A Comparison of French and Mexican Gift Giving Practices

ABSTRACT - The authors use Christmas gift-giving as a means of comparing French and Mexican practices. The data was obtained from a combined sample of 340 drawn from Grenoble, France and Puebla, Mexico. The article discusses both the economic significance of gift-giving and the roles played by husbands and wives in purchase decisions.


Alain J. P. Jolibert and Carlos Fernandez-Moreno (1983) ,"A Comparison of French and Mexican Gift Giving Practices", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, eds. Richard P. Bagozzi and Alice M. Tybout, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 191-196.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, 1983      Pages 191-196


Alain J. P. Jolibert, Universite de Grenoble

Carlos Fernandez-Moreno, Universite de Grenoble

[The authors wish to thank Seymour Banks and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.]


The authors use Christmas gift-giving as a means of comparing French and Mexican practices. The data was obtained from a combined sample of 340 drawn from Grenoble, France and Puebla, Mexico. The article discusses both the economic significance of gift-giving and the roles played by husbands and wives in purchase decisions.

Gift giving has received less attention from researchers than its economic significance should merit, either in terms of national or international studies. This article is concerned primarily with a comparative study of the French and Mexican Christmas gift-giving. It was hypothesized that if cross-cultural differences were found to exist between our French and Mexican samples, they would arise from two sets of factors C one set of such factors can be considered as "economic" arising from differing levels of income and education; the other is considered to be "socio-psychological" arising from the contrasts of French and Mexican traditions. This paper is devoted primarily to an exploration of the socio-psychological aspects of such a phenomenon. We chose Christmas gift-giving because its almost universal occurrence and its significance for the donors.

For consumer researchers, it may be useful to start our discussion with a comment on the economic importance of the industries most affected by this phenomenon. A brief summary of the 1979 data of the French toy industry is as follows; Employment: 17023; Salaries and Wages, 600 million F; and the value of sales (before Taxes) 2,146 millions F (INSEE, 1980). Because of its financial importance and the economic problems which might arise in this sector, the French governmental authorities are interested in stimulating the toy section of the economy (Thelier, 1981). However, toys are not the only product affected by gift-giving; cameras are very much a part of this phenomenon. Eighty per cent of cameras owned by young people of France and 40% of those used by women were received as gifts (Negro, 1979a).

The economic importance of gift-giving is not confined to France. For example, Davis (1972) has estimated that in 1967, the British spent 1148 million L on gifts of all kinds, representing 4.3% of personal consumption expenditure; this activity also resulted in an industry employing 120,000.

Three observations can be drawn from the research which has been done on the process of gift-giving.

a. Gift-giving has been studied first in primitive societies or cultures.

b. Relatively little research has been conducted on current gift-giving practices.

c. No one seems to have conducted cross-cultural studies of this phenomenon.

Let us discuss these conclusions, in turn:

a. One must turn to the anthropological literature for an analysis of the origins of gift-giving. The work of Mauss (1978) and Malinowski (1973) have used the Potlach of the North American Indians and the Kula of the Pacific Islanders to develop the rules which governed their exchange of gifts: give; receive; give back.

Studies of gift-giving in modern times are not much more numerous than those done with primitive societies. These modern studies are of two kinds: one continues in the anthropological-sociological tradition; the other derives from marketing and is concerned with consumer behavior. Levi-Strauss (1954), Dillon (1968) and Bourdieu (1976) work in the anthropological tradition. The work of Levi-Strauss places gift-giving within a body of theory dealing with reciprocal relations, both for the primitive and contemporary cultures. Dillon has extended the concepts of Levi-Strauss to cover gifts exchanged between nations. Finally, Bourdieu's research has let him to regard gift-giving or the exchange of presents as a means of domination.

b. Among consumer behavior researchers, Clarke and Belk (1979), Banks (1979), Heeler, Okechuku and Reid (1979), Belk (1976, 1979), Negro (1979a, 1979b) Ryans (1977), Davis (1972), Caron and Ward (1975), Hansen (1972) and Bussey (1967) have published work on the subject of gifts and gift-giving. In fact, the number of studies in this field is reduced somewhat if one evaluates the underlying purposes of the research discussed by the author. For example, neither Caron and Ward not Hansen were really interested in actual gift-buying decisions. The former used gifts as a means of studying other phenomenon, more specifically the influence of the mass media and interpersonal relations upon the products preferred and desired by children and the decisions taken by their parents. Hansen used them to investigate the information sources as well as the adaption of attitude motels.

