If you have spent any time overseas you may already know that, even in countries with cultures relatively similar to your own, the custom of gift giving can be quite different.
That holds true when giving gifts in Vienna, Austria (or anywhere else in Austria for that matter too), as Austrians do have specific customs and ways of gift giving most will follow.
Here then are a few tips you may want to follow if coming to Vienna and being in a position where you may want to give gifts.
After all, while giving gifts is a nice thing to do, if done the wrong way it could also cause offense.
Giving gifts in Vienna in pretty packaging
Unlike in some countries, where you could arrive with a gift in the brown bag you put it in at the supermarket, giving gifts in Vienna usually means wrapping them in pretty packaging.
That can be a gift bag complete with tissue paper, or with the gift wrapped in gift paper and a fancy ribbon.
Just like in your home country, many stores have gift-wrapping services in Vienna if you purchase something from them, which can save you time looking for a suitable wrapping paper.
Occasionally, I have even had Austria friends give me homemade gifts like jam, bread and candy, and even they arive in lovely packages. (See the homemade jam I received from an Austrian acquaintance my first year in the country above).
Open gifts in front of the gift giver
Unlike in Thailand, where I used to live, and where gifts are rarely opened in front of the giver, in Austria it is expected you open the gift there and then. And, of course, be complimentary about the gift and happy to receive it.
The Austrian you give a gift too will also do the same.
As many people coming to Vienna on short trips are coming for business, a quick primer on what and what not to do when gift giving in business in Vienna could be useful.
In the norm, gift giving isn’t really expected. In fact, just about the only time it will happen is at Christmas or if a big project has been completed and managers want to thank the people working for them.
I have also brought small gifts back from trips home to the U.S. for people I regularly do business with, which was appreciated although it definitely wasn’t expected.
Even in these cases, gifts should be small and inexpensive.
If you are coming from your home country, things that represent it — a specific national food, a bottle of high quality alcohol from your specific area, a small handcrafted piece from your home town like a piece of pottery or glassware — would be a nice touch.
Bribery and corruption is also taken seriously in Austria, so if you are coming to Vienna to try to strike a business deal, coming armed with expensive gifts probably isn’t the best idea.
Giving gifts in Vienna when visiting someone’s home
As most people in Vienna tend to meet friends or business colleagues in local restaurants, cafes or bars, being invited to an Austrian person’s home does not happen that often.
In fact, in my five years of living in Vienna, I can count on one hand the number of Austrian’s homes I have visited that were not close personal friends.
That being said, if you do receive an invitation to visit someone’s home or to have dinner there, taking a small gift is polite and would be welcome.
In these cases, I have taken a bottle of wine and a small box of inexpensive chocolates, flowers or, at Christmas, a box of Christmas pastries or cookies (biscuits for the English among us).
An expensive gift is not expected. It is just nice to arrive at an Austrian’s home bringing something more than just yourself.
Overall, though, when giving gifts in Vienna, just remember it should be from the heart and should not be so expensive it makes the Austrian you are giving it to feel overwhelmed or beholden.
In fact, if you choose a small gift with a specific person in mind, chances are it will be extremely appreciated.
As for chocolate, a lovely Austrian brand you can easily pick up in Vienna is Zotter. They are a chocolate manufacturer from the Styria region of Austria and have several nice gift sets that are appropriate as a gift. I have bought them in the past at supermarkets like Spar and Billa. And yes, Zotter chocolate is delicious.
Gifts for children in Vienna, Austria
While I have given close friends in Vienna gifts when they have become new mothers, I have only taken gifts for their children a couple of times.
In one instance, it was a CD of English songs I thought an Austrian friend’s young daughter would like (she loved it as did her mother). The other time it was a small toy rabbit at Easter.
Just about the only time giving a child in Vienna a gift is more common, however, is on December 6th — Saint Nicholas Day — when Austrian children are given chocolate, nuts and sweets if they have been good, or a rod if they have been bad.
If you are visiting an Austrian home on December 6th, a home with children, taking a small gift of candy or chocolate for each child would be a nice thing to do.