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Man in a suit giving a gift

The Etiquette of Gift Giving in Indonesia

Business etiquette varies from country to country. For example, you’d probably be a bit weirded out by a supplier or partner bringing you a gift, right? I mean, it’s nice, but generally US businesses don’t practice this custom. All you need to give is a handshake, your attention, and your time.

 

But, some countries use gifts to thank a business partner for their hospitality, or to smooth over negotiations before they even start. It’s not a bad idea, and some countries have gone so far as to expect gifts from potential business partners.

 

But, some countries use gifts to thank a business partner for their hospitality, or to smooth over negotiations before they even start. It’s not a bad idea, and some countries have gone so far as to expect gifts from potential business partners.

 

Indonesia in particular is widely known for its gifts, and has a particular etiquette to go along with it. For the small business owner who’s looking to impress a new supplier, we’ve created a guide on how to avoid embarrassing yourself or getting charged for bribery.

 

Respect the Process

 

How you present your gift might be more important than what it is. Especially in certain regions of Indonesia, the look of a present is everything. Like when your mom wants to keep the wrapping paper.

 

Make sure that your gift is carefully and precisely wrapped. Indonesians appreciate craftsmanship, and gift wrapping is no exception. For Chinese Indonesians, red and gold are always great colors. For everyone else, your best bet is to choose one solid, clean-looking color. Don’t be sloppy, and don’t present it with your left hand. Use the right, or both hands. The left is considered dirty, so etiquette says to avoid using it just in case.

 

 

Your Indonesian supplier may refuse your gift at first. Don’t be fooled. This is a cultural practice as well. Indonesians don’t want to seem to eager or in need of gifts, so they will refuse up to three times before finally accepting an offering. They’re grateful, trust us.

 

Your gift probably won’t be opened either. It’s customary to wait until the conclusion of a meeting, and not to open a gift in front of the person who gave it. This is about “saving face.” In case they don’t like it or accidently react poorly, they don’t want to cause you any embarrassment or start an argument. But, this doesn’t mean you can give whatever you want.

 

What to Give

You can’t just go giving your Indonesian supplier a toaster. You have to put some thought into it and make sure you aren’t being culturally insensitive. The etiquette depends on where you’re meeting and who you’re meeting with.

 

Keep it small. Gifts are given often and you can’t possibly go big every time. Also, you don’t want to “out-do” your Indonesian supplier. To stay safe, get something inexpensive that can sit comfortably at the edge of the table.

 

Keep it small. Gifts are given often and you can’t possibly go big every time. Also, you don’t want to “out-do” your Indonesian supplier. To stay safe, get something inexpensive that can sit comfortably at the edge of the table.

 

If the meeting is at a restaurant or your supplier is making you dinner, don’t bring a gift of food. Normally, plums, peaches, and grapes are considered great gifts. But, bringing your own food to a dinner meeting is considered rude, and makes the host feel as though they can’t provide. This causes them to lose face, and you lose face for thinking that was a good idea. It’s bad all around.

 

But, the most important restrictions on gift giving are religious ones. Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, with least three other official religions including Christianity, Buddhism, and Hindu. Each has its own requirements for gifts, and getting it wrong can spell disaster for your negotiations.

 
 

Religious Restrictions

 

Of the major Indonesian religions, Islam and Hindu are the most important to watch out for when giving gifts. It’s pretty rude to ask someone what their religious affiliation is, so avoiding these gifts is the best etiquette when in Indonesia.

 

If you’re going to bring food, just avoid meats generally. Muslims can’t eat any meat that isn’t halal, or that hasn’t been slaughtered according to Islamic principles. Most Muslims don’t drink alcohol either, so don’t bring any champagne to celebrate a deal. Anything with gelatin should be avoided too, so most candy, meringue pies, and Jell-O. In fact, it’s probably just best practice not to give Jell-O to anyone.

 
someone giving apples to another person
 

Hindus also have food restrictions, particularly when it comes to beef. Cows are sacred in Hindu culture, so avoid bringing a roast to your business meeting. Also, anything leather is to be avoided. Wallets, belts, boots, even faux-leather gifts are insulting. Most practicing Hindus don’t drink alcohol either, so it’s best to avoid it in any meeting.

 

Of the major Indonesian religions, Islam and Hindu are the most important to watch out for when giving gifts.

 

Those are all of the particulars you need to know when giving a gift to an Indonesian supplier. The last thing we can say is not to give money. If it feels like a bribe to you, it will to your supplier. Also, it’s just lazy. Put some thought into your gift, and leave the payments to Veem.

 

Veem is a global payments service that helps your small business transfer funds internationally. Our multi-rail system finds the safest, quickest, and most low-cost path between you and your supplier. No hidden fees, and our dashboard tracking system lets you keep an eye on your money wherever it goes. Sign up and start taking advantage of the transparent and a global payments network that big banks just can’t offer.

 

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