However, the cited work by Bussey, Belk and Davis do describe the actual processes of gift-giving. Belk's 1979 work is subdivided into two studies which explore the connections between the act of giving, the self image of the gift-giver and sexual roles broadening our theoretical understanding of this phenomenon. Ryans and Negro (1979a) were concerned with the differences which arose in consumer behavior when they studied the purchase of products to be offered in contrast with the purchase of those which were destined for family or personal usage. Negro's second study (1979b) used factor analysis to sketch out the most important consumer attitudes applicable to Christmas gifts. Belk's early paper (1976) applied the theories of cognitive consistency to ex?lain the processes of selection and evaluation Of gifts. Banks (1979) presented a paradigm for gift-giving research. The two papers of Clarke and Belk (1979) and Heeler, Okechuku and Reid (1979) deal with the search process for gifts.

c. The absence of any comparative or cross national study of gift-giving is part of a more wide-spread circumstance. P.L. Reynaud as cited by Albou (1979) pointed out that comparative studies of consumer behavior are few in number and are unfortunately concentrated within the context of developed countries, neglecting the developing countries.

Our study is placed within this approach. Thus, it should improve our knowledge of gift-giving in both France and Mexico. More specifically this article studies the process of gift-giving, the number of such gifts, the-proportion of income spent on gifts and a breakdown of the total expenses spent on individual items; thus we stress the economic approach to this topic.

In addition we are interested in exploring the roles played by both husband and wife in gift buying decisions. Although the process of purchase decision-making by various family members has been researched via a substantial number of studies (Davis, 1976) as far as we know, this is the first time that this phenomenon has been studied in the context of gift-giving. This article analyzes the role of each spouse in the determination of the amount to be spent, the choice of the item to be bought and the purchase itself. The cross-cultural findings of this study arises from our discovery of differing roles of husbands and wives in the two countries studied and the differing relative importance of specific gift items -- clothes, toys, sports items, etc....



Two quota controlled samples were chosen initially in Grenoble, France and Puebla, Mexico; quota controls were used in order to achieve as much comparability as possible among the respondents. Probability based samples would probably produce more representative samples of each city's population but this would probably increase the difficulty of interpreting the results. It was thought better to start our research into a cross cultural comparison of gift buying or gift-giving behavior among groups of people who were fairly similar except for their cultural context; thus avoiding commingling population differences with cultural differences.

A commonly used technique for this purpose draws upon samples of identifiable subgroups derived from the populations to be studied (Brislin and Baumgardner, 1971), for example students. Based upon the underlying purpose of our research, we chose to define our subgroups on the basis of certain socio-demographic variables. In addition to chose traditionally used as quota controls, we added others that we thought were important as affecting gift-giving.

One of the most critical of these variables is family status because we were interested in studying Christmas gift-giving situations. To carry this process to its logical end, we decided to interview only those couples with young children. We had thought that the information furnished by each parent would be identical as concerned with the processes involved in buying gifts for the other members of the family. Thus, it was decided to not use sex of respondent as a further quota control.

Education was not retained as a quota control because levels of educational achievement have quite different meaning among the French and Mexican educational system.

Finally income was used as our second major quota control because its presence permits fairly easy comparisons across the two cross-cultural groups.

Two hundred spouses, parents of young children were initially personally interviewed at home in both Grenoble and Puebla, using as quota controls the criteria we have just discussed. Three hundred forty of the 400 questionnaires were retained for subsequent processing (161 from Grenoble, 179 from Puebla): sixty were discarded either because of non reliability or because the respondents did not meet the original sample specifications - divorced person, unmarried cohabitants, non Christians etc.... Because we found it very expensive to research the people who have refused to be interviewed, no adequate means is available to test non response bias.

