The Dos and Don’ts of Foreign Business Etiquette
Making Eye ContactAccepting a DrinkGiving a GiftPlaying FootsiesGiving the ‘Thumbs Up’Getting Groped
Saying ‘No!’Talking BusinessTiming Is Everything
Keeping SecretsMaking a Fashion StatementTagging Along
Keeping It Fresh
Don’t be alarmed when in the Middle East or in France someone locks eyes with you and gives you a very intense and prolonged gaze. No they are not flirting! This is common and the person may even move closer to get better eye contact. The opposite is true in Britain where eye contact is avoided.
Do not turn down an offer of vodka by a business associate in Russia—that is a sure way to spoil your relationship as it would be considered highly offensive. So drink up! Furthermore, in London, a drunken Friday night out on the town is normal amongst business associates and can and should be laughed off on Monday.
Offering a gift to a business associate in China can be tricky. The gift must be given in a group setting not in private where it can be misconstrued as a bribe. You should never use yellow wrapping with black writing because it is a symbol for death. Stay away from white, black or blue wrapping also. And never give a gift of scissors or knives, which are symbolic for severing ties, or clocks or handkerchiefs, which symbolize funerals or death.
If it’s your habit to cross your legs, be careful not to show the soles of your shoes, point your feet at others or touch anything with your feet when at a business meeting in Thailand. Here, as well as in India and some Middle Eastern countries, these gestures with your feet are considered offensive.
You may think that sticking your thumb straight up and curling your other fingers into a fist is the universal gesture for “Cool!” or “Great!” But don’t offer this gesture in Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq to show that you’re happy with a deal you’ve negotiated, because there this is a vulgar insult meaning “F*ck off!”
In America it may be unheard of for men to touch each other affectionately, but don’t be surprised if your business colleagues in Egypt touch your thighs or your clients in Latin America grab your arms or shoulders or rub your back. Avoid embarrassment and just go with it.
Directness and brevity are valued in discussions with Australians and lively debate and opinionated discussions are viewed as entertaining. However the opposite is true in Asia, where people rarely show public displays of anger and almost never say the words ‘no’ or ‘not,’ rather opting for ‘maybe’ or ‘we’ll see.’ So you may need to revise your negotiation strategy depending on what country you’re in.
In Canada and in China it’s customary to wait for the host to initiate business conversation after a meal. And, in China, make sure to compliment the food. To not do so is considered rude. Also, don’t finish all your food, because your host will think you’re still hungry and continue to add more to your plate.
After proposing or pitching a business deal to German associates, be prepared to wait and then wait some more. The German decision-making process is slow and thorough, and is notorious for frustrating U.S. executives. There’s often a group of ‘hidden’ advisors that must approve the transaction. But once a decision is made expect things to move very quickly.
In the United Kingdom, if a business associate taps his or her nose during a discussion, it doesn’t mean that you have something unsightly hanging from your nose—it’s a signal to keep the information confidential or secret.
When packing for a business trip to India, be sure to leave your leather belts, shoes, and handbags home. Hindus revere cows and consider wearing leather products to be offensive.
Be prepared for your business associates to join you at any or all of your daily meals in Spain where business relationships are often established during dining.
If you’re left handed and have plans to travel to the United Arab Emirates, it would be wise to become ambidextrous fast. There the left hand is considered unclean and is reserved for hygiene, so all gestures and eating is done with the right hand.