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Basic etiquette and manners around the world

World Etiquette Business Travellers Need to Know

Written by on 27th July 2020
Category: Business travel and relocation

As a business traveller entering unfamiliar locations each with their own language, culture and basic etiquette and manners, it can be tricky to remember to say and do the right thing. What is deemed polite in one country, city even, may be seen as socially unacceptable in the next. When conducting business with foreign partners, it’s vital to make a good first impression and nurture long-standing business relationships – this is only possible if the correct business etiquette and cultural practice is adhered to. It’s important to do your own extensive research ahead of a business trip, but this is a good place to start: read on for a few basic tips on business etiquette across the world.

Europe

France

France has basic etiquette regarding to style and appearance
France is a global fashion centre so take a little longer to choose your outfit ahead of an important meeting
  • If you’re a business traveller in the area and don’t speak good French, a simple apology for not knowing the language will go a long way in building a good first impression and longstanding relationship.
  • You may drop in on your colleagues unannounced at home, but in France, making appointments is absolutely necessary. Whether it be for business or leisure, it’s basic etiquette and manners and is seen as socially unacceptable to casually drop by with no warning.
  • With a capital like Paris, the fashion capital of the world, dress code in France is top priority. Style is key in both social and corporate settings with many people opting for formal attire. You needn’t worry if you aren’t the next Coco Chanel, but consider a chic, professional outfit when meeting with French associates in the country.

Italy

  • Internationally renowned for their laidback character, punctuality isn’t a priority in Italy. Don’t be offended if your Italian business partners are a little late to meetings, but make it clear when a deadline must be firmly met.
  • Dress for the climate of your business destination, but keep formality in mind. In Italy, simple but smart tends to be the safest choice for business appointments: formal, summery suits and elegant accessories.

Germany

Punctuality is key in Germany
A fast-paced country with no time to waste, punctuality is important in Germany
  • As you might expect, business meetings in Germany follow a strict structure leaving no room for joking around.
  • In the same vein, you want to be punctual when meeting German partners. It’s respectful basic etiquette and manners anywhere, but especially in Germany, to demonstrate that your associates’ time is valuable and not to be wasted waiting.
  • Business trip coming up to Berlin soon? Read our Insider’s Guide to learn more about how to conduct a successful business trip to the city.

Asia

China

In China, culture is very important
Chinese culture is rich and complex: make a good first impression by trying to remember key social expectations
  • Gifts are quite a normal part of basic etiquette and manners when conducting business in China or with Chinese business partners, but be sure to offer gifts in both hands and never give a watch as a gift as it represents death in China. Wrapping presents with black, blue or white paper should also be avoided and common courtesy in China is to decline a gift three times, but the gift-giver should always insist until they accept on the fourth try.
  • Don’t point your finger, try to use an open palm to be polite and welcoming.
  • If you happen to have Chinese family roots, it is seen as a sign of respect to give yourself a Chinese name while you conduct business in the country. This should only be done if you have family roots or have lived in the country long-term.
  • Basic etiquette and manners in China suggests you should consider a conservative dress code and after a business meeting, allow Chinese partners to leave the room first. Although Brits can be quite hands on with familiar colleagues, try to avoid physical contact while meeting with Chinese associates.
  • Remember to only write on somebody’s business card if asked or instructed: business cards are important so it can be considered disrespectful to deface them.
  • Why not learn a few key phrases for your next Chinese business trip?

Japan

Japan upholds much of its traditional basic etiquette and manners
Japan is a modern and futuristic country that places high value on traditional etiquette
  • Seniority and age are important in basic etiquette and manners in Japan. In business meetings, senior members will often lead the discussion and younger members tend to speak less. Junior members should never sit across from senior employees, so people from similar groups should always try to sit across from each other.
  • Don’t worry if you can’t, but being able to eat using chopsticks will be impressive in lunch or dinner meetings with Japanese associates.
  • Pay attention to the facial expressions and gestures of those in the room at a Japanese business meeting – non-verbal communication is a key element of the culture.
  • The elderly should be treated with the utmost respect.
  • Giving gifts is also common in Japan, but the important thing to remember is to always give a gift that is wrapped.
  • Like other Asian cultures, such as India, Japan is particularly sensitive to saying ‘no’. It is deemed basic etiquette and manners to agree and offer positive responses, even if you don’t entirely agree with what they’re saying.

