Nancy MitchellNancy R. Mitchell is an established protocol and etiquette consultant and advisor with more than 30 years of experience in the field. Currently, she is an adjunct faculty member at George Washington University, where she developed and teaches protocol courses to Event Management Certificate Program students in the School of Business and Public Management, and at Stratford University, Falls Church, VA. She serves also as protocol and special events consultant to the Library of Congress, the world’s largest library and cultural center. For 23 years, Mitchell was Director of Special Events and Public Programs at the Library of Congress where she and her staff were responsible for planning and managing over 400 events each year. She coordinated the institution’s major special events, visits of heads of state and other foreign dignitaries, fundraising galas, conferences and meetings. As the Library’s chief protocol advisor, she served as liaison to the White House, U.S Department of State, the Congress, the Supreme Court and other government agencies, foreign embassies, academia and corporations. Mitchell owns The Etiquette Advocate, Inc., a firm providing etiquette and protocol training to corporations, universities, embassies, government agencies, non-profit organizations and individuals. She is the etiquette consultant to Engaged! magazine, has been featured on Good Morning America, Fox 5 News, WTOP Radio and National Public Radio, and is quoted on matters of etiquette and protocol by the New York Times, Washington Business Journal, and the Washington Post. She is a co-owner of the firm, Protocol Partners-Washington Center for Protocol, Inc., and is a member of the Protocol and Diplomacy International Protocol Officers Association and the Women Business Owners of Montgomery Country (MD).
Host: What are some of the taboos of international gift giving?
Nancy Mitchell: The biggest mistake that you can make when you are selecting a gift for an international client or visitor is to ignore some of the customs courtesies, history, symbolism of that person s country. There are resources for you to check, to find out what is appropriate in specific countries. Do not assume that things that are important to you or that we value here in the North American business environment are going to go over as well in some other country.
For instance if you gave a bouquet of white flowers to a Chinese visitor, that is going to fall flat, white flowers signify death. If you gave your Chinese client a clock it signifies the end of like, if you gave them a knife or scissors or even a letter opener, it signifies that you are severing a relationship.
Also steer clear of products that your client has in abundance in his or her country in Mexico, you would not give someone from Mexico a gift made out of silver, it is something that is so abundant in Mexico, that it is not the same, does not have the same value rather as it does in our country.
Colors, numbers, certain countries you must give gifts in odd numbers, certain countries you must give things in even numbers. It is so important for you to do your research so that what you think is inappropriate gift, you have chosen it innocently, sincerely and on the other side, the recipient side it is a distraction because you have gone against something that is important to them or is a custom, a culture or symbol that they value.