Sending a gift to someone in another culture takes some extra consideration; you want to pay attention to any cultural disconnects, taboos, or expectations. But it’s also an opportunity to blow someone away without spending a ton of money.
Cross-cultural business consultant Dean Foster gives advice for giving fantastic gifts internationally in a Medium post; we talked to him about some more dos and don’ts.
The best thing you can give, Foster tells Lifehacker, is something produced in your area that’s rare or expensive in theirs.
You can usually win with a local food or drink: cheese, wine, maple syrup, hot sauce. Or find a food that’s especially prized in your recipient’s culture; Foster writes on Medium that citrus from Florida or California makes a great gift in Japan.
Other local gifts include merchandise for local cultural institutions like sports teams, or toys or clothing that aren’t mass-produced. If you send something to Shanghai, it’ll be much less charming if it’s stamped “Made in China.” So look for custom-made goods.
It’s much better to send something small that’s actually unique, than something that anyone could order online if they just had enough money.
On the cautious side, avoid cultural taboos, writes Foster. Unless you know the recipient won’t mind, avoid sending alcoholic gifts to people in predominantly Muslim cultures, or leather goods to those in Hindu cultures. He also warns of more specific taboos, like giving clocks in China. So whatever you’re sending, do a quick google to check that it won’t feel awkward to your recipient.
Also avoid religious gifts unless you’re sure the recipient would be comfortable with them. That especially applies when giving to people in the U.S.
If you’re sending a gift to a U.S. recipient from another country, you can relax a bit: Foster tells Lifehacker that the U.S. has one of the most permissive cultures around gift-giving. Still, we recommend you check your recipient’s dietary preferences, such as vegetarianism. And inconsistent as it might seem, fur is much more controversial than leather in the U.S.
Lastly, look up local shipping times and holidays. If you’re sending a gift from Japan to the U.S., Foster has a warning: unlike the Japanese postal service, which holds onto New Year’s Day greetings and delivers them precisely on January 1, the USPS isn’t even open that day.