Following on from the recent signing of the Free Trade Agreement between New Zealand and Malaysia, there is expected to be significantly increased business travel between the two countries. Learning about other countries, and their cultural practices can be both part of the charm and the challenge of international business relationships. There is no doubt that the better your understanding of the differences, the better your chances of success.
Business gifts are a common part of doing business with the Malaysian people, and are a little more complex than in some countries due to religious and other beliefs of the various ethnicities.
While the gift does not need to be lavish, a small gift at an initial meeting does indicate you are genuine and sincere in trying to build a relationship. However you must pay careful attention to the type of gift you choose, so as to not offend the recipient. There is a mix of Muslim, Asian and Indian ethnicities, each of which may be offended by various aspects of business gifts commonly given in New Zealand.
It is easier if you know the ethics of the people you are meeting, but if you do not, it is best to avoid the following products altogether:
- Alcohol (offensive to Muslims)
- All leather (pig leather is offensive to Muslims and cow leather is offensive to Indians)
- Gifts which depict dogs (offensive to Muslims, considered unclean)
- Gifts which are predominately white or black or wrapped in white or black (signify mourning to Hindus)
- Personal items
- No sharp items (eg letter openings) which symbolize severing (of your relationship)
- Artwork depicting the human form (especially if partly naked)
- Avoid clocks, and sets of four (especially when giving to Asians)
- Items which are overly personal
Make sure you have chosen New Zealand made gifts (many items which have a NZ or 'Kiwiana' theme will not be made in NZ). Some items which may be suitable include:
- Framed Greenstone Carvings
- A scenic book of New Zealand (eg New Zealand Landscapes or Light and Landscape 'by Andris Apse)
- Wooden Desk items, for example a Wooden Business Card holder or box
- Maori Glass Waka
- Hand Turned Pen in a wooden gift set, or pen & pencil sets
- Chocolates or quality confectionary (must be Halal if giving to Muslims)
Remember also gift wrapping is significant, so ensure you avoid the 'mourning' colors of black, white or blue. Red is a good 'happy' color to wrap in.
How you give the gift is also significant. The left hand is generally considered 'unclean' so use the right hand only, or both hands if it large. Do not expect your gift to open in front of you.
While the cultural considerations of business gifts to Malaysia may require a little more thought in choosing your gift, your thoughtfulness will help make the relationship a more successful one. A gift retailer who specializes in business gifts should be able to assist.