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Wondering when you should give a gift in Germany? In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about gift giving traditions in Germany, including when you should give a gift, what gifts to avoid, and some suggestions for gift ideas on different occasions.
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Gift giving in Germany
In Germany, gifts are expected for occasions like birthday, wedding, etc. I notice that German people like gifts that have some sentimental meaning. They appreciate it if you put some effort into a gift. For example, a personalized gift with photos, or a gift that is wrapped beautifully and creatively. On the other hand, the value of the gift itself is not as important as the thoughtfulness behind it.
It is common to give a gift in Germany along with a card. I was not used to it at the beginning, as I rarely gave any cards in my home town Hong Kong. German people love signatures. It is customary that everybody who contributes to the gifts signs the card. Even though there is usually not much written in the card, a card is still appreciated to give wishes to the recipient.
If you are attending an event on the weekend, you should plan your gifts in advance as shops are closing early on Saturday and are closed on Sunday in Germany.
Bring something with you if you visit someone
If you are invited to someone’s home, it is polite to bring something with you. I have invited people to my place before and I understand how much work that involves (all the cleaning before and after, grocery shopping for food and drinks, cooking, serving my guests and making sure they are all enjoying the time, etc.).
Therefore, when I visit other people, I appreciate their effort and I want to give something to them as a thank you gesture. Or I offer to bring some food and drinks as well to relieve some workload from the hosts.
Gifts are usually opened when received in Germany
When I first came to Germany, I received a birthday gift from a friend before our dinner. It was a small gift wrapped with beautiful wrapping paper. I showed my happiness and said, “Thank you”. Then, I put the unopened gift directly into my handbag and planned to proceed to dinner.
“Don’t you want to see what the gift is?” my friend asked.
“I will look at it when I am back home.”, I said.
He insisted that I should open the gift. And I insisted again that I would open it at home. And the gift was left unopened in my handbag in the end.
When I think back about this now, I think I must have been extremely awkward. This was one of my best examples of cultural differences.
It is the opposite in Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, you should never open a gift when you receive it. It is considered impolite. Gifts should be opened only after you are back home so that you can keep the emotion to yourself (e.g. you are surprised or happy about the gift, or if you find the gift ridiculous.)
However, in Germany, you should open the gift basically immediately when you receive it. You should look happy and say something nice about the gift, no matter what the gift is. Then, say “Thank you” again and you can finally put the gift away in a safe place.
It was hard for me to adjust at the beginning. I felt like I was the focus of a show when I opened the gift. Everybody was looking at me and waiting for me to give a speech about the gift.
Now, I am pretty used to this gift-opening culture. I think this provides an opportunity for the gift giver to explain the gift and the reason why this gift is chosen. So, don’t be surprised to see your recipient opening the gift in Germany!
Personal gift giving in Germany
In Germany, it is very common to visit your friends or family members at home. If you are invited to someone’s home, it is polite to bring something with you. Besides home visits, there are also other occasions in Germany where it is appreciated if you give a gift.
Occasions for giving a personal gift in Germany
Below are some common occasions when you may want to give a personal gift in Germany:
- Visiting your friends at their home
- House party
- Someone who just have a baby
- Baptism and communion/ confirmation
- Different festivals like Christmas, Mother’s Day, etc.
Visiting your friends at their home
German people can seem to be quite cold. It is not easy to break the ice. But once you do, you will find that they are actually really nice people (at least most of them). You should be happy if your German friends invite you to their home (they normally don’t do so if you are not close to them).
Normally, the host will have some drinks and refreshments ready at home if someone visits them. It is common to invite someone home for afternoon tea (around 3 pm) where coffee and cakes are served. Or you may be invited for dinner, and then a movie/ board game evening.
When I get the invitation, I would normally ask the host if he needs anything, like food or drinks. For example, if I am invited for dinner, I would ask if I should bring some drinks or desserts. If I am invited for a movie/board game evening, I would ask the host if he needs some snacks like chips or sweets. If he doesn’t need anything, I will bring something very general, like a bottle of wine or chocolate (as they cannot go wrong).
When I studied in Berlin, I was invited very often to house parties. The party usually starts in the evening like 9 pm and has an open end. For such parties, it normally doesn’t go wrong if you bring some drinks with you, such as beers, wines, liquor, juice, or anything else you would like to drink.
German people like to celebrate birthdays. There are normally bigger celebrations if someone turns 25, 30, 35, 40, etc. Note that in Germany, the birthday person needs to organize his cake and party by himself. If you are invited to the birthday party, you should bring a birthday present with you.
If you are not completely sure what to buy, you can ask other people who are going to the party as well to see if you want to buy a bigger present together. In that case, you don’t have to think too much but just contribute your money and let the others (who may be closer to the birthday person) decide on the presents.
