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I'll be doing an Internship in USA the following week, in UCLA.

I'm studying in Japan, where you should bring some kind of gift to your host professor, if nothing, for his/her kindness for accepting you as a PhD/visitor/etc.

I've seen this practice along Asian Universities (Japan, China, Singapore, India). But only in Japan professors may get offended if you do not bring anything.

A friend's professor is actually from the US (in a Japanese Univ), and when she have her a gift, the professor flipped and asked her whether this was some kind of joke or bribe, given that both of them were foreigners. Their relationship did not go so well after that.

Now, with this background, I'm a bit wary of bringing some kind of gift or souvenir to my host professor, since I'm pointing towards a postdoc in the same lab and I do not want to cause the wrong impression, but I do want to show some form of gratitude, since the Professor payed for all my expenses (lodging and airplane).

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    I received some local food several times from visitors, for which I was very happy I received a big watch from a visitor, for which I was very embarassed – ElCid Oct 18 '12 at 18:16
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    This professor lacks a certain grace. – Suresh Oct 18 '12 at 20:00
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    Booze is the obvious choice. Most professors like it, and if yours doesn't, you can just drink it and forget about the gift rejection! – Quinn Culver Oct 19 '12 at 3:29
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    Bring it and ask one of their group members if it's appropriate. – Raphael May 26 '14 at 16:46
  • It always depend on the gift: things that are consumable (food, snacks, booze), cheap and relevant (some small charms, etc from Japan) is good, things that look expensive, luxurious really taste like bribe. – Greg Nov 8 '14 at 2:11
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I'll tackle the easiest side of the question first: bringing nothing should not create trouble. If you are clearly expressing your thanks for the invitation, both in written before you arrive, and in person when you meet the guy, noöne should take offense.

On the other hand, bringing a gift is fine too, but:

  • It should be tasteful and suitable for any taste: no sake, no unusual (by US standards) food… unless you know him well enough.
  • It should not be terribly expensive: people like the attention, but they don't actually care so much about the gift itself. Keep it simple, that way it cannot be understood as a bribe.
  • Not academia-related, but still useful to remember: make sure it passes customs (I had my French gift confiscated from me once).

I usually bring stuff to colleagues who host me when I travel to other places, if only because it gives a starting topic for smalltalk (something which I'm not very good at) in a future occasion.

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    Also not expensive, because if it is, the professor is likely to not be allowed to accept it as it ties into bribery rules. – Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson Oct 18 '12 at 11:50
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    @MikaelVejdemo-Johansson: Another valid point. Small "tokens of appreciation" are OK, as they have little or no nominal value. If you feel you could give the same item to somebody else in the group without a problem, then it's probably OK to give it to the boss, too. – aeismail Oct 18 '12 at 12:12
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    The bribery issue isn't just a matter of rules, but also how it feels. I'd describe it more as worrying about exploiting students. If a student gives me a $10 gift, that's a nice gesture, although completely optional. It it looks like it might be a $100 gift, it becomes an uncomfortably large amount, which I would not want anyone to feel they should spend (especially on a student budget). It's best to avoid gifts that look expensive, even if they're actually cheap, so the recipient doesn't have to worry about this, and it's safest to stay far away from the "too expensive" borderline. – Anonymous Mathematician Oct 18 '12 at 12:39
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    I agree that «how it feels» is a relevant component. But I have also had to — both in Germany and in the US — sign papers that state that I understand where the limits for bribery go and that I won't cross them. – Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson Oct 18 '12 at 13:37
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    To give a concrete example, I am legally forbidden by my employer (the State of Illinois) from accepting any gift over $100 from anyone who does business with the university (including students and interns): ethics.uillinois.edu/policies_and_legislation/… – JeffE Oct 18 '12 at 22:08
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It is all right to give a small gift as a token of your appreciation, but in my experience, it's customary to give it at the end of your internship. If I understand your question correctly, you are asking about giving something at the beginning. I think that might be a bit unusual. Normally, these gifts show that you appreciate the time that someone spent working with you.

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    Excellent point—although I've seen it done both ways with visitors, particularly if they're staying for an extended period of time (six months or a year). Short visits should wait until the end, or until a "major event" (seminar or short course or similar event). – aeismail Oct 18 '12 at 12:08
  • I am in a similar situation right now - I've been accepted to a PhD program, and before the term starts I will go to the university to meet my professor and his other lab members. My professor has offered to host me throughout my visit (several days). As I wanted to give him a small gift, I bought two tiny decorative knickknacks made of glass. They cost me about 9-10 dollars in total, as I took care not to buy something expensive - which could be misconstrued as a bribe. But I am still worried. Do you think a small gift like the one I have described is appropriate in the US? – Freya Mar 17 '18 at 13:00
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I have seen people bring local sweets, everyone likes sweets, they are cheap, so you stay away from the "bribe" thing and they can easily be shared if there are more people around. They also provide some kind of smalltalk topic.

  • Sweets may not always make it through customs. Especially if they are rhino horn sweets, for example. – Dave Clarke Oct 18 '12 at 13:42
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    I also remember some sweets which were sugary on the outside but had a (weird) salt core… those were eagerly passed around the lab :) – F'x Oct 18 '12 at 16:05
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A gift to show your gratitude will always be appreciated. People like to know that their efforts in hosting you are not taken for granted, and the token will strengthen the relationship.

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Depending on state law the professor can accept it. I think that usually the threshold is somewhere around the $100 mark. I know that in Illinois if we accept a gift that is worth more than 100 dollars we have the following 3 options:

  1. Respectfully refuse the gift
  2. Accept the gift and donate it to a charitable organization
  3. Accept the gift and then make a charitable donation equal to the value of the gift

I do agree with the other responses that it should be given at the end of the visit. The gift is a "thank you for your time and help gesture" and is a more appropriate form of saying goodbye.

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    Wow. $100. Do you want to visit me? – Dave Clarke Oct 18 '12 at 18:22
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    @DaveClarke you should invite him for 15 back-to-back one-day visits – F'x Oct 18 '12 at 19:38
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Like others said, a small gift to show your appreciation would be completely acceptable. If you have trouble deciding on what to get, try giving something that your area of Japan is known for (as long as it is in good taste). It would add a nice personal touch.

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