Comparability of Samples

The fact of discarding questionnaires may modify the quotas previously established. Thus we used the chi-square test to evaluate the income distributions of our two samples. The hypothesis that these two income distributions came from the same or similar populations could not be rejected at the 5% level. (Table 1)



Some additional variables were checked such as age and education. The Mexican sample was slightly older (x = 38/61) than the French sample (x = 35.65). The Mexican sample showed a better educational level than the French sample. Specifically, more Mexicans in our sample held graduate degrees (37.93%) than the French (23%). However, this is not surprising as the income level used in obtaining our Mexican sample precluded a higher proportion of less well off families than was the case with our French sample. A further explanation of the difference might be found in the fact that the educational systems of the two countries differ widely: a graduate degree in Mexico sometimes corresponds to an undergraduate degree in France.

The Questionnaire

a. Conceptually, our questionnaire had three parts. The first part was a description of the family of each donor of presents plus his (her) circle at work and friendship giving insight into the totality of gifts given by each donor and the couple. The second part of the questionnaire dealt with the details of recently given gifts. Finally the third part of the questionnaire dealt with the socio-demographic status of each person interviewed.

b. Every cross-cultural study based upon questionnaires runs into the problem of accurate translations of the research instructions. One can easily state that the problem of translation is a difficult one. Either one claims the right to use a literal translation of a given text in order to insure the same meaning in each language; or one can use more naturalistic translations of the two documents even if it may mean some divergence of the two texts. (Manaster, 1972).

There are several methods to be used in translating such research documents (Manaster, 1972). The best known is known as backward translation: One translates the original questionnaire regardless of its origin into the second language; another person now translates the questionnaire back into the first language. The process-continues until one gets the same results regardless of the language used to start or to finish with. Although this procedure is theoretically sound, it creates difficulties for a study like ours which uses sentences (ant not adjective check-lists like those used to measure self image), since language often differ on the richness and complexity of such terms.

Instead we chose to use three translators, each working independently, who mate translations from French into Spanish. The final Spanish version was derived from those responses receiving identical translations from at least two of the three translators. In addition, this preliminary Spanish was pretested by a field test with 15 Mexicans.

c. Our parallel studies were carried out simultaneously in France and Mexico. The interviewing started on Jan. 2 and covered an eight week period. By this time it was beginning to be apparent to all concerned that recollection of the Christmas gift-giving process were beginning to fade out in the minds of the various respondents.


Number of Presents Given

Although a count of the number of gifts given is a simple clear statistic, it is quite sensitive to the size of family circles or friendship of the respondents. Therefore we converted this statistic into a relative measure:

Gift-giving   =    No of persons receiving gifts          x 100

frequency          Total no. potential gift receivers

This measure was then calculated for each couple and then separately for each member of the couple.



It is clear that Mexican husbands gave gifts to a higher proportion of their family circle than was the case for their French counter part. An alternative hypothesis is H so apparent: in France, the number of gift recipients is largely set by the wives decisions while Mexican wives and husbands are equal contributors to the scope of gift-giving.



Percentage of Monthly Income Spent on Presents

Apparently Mexican couples spent a higher proportion of their average monthly income for Christmas presents than French couples. One might feel that this result was expected since the preceding analysis had indicated that Mexican couples gave to 10% more of their familY circle than did the French.



A x2 test performed on Table 4 showed that the two samples differed at the .05 level. A detailed examination of gift-giving frequency cross-classified by proportion of the total quantity of money spent on Christmas gifts (Table 4) indicated that our Grenoble sample had a greater tendency to offer relatively low-valued Christmas gifts to a substantial number of recipients. Approximately 57% of the presents offered by our Grenoble sample had a value equal to or less than 10% of the total quantity spent for this purpose. The analogous figure for the Poblan sample was 49.2%. One sees this situation in reverse when one examines the data for gifts costing between 10-20% of the total family gift-giving cost. Thirty two percent of the Mexican sample bought gifts of this value as compared to 24: of our French sample. Relatively few gifts by either sample cost more than 20% of the Christmas totals, with both groups acting in the same fashion.