Another tip is to try asking the partner of the birthday person (if any) in case she can give you some hints. It is quite common to give a birthday card along with the presents. All the people who contribute to the gifts should sign and write their wishes for the birthday person on the card.
If the birthday person is a kid, you can ask the parents what he would like and they will usually tell you what to buy.
Note that in Germany, you should never wish someone a happy birthday before the actual birthday (it is considered bad luck). Therefore, all the birthday parties are organized normally after the actual birthday.
Someone who just have a baby
If your friends or colleagues just have a baby in Germany, it is common to give them a gift. Any newborn baby items would work in this case, e.g. baby clothing, toys, cash voucher from a baby store, etc. You can even give diapers as a gift in Germany. The diapers are packed and decorated nicely, and they are ready to be given as a gift.
Baptism and communion/confirmation
Many German families like to baptize their babies. They believe that baptism can wash away the sin that was born with the baby. During Baptism, families and godparents are invited to a church service.
When a child is a bit older, it is common to have communion or confirmation at the church. These church services complete the process that the child now belongs to the religion.
At these events in Germany, there are usually family celebrations with food and gift giving. If you are invited to the church services, you can ask the parents what their kid would like as a gift. For communion and confirmation in Germany, it is also common to give money as a gift since the child is already a bit older.
Germans like to exchange gifts on important festivals like Christmas. In some families, it is traditional to exchange gifts with each of the family members. There are also other families in which the adults are not exchanging gifts, but only the kids.
Therefore, if you are invited to spend Christmas with a German family (by your German partner), you should ask your partner what his family’s tradition is and buy the Christmas gifts accordingly. If you do not know the family members well, it is best to ask your partner to give you some hints on what to buy. You can also learn more about the Christmas traditions in Germany to get yourself ready before the visit.
Try to avoid giving very personal gifts in Germany like jewelry or clothing, especially if you don’t know the person well. A more general gift like scarves or personalized cups usually goes well. Another idea would be to give something from your own country. For example, I bought some Chinese tea and souvenir for my husband’s family in Germany.
Do not give something too exotic though. Many German people are quite conservative to try new cuisine. I once bought some Chinese beef jerky for a German family and I still remember their skeptical face when they received it.
German wedding is much smaller than those in my hometown Hong Kong. This is because German people only invite their close family and friends to their wedding (but not all the friends and colleagues of their parents, or everyone who lives in the same village).
If you are invited to a wedding in Germany, you should definitely give a gift. Wedding registers are not so common here. It is more an American thing. However, many couples state in their wedding invitation some hints about the gifts. For example, I went to three German weddings so far and it was stated in the invitations that the couples would like to have money as a gift.
In my hometown Hong Kong, we would just give a red pocket with money inside as a gift. It is very different in Germany. The money gift should look “nice” because purely giving someone money is not considered as thoughtful, especially for weddings. German people appreciate it when you make some efforts to think about what the recipient would like. Therefore, it is common to see small gifts that are decorated together with some money bills. You need to wrap the money bills creatively so that they don’t just look like money.
If the wedding couples do not prefer money gifts, kitchen gadgets are quite popular as a wedding gift. Another idea would be to give them some personalized gifts. If you are close to them, you can consider giving gifts with personalized photos like photo books, photo mugs, photo calendars, etc. You can find different photo gift ideas on this website here.
Business gift giving in Germany
Giving gifts to your business partners in Germany
Giving small business gifts is polite and appreciated in Germany, especially if it is the first time you meet the other people. However, gifts are not always expected. Therefore, it is totally fine if you are not bringing any gift. This is because people in Germany want to concentrate more on the actual business, instead of other rituals like gift giving.
Occasions for giving a business gift in Germany
I have been working in Germany for around ten years now. Below are some of the occasions that I see gifts are given in the workplace:
- Visiting your business partner for the first time (e.g. customers, suppliers, colleagues, etc.)
- Gifts given by the employer to the employee to appreciate the good work
- Holiday gifts given by the employer to the employee, e.g. Christmas, Easter, etc.
- Souvenir brought to the office after someone comes back from their vacation
- Occasions like birthday, marriage, having a new kid, etc. Gifts can be organized by other colleagues or the boss for the person.
If it is the first time that you meet your business partners, it is good to give something small and of good quality. However, the gift should not be too expensive.
Visiting a customer in Germany
Some gift ideas would be some office equipment or good quality pens with your company’s logo on them.
Vising your colleague in Germany
You can bring some small specialties from your own countries. For example, when my colleague from the U.S. visited us in Germany, she brought some special chocolates from the U.S. so that we can enjoy them during her presentation.
