Home Advice Merry Mingling: Your International Guide to Holiday Gifting

Merry Mingling: Your International Guide to Holiday Gifting

by Rosetta Stone
Merry Mingling Gifting header

Thoughtfulness and a little cultural sensitivity translates well in any language

en you’re popping into a holiday party, it’s considerate to bring a gift for the host or hostess. Many people choose flowers since they’re a beautiful and gracious way to extend thanks, but different flowers can have different meanings across cultures. In South Africa for instance, it’s customary to give flowers during the holidays, but in Egypt, they are only appropriate as gifts when attending a funeral. 

Before you grab a potted poinsettia and head out for some merrymaking, check out our dos and don’ts of bringing a holiday bouquet.

Need a quick reference to flower meanings and taboos across cultures? Download our guide.

While each country has its own nuances, there are some common things to avoid across cultures. In many countries, the color of flowers is symbolic with red reserved for passionate love or secrecy and yellow conveying jealousy. Traditionally, white flowers are taboo for occasions other than funerals. Most cultures encourage gifting flowers in odd numbers, but avoiding bouquets in groups of thirteen due to superstition. 

Looking to gift something a little more permanent than flowers? We’ve compiled a gift-giving guide so no matter what nationality or background of the host or hostess, you’ll arrive with an appropriate gift in hand. And of course, always know what to say.

Your International Guide to Holiday Gifting and Greetings

English (UK) Gift Giving Etiquette

While it’s considered good manners to bring a little something to your British host or hostess, it’s not required. Be prepared that if you do come bearing gifts, they’ll be opened immediately and may put you on the spot, so to speak. A box of quality chocolates, a bottle of good wine, or a bouquet of flowers are all traditional choices that should pass the scrutiny of your UK host or hostess with flying colors.

How to say Happy Holidays in the United Kingdom:

Happy holidays will do just nicely for the British crowd, but there are many variations. Unlike their American counterparts, Brits say Happy Christmas instead of Merry Christmas. To really sound like a local, you can shorten Christmas to Chrimbo, a little holiday slang that’s only appropriate for casual, secular settings.

Filipino (Tagalog) Gift Giving Etiquette

Filipino culture values hospitality and while gifts are appreciated, they aren’t expected. If you do bring a gift, don’t be offended if it’s not opened eagerly on the spot. Flipino hosts and hostesses will usually express thanks and then set the gift aside and open it later instead of in front of other guests.

How to say Merry Christmas in Tagalog:

Because a majority of the country is Catholic, Filipinos aren’t shy about saying Merry Christmas which in Tagalog is Maligayang Pasko.

French Gift Giving Etiquette

Proper etiquette is important to the French so be sure to consult our guide before breaking out the flowers for your French host or hostess. And avoid bringing a bottle of wine, since you’re inadvertently implying the host’s wine isn’t up to standard. Instead, hunt down a bag of papillotes, a special French candy from Lyon that are often enjoyed specifically during the holidays, wrapped in papers with little messages or cartoons printed on the inside.

How to say Happy Holidays in French: 

Joyeuses Fêtes

German Gift giving Etiquette

If you’ve been invited into a German home, you’re expected to bring flowers but don’t forget to take the paper off just before you enter. And keep one hand free because you’ll need it. Germans enjoy hearty handshakes both when arriving and departing.

How to say Happy Holidays in German:

Frohe Feiertage

Greek Gift Giving Etiquette

When entering a Greek home, come prepared with a bottle of wine or sweets purchased locally but avoid anything extravagant as it could be viewed as placing a burden on the host to reciprocate. It also pays to cue up the compliments. Greeks appreciate getting kudos on their home and are likely to respond with enthusiasm.

How to say Happy Holidays in Greek

Καλές Γιορτές

Irish Gift Giving Etiquette

Arriving on the doorstep of an Irish home with white flowers in hand is usually reserved for funerals, so opt for a bottle of wine, a fantastic wedge of cheese, or some chocolates instead. Irish hosts and hostesses also open gifts when they are received, so be aware you’ll be owning what you brought in front of a crowd.

How to say Happy Holidays in Irish

 Saoirse Faoi Mhaise Dhíobh

Italian Gift Giving Etiquette

It’s not just Italian flowers in colors like yellow (symbolizing jealousy) that are loaded with double meanings. Any gifts wrapped in black or purple are considered bad luck, so choose your wrapping carefully. It’s okay to bring wine for an italian host or hostess, but do a little research and be sure you’ve brought a good vintage. Italians prize quality over quantity.

How  to say Happy Holidays in Italian

Buone Feste

Japanese Gift Giving Etiquette

When it comes to gift-giving etiquette in Japan, it’s complicated. Be aware that Japanese hosts don’t expect you to reveal your gift until the last minute and when you do, you should definitely downplay its significance. It’s likely your host will thank you effusively until you’re thoroughly embarrassed, but this is all part of the process of politeness in Japanese culture.

How to say Happy Holidays in Japanese


Swedish Gift Giving Etiquette

As with many European countries, it’s customary to bring wine, flowers, or chocolates to the host or hostess of a Swedish gathering. If your host or hostess has children, don’t forget to bring them a few small gifts or toys. Scandanvian culture celebrates family life and is very inclusive of children.

How to say Happy Holidays in Swedish

God Jul och Gott Nytt År!

Spanish (Latin America) Gift Giving Etiquette

Your Latin American host will appreciate a token of your gratitude such as chocolates, wine, or even pastries. But beware yellow, purple, or black flowers or gifts as they indicate bad luck and won’t be received well.

How to say Happy Holidays in Latin American Spanish

Felices Fiestas

Spanish (Spain) Gift Giving Etiquette

In Spain, it’s quite popular to show up at parties with fun little animal figures or other objects made from sugared almond paste called marzipan. Can’t find any in your local store? Don’t fret. It’s a simple recipe that you can try at home

Homemade Marzipan

Ingredients1 1/2 cups very finely ground blanched almond flour or meal1 1/2 cups powdered sugar2 teaspoons quality pure almond or extract of your choice1 teaspoon aromatic water of your choice (rose, orange blossom, etc.)1 egg, divided

InstructionsPlace the almond flour and powdered sugar in a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the extract and rose water. Pulse to combine. Add egg white and continue to pulse until a thick dough is formed. Add more sugar or almond flour if it’s too sticky.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead briefly. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, 1-2 hours. Place in plastic molds to create shapes and put them on baking sheets. Brush with reserved egg yolk. Place under broiler for a minute or two until brown on top (watch them closely or they’ll burn). Store in an airtight container up to a week. 

How to say Happy Holidays in Spanish

Felices Fiestas

Let your holiday spirit speak up in another language.  

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