Table 5 repeats the analytical scheme of Table 4 but uses monthly income as the means of evaluating the sums spent by each couple on Christmas presents. A x test shows that the two samples differ at the .05 level. It is again clear that our French couples were more likely to buy relatively lower priced Christmas gifts than was true for our Mexican sample - over 88% of the presents offered by the French couples had values equal to or less than 107, of their monthly income - the corresponding figure for the Mexicans was 70%. Such a pattern may be explained by a different meaning of the gift between the two cultures. In France, the gift may be more symbolic than being of value in its own right. However, the potlatch concept may still influence Mexican donors.

Christmas Gifts Classified By Type and By Recipient

Overall, clothing and toys were most commonly given as Christmas presents. However there were different patterns in the two cultures: in Mexico, clothing was clearly the preferred choice being given 1/2 times more frequently as toys - the second choice In France, on the other hand, although clothing was given most frequently, its lead over toys was only 1.2%. Two explanations may be given to this phenomenon. First, as the Mexican families have more children than the French, clothing may be a more important problem. Secondly, clothing may be more valued in Mexico than in France i.e. Mexican families may consider clothes of their children as more important than their French counterparts.

There is also a cross cultural difference between the two distributions of clothing as a Christmas gift. In Grenoble, it was the parents of the couple who were the most likely recipients of clothing followed by the spouse and then the children of the couples. The corresponding rates of distribution were 35, 27 and 24% respectively. Among the Poblan sample, it was the children who received clothing most frequently as Christmas gifts, followed by the parents and then the couple. The rates of distribution here were 44, 20 and less than 10% respectively.

Toys, the second most frequently given Christmas present were given almost universally to children, 92% of French toys to children and 94% of Mexican toys also going to children.

It is interesting to note the favored position of children among our Mexican sample - clothing was not used to compensate for a lower rate of toy distribution and vice versa. Thus one might say that, for our Mexican sample, gifts of clothing and toys to their children were regarded as complementary, not competitive.

Other types of Christmas presents were of lesser importance than clothing and toys. However books made up almost 7% of the French gifts-being given most frequently to children; sport items were relatively more important as Christmas gifts among our Mexican sample (6%) - for these, the flow up and down the family live were equally likely - children 35%, and parents 33%.


Let us turn our attention to the origin or source of the ideas that led eventually to gift purchases.

a. Sources of gift-giving ideas



A chi-square test of the attributed sources to Christmas gift ideas shows statistically different patterns among our two cross cultural samples. Among the French, the recipient and the individual gift-giver samples. Among the French, the recipient and the individual gift-giver were the most important sources of gift-giving ideas _ 37% and 29% respectively. Among the Mexican, the individual was the only important source of gift ideas - accounting for 69% of the attributions. Because of the overwhelming importance of the Mexican individual gift-giver as the source of ideas for Christmas present-giving, recipients and stores were relatively more frequently attributed ideas-sources among the French than among the Mexicans. Finally it is intriguing to note that among both the French and the Mexican respondents, the "other" spouse was. seldom, if ever, given credit for Christmas gift ideas.

b. Setting Budgetary Limits on Christmas Gift Giving

Next, let us analyze the decision of the total amount to be spent on Christmas gifts.



There is both agreement and disagreement in terms of the appropriate decision-making unit among our two cross-cultural samples which deals with the total amount spent on Christmas presents. For both our French and Mexican sub-samples, the couple is the most frequently occurring decision-maker; however, the two samples differ so much on the second most important decision-making unit that the two distributions differ significantly overall, according to the x test. Among the Mexicans, the husband is the second most important decision-maker; among the French it is the wife. One may dramatize the situation by pointing out the fact that 33% of such overall budgetary decisions are made by Mexican husbands; French husbands make only 2% of such decisions by themselves.

c. Determination of the Amount Spent on Each - Present

We have also examined the process of placing spending limitations on individual gifts. As might be expected, these findings are parallel with those found on Table 7. Again x finds different patterns across the two cultures.



Among the Mexican sample the couple again is the most frequently occurring decision-making unit (63%) but both husband and wife are equally important albeit at a substantially lower level (both at 18%). However, in France, most frequently the wife determines the amount to be spent on individual gifts (50%) with the couple coming second with 35% of such attributions.

