All around the world, every single day, thousands of men and women are travelling back and forth to business meetings in other countries. If you’re visiting a new country, or indeed if you’re not entirely sure whether or not your previous international behaviour could have been offensive or not, it’s important to do a little research on common customs and business conduct.
Acceptable international business etiquette varies and there are many factors to consider. For example, you will need to think about the current social and political climate; are there any topics of discussion that should be avoided and are there any safety restrictions?
Conducting Business in a New Country
Aside from taking into consideration the social and political climate, there are a number of general factors to think about which apply to most countries that you may visit. These include how to greet and address your business associates, how to dress, gifting, time keeping and suitable times to talk business. There are, of course, specific gestures and actions which are unique to certain countries and cultures. These are usually the ones which may cause the most offence so be sure to remember this.
Business Meetings Gone Wrong
Inappropriate behaviour may not only cause embarrassment and offence, it could cost your company business opportunities, money and even your job; after all, you are not only representing yourself but your boss, colleagues and your company. You may like to think that your business associates will understand if you don’t address them in the appropriate way or use an offensive hand gesture. While they may realise that you are simply unaware, they may also take it as a lack of respect for failing to learn a little about their culture and customs.
With some help from Cyborlink, we’ve put together this infographic of the proper business etiquette and culture of 7 countries around the world.
International Business Etiquette
South Africa Business Etiquette
Languages Spoken: English and Afrikaans
South Africa Business Etiquette Facts:
- South Africa is the industrial epicentre of Africa with significant resources of gold, silver, diamonds, and copper.
- Business meetings can be held over a meal in a good restaurant.
- The handshake is the most common greeting
- South Africans like to work on clear ‘win-win’ situations
South Africa Business Etiquette Do’s:
- Dress well in public. It will be expected by your host
- Use titles and surnames to address people
- Make appointments starting a 9am
South Africa Business Etiquette Don’ts:
- Rush deals. South African business dealings are very casual
- It is not customary to give business gifts, but if you do then do not present it with your left hand
Argentina Business etiquette
Languages Spoken: Spanish, Italian, and English
Argentina Business Etiquette Facts:
- Dress is very important for first impressions
- A sweeping hand gesture beginning under the chin and continuing up over the head means “I don’t care” or “I don’t know”
- Prior appointments are necessary
- Business dinner in restaurants are popular while lunches are uncommon outside of Buenos Aeres
- Titles are important!
- Physicians: Doctor
- Teachers: Profesor
- Engineers: Ingeniero
- Architects: Arquitecto
- Lawyers: Abogado
- Mr: Senor
- Mrs: Senora
- Miss: Senorita
- Most Hispanics have two surnames, the first is from their father and the second is from their mother. Only use the father’s name when addressing someone.
Argentina Business Etiquette Do’s:
- Men and women should wear dark suits. Men should wear a tie
- Maintain eye contact
- Cover your mouth when coughing or yawning
- Be prepared for late business meetings, work days often last until 10pm
- Arrange to send flowers or candy if being entertained in a home
- Be punctual for appointments but be prepared to wait 30 minutes for your counterpart
Argentina Business Etiquette Don’ts:
- Pour wine backhanded – this is considered impolite
- Don’t give personal items as gifts (i.e. ties, books, etc) Imported liquor is greatly appreciated instead
- Don’t sit down before your host and open the door for him before leaving
- Don’t forget to develop personal relationships before the business is done.
China Business etiquette
Languages Spoken: Mandarin and English
China Business Etiquette Facts:
- Bowing or nodding is the common greeting; however you may be offered a handshake. Wait for your host to offer their hand first
- Applause is common when greeting a crowd; the same is expected in return
- There are many dialects in china however there is only one written language
China Business Etiquette Do’s:
- Wear conservative suits for men with subtle colours
- Avoid physical contact
- Use an open palm to point, not your index finger
- Avoid acts that involve the mouth
- Always arrive on time or early if you are the guest
- Use formal titles
- Make contacts prior to your trip
- Bring several copies of all written documents to your meeting
- Present and receive cards with both hands
- Develop a working knowledge of Chinese culture
- Allow the host to leave a meeting first
China Business Etiquette Don’ts:
- Wear jeans
- Wear high heels or short sleeved shirts
- Use large hand movements. Body language is muted and reserved.
