Business Etiquette Around the World
At ESEI we are proud to be an international business school. Since starting the school in 1989 we’ve had students from over 48 countries.
Even as we speak, we have more than 30 nationalities enrolled in our undergraduate and masters programmes.
Our students go on to do great things. Some stay in Spain, others return to their home countries and many manage to find work in all sorts of far-flung and exotic places.
When you travel, especially for business, it’s extremely important to be aware of the different cultural practices in the country you are visiting, to avoid offending your hosts.
After all, what’s seen as inappropriate in some western countries, may not be elsewhere. Take eating for example. In China, belching after a meal, is seen as a compliment to the chef. In Japan, you are expected to slurp your noodles to show you are enjoying them. Do that in a business lunch in UK or USA it may be the last meeting you have with them.
We spoke to our students and found out some fascinating things about business etiquette where they come from.
India is a huge place, so customs may vary depending on which part of the country you are visiting. Even so, there are many things which you should take into account no matter where you are.
Shaking hands is common place, at least between men. Always shake hands with your right, as the left hand is used for taking care of other business. Similarly, if out for a business lunch and eating with your hands ,which is quite usual, don’t eat or pass food or drink with your left. You should also avoid ordering beef as cows are considered sacred by India’s Hindu majority.
When visiting someone’s home, always take your shoes off before entering. If you are offered tea, say yes, but don’t drink it too fast as your glass will keep being refilled. At the end of the meal never say thank you. As difficult as you may find this, it’s seen as an insult.
During business discussions, don’t be too direct and instead of saying no, you should reply with I’ll try, we’ll see, possibly or maybe. Also expect negotiations to take a while. Everything will need to go by senior management and pushy sales tactics are not appreciated.
In Germany business is seen as a serious thing and it’s important you are on time and schedule your meetings well in advance. Germans do not like surprises and won’t respond well to tardiness. You have been warned!
First impressions count, so dress formally and conservatively. Make sure you address others using their title and surname and avoid making jokes, at least until you’re on first name terms. Unlike in India, it’s best to be direct and get straight to the point. Keep small talk light as business and pleasure are rarely mixed.
If invited out for a business lunch, impress your hosts by wishing them Guten Appetit before tucking in.
Across Asia business is heavily influenced by rituals and beliefs so it’s important you are aware of how things are done. Don’t expect things to go quickly. Decisions are often made in groups and not by an individual, which makes everything take longer.
When being introduced to someone in Vietnam shake with both hands and bow your head slightly to show respect. Make a great first impression by saying xin chao (seen chow) which means hello.
Be aware that giving and receiving business cards is a big deal. Accept the card with both hands and look at it carefully before putting it away. Like in India, tea is often offered at the start of meetings and should always be accepted.
People may be hard to read in meetings. Often you can leave thinking everything went well, never to hear from them again. At other times, you may be sure you’ve blown it, but go on to a long and happy business relationship. If you disagree with something, remain silent, as arguing can be seen as a loss of face. The spoken word is taken in high regard, so never promise something you cannot live up to.
At the end of the meeting it’s fairly common to give your hosts a small gift. Avoid doing this at the start as it may be seen as a bribe. A souvenir from your home country or something with your company logo both make good gifts.
Business in Sweden is similar to Germany in many respects. You should always be on time and plan your meetings well in advance. Small talk is not common and if your hosts don’t appear overly smiley and friendly – don’t take it personally. Well, unless you were late.
Things are a little more relaxed however. The dress code at work is fairly casual and don’t hesitate to use first names, even when meeting someone for the first time.
Sweden is one of the the leading countries when it comes to gender equality, so don’t consider treating a woman any differently than you would a man. Also Swedish organisations are generally quite flat, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t get a meeting with the boss. Many of the employees have the power to make key decisions.
When invited for lunch always sit on the right-hand side of the host and when toasting maintain eye contact and say skål (skohl).
Like in Germany, Sweden and virtually any other country across the globe punctuality is crucial when it comes to making a good first impression. There is one big difference however. Don’t expect your Russian counterpart to be there when you arrive. They will often show up late as a test of your patience; something which is considered extremely important in Russia. Don’t let it faze you. Bring a good book and wait quietly until you are called.
Patience is something which will come in handy as there is a huge amount of bureaucracy and the system can be confusing for outsiders. It’s often wise to find a local contact before you arrive who can introduce you to the right people and help you with the paperwork.
No matter how cold it is, when you meet someone, be sure to take off your gloves before shaking hands. Gifts are happily received, but don’t be alarmed if they protest before taking it. This is quite usual in Russia.
When talking business try not to smile too much. Meetings are taken seriously and if you sit there with a big grin on your face they might question your intentions.
Next time you are planning on doing business abroad, make sure you carefully research the local customs and etiquettes. You never know, it could make all the difference!
What’s doing business like in your home country? We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment and help your fellow travellers.