Although the French husband again appears relatively seldom as a determinor of price limits of individual presents, he is involved relatively more often on the quantities to be spent O!l individual gifts (12%) than on overall spending totals (2%). Thus the French husband may be said to act as a "technical expert" on the prices to be made for a limited number of items, rather than as a financial officer or purchasing agent in general.

Finally, we find "others" (brothers and sisters particularly) cited in the French data as decision makers in this area; this phenomenon did not arise among the Mexican data.

d. Purchasing Behavior

Once more the x2 test confirms the existence of a cross cultural difference between our samples, this time with regard to the spousal units which buy Christmas gifts.



Overall, the couple is the principle buying unit; however, the individual national patterns are quite different. Among the French, the wife is the principle gift-purchaser while among the Mexicans it is the couple.

Again the French data show "others" as involved in gift-buying; sometimes as an agent for a couple but sometimes there's a sharing between brothers and sisters for gifts to be given in common. Again, neither in France or in Mexico do husbands appear to a significant extent as purchasers on their own.


1. This exploratory cross-cultural research into the phenomenon of Christmas gift-giving has given us some new insights into this economically significant subject. Of particular interest is the discovery of substantial cross cultural differences in consumer behavior.

-Mexican wives and husbands appear to be equal contributors to the scope of gift giving; however French wives largely set the number of gift recipients.

-Mexican couples spent a higher proportion of their average monthly income for Christmas presents than French couples.

-French couples have a greater tendency to offer relatively low-valued christmas gifts.

-Toys are the prototypical Christmas gift for both cultures but clothing is also an important Christmas gift with different pattern affecting the distribution of this type of gift between France and Mexico.

-Budgetary limits on Christmas gift-giving are set primarily by the couple both in France or Mexico - However French wives and Mexican husbands play important secondary roles.

-The data on the price of each present and of the purchasing behavior itself indicate the important budgetary units to be the couple in Mexico and the wife in France.

It is to be hoped that these results will be substantiated by further research, thus contributing to both theoretical and practical research.

2. The above results must be qualified on the basis of some of the pragmatic decisions entering into our work. The quota samples obtained are not representative of the overall Grenoble and Puebla population. Even if our quotas were able to obtain comparable sample, they are not free of problems. For example, the income quota (as the data on education tends to show) say have retained the upper part of the distribution of the Mexican population meanwhile including a broader spectrum of the French population. Because of different rates of birth between France and Mexico, excluding families without children may have excluded more French families than Mexican, thus creating other sampling biases.

3. Despite these limits, from the present point of view of marketing practice, the identity of the persons or spousal units found to be important in consumer behavior will be significant for the industries concerned. Two elements are of major importances: a) the importance of clothing as a Christmas gift but with different patterns of recipients in France and in Mexico; and b) the couple is the principal tar,get for advertising campaigns in both countries; but it is clear that one should choose differing secondary targets in the two countries: wives are the preferred secondary target in France while men are the preferred secondary target in Mexico.

4. The cross cultural differences found in connection with Christmas gift-giving raise a number of theoretical questions dealing with the permanence of such differences and if possible, some explanation of their sources. For example, our study leads US to ask whether such cross cultural differences affect other gift-giving occasions mother's day, birthdays, etc... - questions that can be answered only with further research.

Taking into consideration the small number of studies on gift-giving, particularly those involving cross-cultural comparisons, the phenomenon of gift-giving represents in our opinion, ample opportunity for research. This feeling is heightened by the fact that the field is being better organized; a substantial body of theory is available to both guide and interpret research findings and finally but certainly not least - the field possess substantial economic and pragmatic significance. Nevertheless the deepest and most difficult aspects of research lie ahead - to discover the differing customs traditions, folklore, that generate the specific cross cultural data we have been discussing,. To illustrate these questions, we suggest investigation of the French and Mexican generated domains of power or the appropriate and inappropriate roles of husbands and wives. Could the greater emphasis on clothing as a Mexican Christmas gift arise out of a desire to have children appear neat and clean - if so, who is to be impressed?


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Alain J. P. Jolibert, Universite de Grenoble
Carlos Fernandez-Moreno, Universite de Grenoble


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10 | 1983

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