- Discuss business at meals
- Eat or drink before the host
- Don’t expect to conclude business quickly. The decision making process is slow
- Write on a business card or put it in your wallet or pocket. It’s customary to carry a small card case
- Point when speaking
- Don’t give gifts to government officials: It’s illegal, however it has become more commonplace in the business world. The most acceptable gift is to lay out a banquet. Though you should especially avoid these gifts as they are associated with death:
- Straw sandals
- Anything white, blue, or black
France Business etiquette
Languages Spoken: French and English
Country Business Etiquette Facts:
- Punctuality is treated very casually in france
- Business can be conducted during any meal, but lunch is best
- Good gifts to present include books or music as they demonstrate an interest in intellectual pursuits.
Country Business Etiquette Do’s:
- Apologise for your lack of language skills if you don’t speak French
- Dress conservatively and invest in well-tailored clothing
- Avoid bright colours
- Always shake hands when meeting as well as leaving and keep handshakes brief
- Be sensitive to the volume of your voice
Country Business Etiquette Don’ts:
- Losen your tie or take off your jacket in the office
- Wear flashy jewellery or other “statement pieces”
- “Dop in” unannounced or forget to knock before entering a room
- Be offended if you are interrupted
Germany Business etiquette
Languages Spoken: German, English, and French
Germany Business Etiquette Facts:
- The german thought process is extremely thorough, with each aspect of a project being examined in great detail. This process is often time intensive. However, once the planning is over, a project will move very quickly and deadlines are expected to be honoured.
- Germans do not like surprises. Sudden changes in business transactions, even if they may improve the outcome, are unwelcome.
- In Business meetings, age takes precedence over youth. If you are in a group setting, the eldest person enters first.
- German men frequently greet each other with Herr (Mr) ‘Last Name’, even if they know each other very well.
Germany Business Etiquette Do’s:
- Wear dark suits; solid conservative ties, and white shirts Women also dress conservatively, in dark suits and white blouses.
- Arrive on time for every appointment, whether for business or social. Being late, even if it’s only by a few minutes, is very insulting to a German executive.
- Shake hands at both the beginning and the end of a meeting. A handshake may be accompanied with a slight bow. Always return the gesture to make a good impression. Failure to respond with this nod/bow (especially to a superior) may get you off to a bad start.
Germany Business Etiquette Don’ts:
- Don’t chew gum while talking to someone
- Don’t get drunk in public
- Don’t phone a german executive at home without their permission
UK Business etiquette
Languages Spoken: English and Welsh
UK Business Etiquette Facts:
- Business attire rules are somewhat relaxed in the UK, but conservative dress is still very important for both men and women.
- A simple handshake is the standard greeting.
- The giving of gifts is not required
UK Business Etiquette Do’s:
- Businesswomen are not as limited to colors and styles as men are, though it is still important to maintain a conservative image
- Wear dark suits, usually black, blue, or gray, are the usual custom
- Always be punctual in the UK. Arriving a few minutes early for a meeting is safely acceptable
UK Business Etiquette Don’ts:
- Rush at decision-making. The UK have a slower decision-making process than in the United States.
- Be too personal – privacy is very important to the British. Therefore asking personal questions or intensely staring at another person should be avoided.
- Talk loudly. Any disruptive behaviour should be avoided.
Italy Business etiquette
Languages Spoken: Italian, English, and French
Italy Business Etiquette Facts:
- Wearing quality accessories such as shoes and leather goods will make a good impression.
- Handshakes are common for both sexes and may include grasping the arm with the other hand
- It is common for everyone to speak simultaneously at Italian gatherings. This applies to business meetings as well as social events
- Italians often have two different business cards, one with business credentials for formal relationships and another with personal information for less formal relationships.
Italy Business Etiquette Do’s:
- Dress well – Fashion trends and fashion design are trademarks fo Italy. Therefore in the business world, good clothes are a signature of success. Men should wear fashionable, high quality suits. Shirts may be coloured or pin striped, and they should be paired with an Italian designer tie.
- Give special treatment to the most senior or eldest person present with entering a business function
- When invited to someone’s home, bring gift-wrapped chocolates, pastries, or flowers. Flowers must be given in even numbers.
- Avoid talking about religion, politics, and WWII.
- Good conversational topics include Italian culture, art food, wine, family, and films.
Italy Business Etiquette Don’ts:
- Be late – Foreign business people should be punctual for business appointments, although the Italian executive may not be
- Do not expect quick decisions or actions to take place as the Italian bureaucracy and legal system are rather slow
- Exchange business cards at a social occasion. But it is the norm at business functions and meetings
- Give anything in a quantity of 17. This number is considered bad luck.