Thank to gifts — Hidden gaps you may not notice, Business communications between Europe and Japan (2)

Thank to gifts

“Japanese people don’t thank to the gifts. They thank when receive it, but no comments on the gift afterwards.” says Mary, a General Director for Europe of a Japanese Company A. She looks sad a little.

She is kind and cares for people’s hearts and minds in business, as much as she does in her private life.

Every time she travels to Japan for business, she brings some gifts. These are not only for senior executives she meets, but for managers and assistants who help her meetings and travels. Gifts are rather simple but carefully selected; for example Swiss cookies which are traditional from the northern region of the country.

Being European, she has difficulty in understanding why her Japanese colleagues do not give her a feed back  of the gifts, though they welcomes them when they receive them. Mary naturally expects comments such as “I liked the Swiss chocolate you gave me. It tasted very special!”

One day, Mary brought to her Japanese boss a bottle of a high quality brandy made at the year of his birth. Knowing her boss’ age, I’d think the gift quite expensive and she had to search it spending time. It is her gift with her heart.

To her disappointment, Mary got no response from him.

“Why??? He is not closed-minded. He is well aware of the international business manners. Nevertheless, why he doesn’t say anything about the brandy?”

I understand both Mary’s sadness and Japanese habit.

I explained her that Japanese don’t have a habit of opening the gift in front of someone who gave it to him/her, and that Japanese do appreciate your caring mind represented by the gifts but that they just don’t have a habit of telling you afterwards how they felt about the gifts.

Mary was not convinced. She said, “We are carrying on international business. Japanese people should follow the international business manner.”

She is right. I however think that it will take years for home-grown Japanese to adapt an international business habit, especially on gifts. It will be one of the last things which Japanese men would absorb and integrate in their mindset. While Japanese women are freer to express their feeling than men, men would still shy off to express their emotion.

I am sorry to Mary, but please rest assured that Japanese do appreciate your caring mind.