13 March 2014

Business etiquette

Photo: Jared Horn

Taking a break from your current life doesn’t always mean taking a break full stop. Many people looking for a change of scenery seek out work abroad, which can be incredibly rewarding, but may also throw up a few curveballs along the way.

Learning the cultural etiquette of a country can be almost as complicated as mastering a new language. One small slip up could see you accidentally insulting someone in the worst possible way – without even realising it.

If you’re a seasoned traveller, it’s a good idea to brush up on your cultural knowledge to ensure that your relationships abroad, both business and personal, are positive ones.

Here are some business-related cultural nuances to get you started:

Japan: Business card exchange is incredibly important and performing a trade incorrectly could be seen as an insult to the cardholder. Use both hands when giving and receiving a business card and make sure it is always front side up.

China: It is respectful to bring a small gift from your country or hometown to present to those you are meeting. It shouldn’t be too expensive and you might like to favour colours such as red or gold for wrapping paper.

India: As cows are sacred in India, avoid choosing beef for meals and ensure you’re not carrying a leather bag or wearing leather pants (although, if you’re wearing leather pants to a meeting, we have bigger problems).

Arab nations: Shaking hands is mandatory, but touching a woman in traditional dress is forbidden. If you are a woman, don’t be surprised if you struggle to command the same degree of respect you’re accustomed to back home.

Germany: Business matters are never discussed over a meal – either before or after – so never try to talk shop while people are eating. Germans are also more likely to be blunt in their responses, but you should appreciate that they’re unlikely to give you false hope if they’re not happy with a business opportunity.

France: If you’ve ever learnt French you’ll know that the French can be quite particular about formalities. Make sure you use the correct formal terms to address your international colleagues so you don’t offend.

Sweden: Don’t get colloquial too quickly. It is considered safe etiquette to use last names and appropriate titles until you are invited to call someone by their first name.

Russia: Punctuality is expected of all guests, but not necessarily your meeting host. Make sure you arrive early or at least on time, and don’t expect excuses for any lateness.

USA: Americans are renowned for being fairly informal, so ease up on the conventionalisms. Don’t be put off by their laid back approach though – it’s usually a sign of mutual respect.

Canada: Canadians are likely to be a little more conservative in a meeting than their US neighbours. Don’t forget that French Canadians do things a little differently too, so if you’re in Quebec, be prepared for a kiss on both cheeks.

So next time you’re applying for a working visa abroad, don’t forget to brush up on your cultural etiquette. It may not seem like much, but often the small details can be the difference between a happy work environment and a plane ticket home.


Author bio: Julia Watters completed a communications degree in 2005 before working in a range of areas including events, health, media and education. She now works as an online content writer for careers and courses website Career FAQs, where she draws on her own experiences as a student, as well as her knowledge from working in the tertiary education sector.