Any gift you select may be personalized even more and made very special indeed. Do this by including a personal, handwritten note explaining your feelings behind the gift. For these gifts, we’re talking about symbolism and sentiment to move the gift beyond the realm of the generic and into perfection.  For example, a husband presenting his wife with a clock on their first wedding anniversary might say, “May this gift remind you that no matter how quickly time may pass, my love will always be there for you.” A personal sentiment is free and it transforms the ordinary into something extraordinary and meaningful. Read more.


  • Plan shopping trips at holiday time. Literally block off time after work or on a weekend (eek!) to shop for gifts.
  • Looking at your gift tracker, look for groupings of stores; any time several gifts can be purchased at one store or at several stores in one shopping center, it saves time. (And gas!)
  • Use technology to your advantage to comparison buy or simply buy online and ship directly to your recipient.
  • Sign up on your favorite retailers’ social media pages, or sign up for promotional emails. Both are a great source of exclusive information on sales, as well as coupons.
  • Combine tasks by shopping where you are. Read more.
  • Save time by shopping when you are. Read more.

If you still need help selecting holiday gifts, check out my Holiday Gift Guide 2012 on Pinterest! Happy giving!!

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