Exchanging gifts doesn’t just take place between friends and family, but on an international level too. Diplomacy has always entailed giving symbolic gifts to celebrate and commemorate. Some of these gifts are outlandish, some are eye-wateringly expensive, and some are just outright strange.
We’ve put together this infographic looking into the biggest, weirdest and most expensive gifts countries have exchanged. You may know of some of these already and others you might struggle to believe. Read on to find out more…
What is now recognised as an iconic symbol of New York City, if not the entire United States of America, was actually a gift from the French. The Statue of Liberty depicts the Roman goddess of Libertas. The French spent upwards of five million dollars on this statue (in today’s money) and gifted it to America as a celebration of their independence.
France supported the American cause in their revolution against the British and of course, the French people famously got the idea to revolt from the Americans, who brought in an age of revolution around the world by instituting a republic. The French have barely calmed down since. The statue attracts 3 million visitors a year to this day and standing at 93 metres tall, isn’t actually as big as you think it to be. But still pretty big.
This diplomatic gift is a longstanding annual tradition dating back to 1947. Every year, a tall and proud Norwegian spruce is selected and gifted to the UK to stand tall in Trafalgar Square over the holiday season. The tradition started in 1947 to commemorate and thank the UK for their support during the Second World War. Nazi Germany occupied Norway in a day and the exiled Norwegian government took refuge in London. The British helped co-ordinate their resistance and liberation attempts. Eventually, the Russians were able to free Norway.
A heart-warming tradition that represents what Christmas is all about whilst also serving as a painful reminder of the war. It’s gestures like this that seem to take on an even greater significance in today’s political climate.
In 1972, the frosty relationship between China and the USA began to thaw as the now infamous President Nixon visited the nation to end 25 years of no communication or diplomacy. You’d like to think Tricky Dick did this out of a love for peace but it’s more likely that the US were positioning themselves to get a large piece of the China pie as the country modernised and began to embrace capitalist ideals.
Ulterior motives be damned, opening diplomatic relationships is always something to celebrate and the Chinese gifted two giant pandas to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. to mark this new friendship. We wouldn’t be surprised if they had been trained in espionage, but hey, a gesture is a gesture! And who doesn’t love pandas?
Like many European countries that wanted absolutely no part in World War Two, the Dutch found themselves in the middle of the world’s most awful conflict. Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Holland. Anne Frank famously documented her experience of hiding from the Germans in Amsterdam.
Canada took in and sheltered the Dutch royal family during this time and as a thank you they sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Canada in 1945. They’ve sent 10,000 bulbs every year since and in 2017 they even bred a tulip that resembles the Canadian flag. Like the annual Norwegian gift of a Christmas tree, this serves as another bittersweet reminder of comradeship in the face of adversity.
In 1943, King George VI of the United Kingdom commissioned a ceremonial longsword to be forged and presented to Joseph Stalin to celebrate and pay homage to the Red Army’s victory at the Battle of Stalingrad. This five-month long battle was immensely important and was arguably the turning point of the war. The Germans, ignoring the lessons learnt by every person to invade Russia, found themselves fighting in Russia during winter. No army has done more to protect Russia from foreign invasion than the brutal conditions of their winters.
The Battle of Stalingrad was the biggest defeat suffered by the German army. An estimated one million German soldiers were killed, captured or wounded and they never recovered. As a token of gratitude, and probably respect, the UK gifted Joseph Stalin with this ceremonial sword.
Whatever you feel about him, you can’t argue with the fact that Barack Obama set an example of how to conduct yourself as President, carrying himself with professionalism and dignity throughout his two terms (and beyond). Yet for all his positive traits, Obama is seriously guilty of petrol station diplomacy. In 2009, he gifted 25 DVDs to the Prime Minister of the UK at the time, David Cameron.
If that wasn’t enough of a cop-out for you, he gifted an iPod Classic to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, in the same trip. Is this what we get out of the “special relationship”? DVDs and an iPod? In fairness, David Cameron gave gifts of wellington boots and Hobgoblin ale. Yeah, 2009 was weird. Moving on…
There’s no shortage of extravagant, large and outright weird diplomatic gifts and there are some honourable mentions that we’d like to go through.
In 1820s France, the French high society was going crazy for giraffes. Giraffe-patterned wallpaper was in vogue and the ultimate fashionable colour was ‘giraffe yellow’. This was due to France receiving their ‘first giraffe’. Commander Muhammed Ali of the Ottoman Empire gifted a giraffe to the French in an attempt to gain their support in one of their conflicts. Prior to this, there was not a single giraffe in France, and everyone lost their damn minds.
You may have heard of the Tanna tribe in the South Pacific who regard Prince Phillip, yes that’s Prince Phillip of British monarchy fame, as a god. According to folklore, the son of a mountain spirit would travel far away from the island of Vanuatu, marry a powerful woman, and later return to the island. Prince Phillip became the spirit son in the prophecy in the late 1950s and has been worshiped as a deity by a religious sect on the island ever since. In 2010, they gifted the Duke of Edinburgh a sheath for his penis. You know, in case he ever traded in Buckingham Palace for the island life.
Let’s go back to 2009 where Alan Partridge, no sorry that’s Barack Obama, is up to his gift-giving japes again. US-Russia relations had become rather cold once more and in ’09 Obama was trying to right this wrong. The US decided to give a symbolic gift to Russia to signify this step forward. Taking a play straight from the Alan Partridge Book of Diplomacy, they made a literal ‘reset’ button. A big red button with the Russian word for ‘reset’ emblazoned on it. Sadly, the Americans used the Russian word for ‘overcharge’ instead. We’ll file this whole incident in the ‘WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?’ category.
And finally, the last gift we’ll look at is yet another present to Prince Phillip. In 1972, the French president at the time, Georges Pompidou, presented a six-foot-long wine cooler to our esteemed Prince Phillip. What’s wrong with that, you ask? It was in the shape of a grasshopper. To be clear, he was gifted a 6 foot long grasshopper-shaped wine cooler. The 70’s were wild. Still though, it’s better than giving an iPod to an octogenarian.
It just goes to show that whether you’re the President of the United States, the Queen of England, or a revolutionary army, no one is above giving gifts, and although some of these are really quite strange, most of them were thoughtful and personal. Whatever occasion you’re celebrating, at Vanilla Reindeer we’ve got everything you need to give your gifts a personal touch. Wrap it like you mean it with our lines of customised gift bags, bottle boxes, greetings cardsand more!