Be careful when giving or accepting business gifts in Germany
Giving business gifts in Germany
Business gift giving can be seen as bribes in Germany if not done correctly. And bribery is a criminal offense. That’s why you should be careful when giving or accepting business gifts in Germany.
In general, giving small business gifts up to 15 Euros is normally seen as a pure courtesy in Germany. Therefore, try to avoid giving too expensive business gifts like jewelry or concert tickets in Germany. If you have to give an expensive gift, the giving of the gift should be as public and official as possible.
Note that there are strict rules for civil servants in Germany and they are not allowed to accept any gifts at all. This is to avoid bribery to the government officials.
Receiving business gifts in Germany
You have to be careful not only when you are giving business gifts in Germany, but also when you are receiving them. A general rule is to think about if accepting the gifts will change your business relationships.
Exchanging gifts between colleagues is less problematic as it is usually considered as a private nature. Accepting gifts from your employer or other business partners can be more complicated as the gifts may be subjected to tax, if the gifts’ value exceeds a certain threshold.
If you are not sure, ask your company about its gift-giving practices. In many big companies in Germany, you can also find internal compliance guidelines regarding gift giving on their websites.
Read also: Tax Return in Germany – Guide for Expats
Ideas for gift giving in Germany
If you are struggling with what to give, here are some ideas for you.
A bottle of wine or a good liquor
You can find some nice ones in a liquor shop. Otherwise, you can also buy one from a supermarket. Many people think that imported wine from France or Italy is fancy. But giving a German wine is not bad if it is a good brand.
Beer (for house parties)
You can get them in a supermarket.
Either from a supermarket or a chocolate shop.
Some specialties or souvenirs from your home country
As mentioned before, you should not give gifts in Germany that are too unusual or exotic. Some general ideas would be tea, spices, sweets, small decoration, books, travel guides, etc.
Yellow roses or tea roses can be nice gifts. They should be in uneven numbers except the unlucky number 13. The easiest way is to just get a bunch at a flower shop. You can also find flowers at supermarkets, but they are not as nice as those in a flower shop.
A good quality scarf
This can be a good gift for women.
Pens or other office equipment with your company logo
These are for your business partners.
As mentioned before, people appreciate personalized gifts in Germany as they can see that you put some effort into preparing them. Photo in a nice frame, photo books, photo mugs, and photo calendars are all perfect gifts (more ideas here). We are giving our family members photo calendars every Christmas so that they can hang them in the following year.
Hobbies related gifts
If you know the recipient well, you can find a gift related to his hobby. For example, we gave an adult Lego set to our colleague for his birthday. You can also give a voucher for a Yoga class, dance class, gym membership, cooking class, etc., depending on the interest of your recipient.
Giving experience gifts become very popular in Germany as they can create beautiful memories. You can give an experience box where the recipient can choose an experience, e.g. spa, massage, paintball, dinner, cocktail tasting, etc. Or if you have a specific spa or restaurant in mind, you can buy a cash coupon directly from there.
Other popular experience gifts include escape room coupons, concert tickets, football game tickets, cinema coupons, driving or flying experience, etc. The recipient can use the coupon to enjoy the experience with his friend, or you can offer to have the experience with him together.
You can give a travel coupon where the recipient can choose where to go (many different options in Germany and Austria). The coupon includes the cost of the hotel and breakfast for two people. I have received it several times before and found it great as a weekend getaway with my husband.
You can give some high-quality tea from a tea shop or you can give a tea gift box. It is quite a safe choice as a gift.
This is another safe gift idea. You can give a nice spice set as a gift in Germany, especially if the recipient likes cooking. Vinegar and cooking oil sets are great as well, as anyone can easily consume them.
Avoid giving these gifts in Germany
Giving flowers is generally a good gift idea in Germany and it usually cannot go wrong. However, you should be careful not to give certain flowers. For example, carnations symbolize mourning and chrysanthemums/ lilies are for funerals. Besides, don’t give red roses unless you have a romantic intention. Yellow and tea roses would be a better choice in general.
You should not give any pointed objects like knives and scissors as wedding gifts as they are considered bad luck in Germany.
Overly expensive items
Do not give overly expensive gifts in Germany, as the recipients may feel like they need to give you something back in return.
If you are giving a substantial business gift in Germany, you should make the gift giving as public and official as possible.
Gifts that are too personal
Unless it is for your partner, avoid giving personal items like toiletries, perfumes, or clothing, as there is a risk that the recipients may not like the style. However, giving gifts like a scarf to women in Germany is normally okay.
Unusual or exotic gifts
As mentioned before, German people are not very open to very exotic food. Therefore, you should consider that if you are giving specialties from your own country.
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What is your gift giving experience in Germany? Leave a comment below and share your stories!
Moving to Germany or new in Germany? Check out our Support Page for all the resources you need!