You may have built a strong rapport with a client you’re visiting on business, but the relationship can sour if you somehow have offended them by unknowingly committing a cultural faux pas. That’s why it’s imperative business travelers educate themselves on the etiquette of any foreign country they’re visiting and read up on everything from acceptable greetings and communication styles to appropriate attire and dining manners.
To help get you started, we’ve compiled quick etiquette tips for some of the top business destinations around the world. Obviously, this is in no way, shape or form a comprehensive guide, so we also recommend you doing your own research or asking for some pointers from your travel department.
Argentina: Argentina is seen as a fashion-conscious society and people there can take great pride in their personal appearance. To make a good first impression, pack your most elegant business attire and accessories and take extra time primping before that big meeting.
Australia: Australians can be known for their modesty, often downplaying their own successes and using self-deprecating humor. Therefore, don’t underestimate an Aussie simply because they’re not boasting about their professional achievements — and you may wish to refrain from flaunting your own.
Brazil: Brazilians tend to place a high value on relationship building. Don’t be surprised if they use animated body language, maintain strong eye contact and stand in close proximity when conversing with you.
Canada: Because Canada is officially bilingual, we recommend being prepared and having business cards printed in both English and French.
China: The Chinese tend to take things slowly when building a relationship — a concept known as guanxi — so you can expect a lot of personal bonding before getting down to business.
France: If you’re invited to (or hosting) a business lunch in France, don’t come with an agenda. This is time to connect with your French colleague. Do your homework on French table manners and the cardinal food sins (like ordering a steak well done) and save any serious business talk until dessert.
India: Indians tend to regard the word “no” as impolite. If you hear phrases like “we’ll see” or “maybe” when asking an Indian counterpart for something, know that it may be a refusal in disguise.
Japan: Bowing is an integral part of the Japanese greeting, so brush up on the proper etiquette before your trip. (YouTube has a few demonstration videos.) Only shake hands (gently) if your Japanese counterpart initiates it.
Mexico: Mexicans use professional titles (e.g., ingeniero/ingeniera for engineers, licenciado/licenciada for lawyers, etc.) before their names so always employ them (or señor/señora/señorita if they do not have a professional title) when greeting someone. By the way, Mexicans also use the surnames from both parents but when addressing someone, you only need to say the first (paternal) surname.
Qatar: Show respect toward the country’s Islamic customs by dressing conservatively. Women should wear only skirts and dresses that extend below the knee and tops that cover their shoulders/elbows. Men cannot go wrong with a classic dark suit and tie, though long-sleeved shirts and lightweight trousers also are acceptable.
Russia: From firm handshakes to an assertive negotiation style, Russians tend to display signs of power during business. Be prepared for no compromises (which are seen as a sign of weakness) and to defend your points with confidence and conviction.
Singapore: Be mindful of your body language. Singaporeans often trust nonverbal cues, including facial expressions, tone of voice and posture, over the spoken word.
United Arab Emirates: When being introduced to a colleague of the opposite sex, keep in mind that in the Islamic tradition men and women are not supposed to touch each other or shake hands in public.
United Kingdom: For British people, known for their politeness and reserve, communicating directly or showing emotion can be seen as a sign of weakness. So when negotiating, you may need to read between the lines and be extra mindful of how much you reveal yourself.
United States: Because “time is money” in the U.S., Americans tend to get down to business rather quickly. To avoid being perceived as wasting your American colleague’s time, be punctual to meetings and direct when making your point.
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