8 Pieces of International Business Etiquette You Need to Know

by Staff Writer

When conducting business in other countries, it is important to brush up on the culture to avoid an embarrassing breach in business etiquette. Be sure to have a basic understanding of the religious values, common superstitions, and other cultural factoids that could be pertinent to your interaction with coworkers abroad. What may be considered polite in one country can be considered rude and disrespectful in another. Your overseas business partners will be appreciative if you have taken the time to research the nuances of their culture and have an understanding of the local protocol.

  1. Japanese Business Cards

    The Japanese are incredibly particular about business cards. They must be presented with both hands and accepted with both hands, front side up. They are never flicked or slid across a table to someone. The way you treat the business card is seen to directly reflect the way you feel about the person identified on the card, so if you forget to catalog it in a container with your other business cards from the meeting, it is incredibly insulting to the business card’s owner. Writing on the business card is also offensive. As a foreigner of any kind, you are expected to have a Japanese language side of the card and an English language side of the card even if you aren’t from an English speaking country, as English is the second most widely known language in Japan.

  2. German Practicality

    Germans favor practicality in all aspects of business. This means that they are unafraid of making statements such as “this can’t be done” or “I can’t.” Although this kind of ambition is admired in the U.S., a German will not be shy to turn down a task that they feel is beyond their reach. In their eyes, there’s no point in pretending that they have the capacity to do something that they cannot do. They do not work well with flexibility or spontaneity, and are in favor of statistics and charts to exemplify points. Attempts to make a presentation more interesting or eye-catching with creative promotional material will not be praised; in fact, Germans prefer business to be as to-the-point as possible.

  3. Russian Business Negotiations

    Russians will make a show of taking dramatically long to reach a business decision. Compromising is not favorable, and is in fact seen as a sign of weakness. In many ways, taking the time to come to agreements is a testament of one’s patience, which is a highly praised trait. During the long-winded period of decision-making, Russians may get very emotional. They may become hot-headed, yell, pound their fists on the table, or even walk out of the meeting. Once a decision is finally reached, it will be accompanied by a large amount of paperwork, as your word is considered useless in Russian culture. They will want to be signed off on everything discussed before reaching a conclusion.

  4. Indians and Cows

    Wearing any kind of leather in India can be seen as a major faux pas, so be sure to leave your leather boots or belts at home. This is because Indians venerate the cow, and donning leather is seen as disrespectful. Be aware of whether your business briefcase is made of leather. The cow is seen as sacred for religious implications. It is a staple of Hinduism to revere the cow. Revering the cow may be traced back to Lord Krishna, a central figure in Hinduism who is said to have been a protectorate of the cows. As such, killing or harming a cow is illegal and punishable by jail time in India. They are even able to roam free in the streets as they please and are the number one cause of traffic holdups in Delhi.

  5. Finnish Sauna Talk

    It is a very common business practice in Finland to continue business talk in a sauna. If your Finnish business associate invites you to the sauna, don’t refuse, as it may as well be considered a less formal business meeting and refusing to enter the sauna can result in a lost business opportunity. The Finnish sauna in the nude, and it is seen as strange to wear a towel or bathing suit unless it is done between mixed genders. Some saunas in Finland come with a washing woman, whose job is to scrub and rinse the bodies of those in the sauna.

  6. Humble Australians

    While bragging is a necessary counterpart of succeeding in a business interview in the U.S., bragging is considered a contemptuous trait in Australia. It is important that you do not talk extensively about your business achievements and qualifications in various skills, even though it may be customary in the U.S. to represent your business in this way. This can make marketing your brand somewhat difficult. It is important to gauge the room and know when talking about a certain aspect of your business is beginning to sound like you are boasting. Respect for you will be a segue to respect for your brand or company, thus building relationships is key for both personal and professional success.

  7. Chinese and Cell Phones

    In Chinese culture, it is normal for a meeting to be accompanied by the regular ringing of cellular phones. The Chinese do not turn their cell phones off prior to a meeting and you should not ask them to do so, especially addressing one specific person after their phone has rung. This is seen as a disgrace to both you and the business partner with the cell phone. This may seem like a foreign concept in the U.S. where we see cell phone interruption to be poor manners in any situation where our divided attention is required. The Chinese have learned to ignore a ringing cell phone and do not have this aspect of business etiquette in their culture.

  8. Saudi Business Laws

    If you’re conducting any sort of business in Saudi Arabia, a non-Saudi is required to have government permission before coming into and exiting the country. This makes them subject to the laws in Saudi Arabia, which dictate that alcohol, drugs, porn, and pork are off-limits. This is simply Saudi Islamic law; however, Americans are generally not familiar with these laws and may be imprisoned while they merely try to conduct business in the country. Getting a drink after a long day of meetings may put you in jail.


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