One must be careful of differing social and cultural norms when examining bribery. Expectations of when a monetary transaction is appropriate can differ from place to place. Tipping, for example, is considered bribery in some societies, while in others the two concepts may be interchangeable. In Spanish, bribes are referred to as "mordida" (literally, "bite"), in Arab countries they are Backshish or Bakshish. However, Bakshish is more akin to tipping and is socially permissible.
The offence may be divided into two great classes: the one, where a person invested with power is induced by payment to use it unjustly; the other, where power is obtained by purchasing the suffrages of those who can impart it. Likewise, the briber might hold a powerful role and control the transaction; or in other cases, a bribe may be effectively extracted from the person paying it, although this is better known as extortion.
The forms that bribery take are numerous. For example, a motorist might bribe a police officer not to issue a ticket for speeding, a citizen seeking paperwork or utility line connections might bribe a functionary for faster service. In Eugene, Oregon, bribery is an important aspect of the local SLUG Queen pageant that sets it apart from other pageants. The Slug Queens set the rare example of creating and environment where bribery is both accepted and encouraged. The moment a new queen is crowned, the old queens are open to bribery.
Bribery may also take the form of a secret commission, a profit made by an agent, in the course of his employment, without the knowledge of his principal. Euphemisms abound for this (commission, sweetener, back-kick etc.) Bribers and recipients of bribery are likewise numerous although bribers have one common denominator and that is the financial ability to bribe.
Bribery around the world is estimated at about $1 trillion (£494bn). The burden of corruption falls disproportionately on the bottom billion people living in extreme poverty who cannot afford to pay and who thus receive sub-standard treatment from officials.
Dentists often receive samples of home dental care products such as toothpaste, which are of negligible value; somewhat ironically, dentists in a television commercial will often state that they get these samples but pay to use the sponsor's product.
In countries offering state-subsidized or nationally funded healthcare where medical professionals are underpaid, patients may use bribery to solicit the standard expected level of medical care. For example, in many formerly Communist countries from what used to be the Eastern Block it may be customary to offer expensive gifts to doctors and nurses for the delivery of service at any level of medical care in the non-private health sector.
More recently, in 2006 German prosecutors conducted a wide-ranging investigation of Siemens AG to determine if Siemens employees paid bribes in exchange for business.
In some cases where the system of law is not well implemented, bribes may be a way for companies to continue their businesses. In the case, for example where custom officials harass a certain firm or production plant, officially stating to check for irregularities, may halt production and stall other normal activities of a firm. The disruption may cause losses to the firm that exceed the amount of money to pay off the official. Bribing the officials is a common way to deal with this issue in countries where there exists no firm system of reporting these semi-illegal activities. The third party, known as the White Glove may be involved to act as a clean middleman.
Specialists consultancies have been set up to help multinational companies and SMEs, with a commitment to anti-corruption, to trade more ethically and benefit from compliance with the law.
Additionally, bribes may be offered by cities in order to secure athletic franchises, or even competitions, as happened with the 2002 Winter Olympics. It is common practice for cities to "bid" against each other with stadiums, tax benefits, and licensing deals to secure or keep professional sports franchises.
Athletes themselves can be paid to under-perform, generally so that a gambler or gambling syndicate can secure a winning bet. A classic example of this is the 1919 World Series, better known as the Black Sox Scandal.
Finally, in some sports, elements of the game may be tampered with the classic example being from horse racing, where a groom or other person with access to the horses before the race may be bribed to over-feed an animal, or even administer a sedative to reduce a horse's chances of winning. This is another type of bribery done for financial gain through gambling bet against a clear favorite, and ensure that the favorite has an "off day."