Culture and Society: Gift Giving
Although the Spanish are famous for their generosity and hospitality, the practice of giving gifts is mainly reserved for special occasions such as birthdays, weddings, and certain holidays. In general, Spaniards only exchange gifts with their friends, family, or close acquaintances. Exceptions to this rule occur in some business situations or when a guest is invited over to a person’s house.
When invited to someone’s home, a Spaniard usually takes a small gift for the hostess, even if they have never met. Common hospitality gifts include chocolates or dessert items such as cakes and pastries. Fine wines and liqueurs are also popular gifts on these occasions. Flowers in bouquets of odd-numbered blooms (except for 13) may be given on special occasions.
Additionally, if guests visiting a family with children normally brings small gifts especially for them. These might include small toys if the recipients are very young, or sweets if they are older. Sport team shirts and caps are also seen as suitable presents.
The appearance of the gifts is almost as important as the contents, so Spaniards make sure that any item they bring along is carefully wrapped. The recipient usually opens the gift immediately admires it, and offers verbal thanks. At times, a host or hostess returns the favor and gives a gift to the guest. Rather than taking the gift home to view later, the guest opens the gift in the presence of the host and thanks him or her.
Spanish families and friends exchange presents during the Christmas season. Adults exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, and little ones may get a present or two at that time. The bulk of children's presents, however, appear on Three Kings Day (January 6), in commemoration of the monarchs who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus in the manger. Children leave their shoes outside the night of January 5, in hopes that these kings will fill them with gifts.
Birthdays serve as significant gift-giving occasions, especially when celebrated with a large party. Gifts are chosen with care to suit the tastes of the recipient. They may include toys, books, clothing, or jewelry.
In Spain, it is a wedding tradition for the groom to present the bride with thirteen gold coins, which symbolize his commitment to support her. Later in the wedding, guests can expect to see the sequidillas manchegas, or wedding dance. At this time, each guest who dances with the bride gives her a monetary gift. Grooms commonly give cigars to all the male guests, while the bride may offer female guests a pin or other small favor.
In Spanish business culture, gifts are not exchanged at the first meeting. However, small gifts are sometimes given after the successful conclusion of negotiations. Extravagant or expensive gifts are avoided as they may be viewed as bribes. Gifts on these occasions are usually of high-quality and are nicely wrapped. As with hospitality gifts, Spaniards consider it polite to open a business gift immediately.
Appropriate business gifts include desk items, books, art, and music. Sometimes a company’s name may be printed on a high-quality pen or a tasteful desk accessory, but not normally on other items. Bottles of good quality brandy or whisky are also usually well-received. Gifts are always presented after the meeting has concluded in order to be viewed as simply a token of appreciation and not as a bribe.
In accordance with the Spanish tradition, companies give gifts to their employees at Christmas, usually a hamper or basket of food and drinks.
Certain types of flowers hold connotations that make them undesirable as casual gifts. Red roses imply romantic passion, and yellow roses, infidelity. Chrysanthemums, on the other hand, are used for funerals, while dahlias are avoided because they are the national flower of Mexico. Bundles of even-numbered stems are thought to connote death, while bunches of 13 stems are thought to be unlucky.
Except for the choice and number of flowers, there are no particular taboos associated with gift giving in Spain. In general, gifts are given with the recipient’s taste, personality, and religious beliefs in mind. Therefore, the donor normally avoids giving a gift that would be viewed as offensive to the recipient's beliefs or sensibilities.
Article written for World Trade Press by John E. Roper.
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