The only taboo in Zimbabwean gift giving is to refuse a gift. In fact, Zimbabwe gift givers are famous for giving the food off of their table and even if the recipient knows the giver may go without dinner, it would be of upmost insult to refuse the gift.
Gift giving in Zimbabwe is a thread that weaves the culture together. Gifts are one of the most common ways to strengthen social bonds and show appreciation or respect. Gifts upon visiting someone's home are a Zimbabwean standard.
To learn about the gift giving standards in a country so far away, we found contacts through One American, a charity organization in Zimbabwe. We were able to gather information from MaryJane Westra, a missionary from the U.S. who currently lives in Zimbabwe who was able to provide an “outside looking in” perspective. We also got in touch with Edward Mathuvhunye, the president of a church in Zimbabwe who has lived there his entire life.
Wrapping a Gift: Gifts are commonly wrapped but it's also acceptable to present a gift to the recipient without it being wrapped. The color and style of wrapping holds no meaning or symbolic value other than it's a way to show thoughtfulness.
Presenting a Gift: Gifts are presented to recipient in front of all guests and opened in front of everyone upon receiving.
Unique Etiquette: Mathuvhunye explained that upon receiving a gift, thank yous are expressed through action not verbally. The most common ways of showing thanks are clapping, whistling, jumping up and down or dancing.
Though it would be considered rude to ask someone for a gift here in the states, in Zimabwe, many sources say it's acceptable and common to ask someone for a gift. Westra said of her experience: “we brought small gifts to our friends and personal employees, but our suitcases would not have been large enough to give a gift to everyone here on the mission. Nonetheless, many people asked what gift we brought for them.”
Bribery vs. Gifting: Because there is some corruption in Zimbabwe, gifts are often used as bribes. Thus, an expensive gift could be viewed as a bribe instead of simply a friendly intention.
Taboo Gifts: While there are no taboo gifts, it's taboo to refuse a gift. Westra explained a time in which she struggled with the rule to never refuse a gift. “We brought aspirin for [a girl's] mother who suffers from arthritis and finds relief with aspirin. She was very grateful and appreciative. On her next visit to our home, Tsitsi brought us a live chicken in appreciation for the aspirin. Her mother had insisted on this gesture, and had borrowed the chicken from a neighbor with a promise to pay it back when her chicks were grown. I was horrified that I was given literally the food from their table. She gave the first fruit even before the harvest!”
Good Gifts: Food is the most common gift and is acceptable for any occasion.
Business Gift Giving Standards: Business gift giving isn't a norm but a business gift would be appreciated nonetheless. If ever giving a business gift in Zimbabwe, keep it simple because a costly gift may be seen as a bribe.
Gift Giving Occasions: Gift giving occasions are similar to the norms that we experience here in the states. Mathuvhunye told us that “the most common occasions gifts are given are, birth of child, birthdays, weddings, graduations, dedication of buildings, installation of Pastors as well as farewell services.”
*Hostess gifts: When going to someone's house, Zimbabweans almost always arrive with a small gift. The hostess is also expected to provide the gift of tea or coffee without asking the guest if they actually want it. The guest is expected to accept it.
*Thank You Gifts: Thank you gifts are common but not a standard. Sometimes thank you gifts are given for thank you gifts and where to end this chain can be a little blurry.
*Birthday: Birthday gifts are common and popular ones include money, costumes and clothes.
*Christmas: Since over half of the population is Christian, Christmas is a big holiday. The gift exchange mimics what we are used to in the states including gifts from Santa.
*Wedding: Cash is the most common wedding gift. Sometimes gift amounts are announced to the entire wedding but usually they are just written down by a member of the wedding party. Mathuvhunye told us that other popular wedding gifts are livestock, furniture, honeymoon expenses or stoves.
*Baby: Birth gifts are common, especially baby clothes.
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