India

  • Food is love, especially in India. If your business partner offers you a meal, it is not customary to say ‘thank you’ as this is considered a payment which can be seen as insulting. Instead, compliment the food as a way of showing your gratitude.
  • If you do head out for a business meeting over a meal in India or with Indian business partners, avoid ordering beef as cows are considered sacred.

Thailand

Basic Thai etiquette involves how to greet Thai counterparts
The art of business cards: always remember to take a minute to read a business card when it is presented in Thailand
  • When greeting Thai counterparts, basic etiquette and manners dictate you should join your hands together as if in prayer and touch them to your chest. Like other Asian cultures, non-verbal communication is important in Thailand so it’s important to follow social protocols: follow suit of other Thai people in the room.
  • Basic etiquette is to wait to be seated or directed where to sit in Thai business meetings as seniority and social ranking have strict rules for corporate settings.
  • When handed a business card, be sure to take the time to read it and even comment on it before placing it in your jacket or briefcase – this is basic etiquette and manners in Thailand.

Africa

Nigeria

Business is booming in Nigeria
Oil and gas production puts Nigeria’s economy as the largest in Africa, business etiquette is important in this booming country
  • Basic etiquette and manners in communication styles tend to vary dramatically from region to region: some may be indirect while others could be very direct. Assess the room before attempting to communicate: observe others and follow suit.
  • Address yourself and others using honorific, professional or academic titles such as Mrs or Dr – titles are important in Nigeria.
  • Basic business card etiquette: try to remember to present or receive business cards with your right hand and avoid writing on business cards unless absolutely necessary or instructed.
  • Exaggerated claims are not welcome in business meetings or pitches: while in some countries it can be seen as aspirational or a good persuasion technique, in Nigeria it won’t be trusted.

Ghana

  • When meeting associates in Ghana it is basic etiquette and manners to always greet the most senior of the group first and remember to use honorific titles.
  • When dining with Ghanaian business partners, allow them to instruct you where to sit.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a beautiful country to conduct business in
Always seek to meet the top of the company you’re in business with, they have the final say
  • Don’t use somebody’s first name until invited to do so, this is basic etiquette and manners for greeting people in Sri Lanka.
  • If you are male, always wait until a woman extends her hand for a handshake instead of leading. Some Sri Lankan women may prefer not to shake a man’s hand.
  • The most senior person in a company is usually who has the final say on business deals and decisions – take the time to meet them in person.

Kenya

  • In Kenya, like other African cultures such as Ghana, the greeting period is important and should not be rushed – the host will decide when the meeting should start.
  • Basic etiquette and manners dictate you lower your eyes when meeting somebody older or of higher status than you, this is an important sign of respect.
  • Emotional control is important in Kenyan culture so use conservative emotion when negotiating as a sign of stability.
  • When presenting a gift to Kenyan associates, use your right or both hands.

Americas

Mexico

Basic etiquette and manners in Brazil you need to know
Further business card etiquette you should know: offer a version translated in the language of your associate
  • Similarly to Brazil, business cards are still an important part of business encounters in Mexico as they allow you to reach both younger and older generations. You can either print business cards all in Spanish, or one side in English and one in Spanish. Basic etiquette is to present Mexican counterparts with the Spanish side facing them.
  • If you are invited to the home of a Mexican business partner, don’t arrive early or on time – it is polite, basic etiquette and manners to be a little late to allow time for them to prepare to host.
  • Being introduced by a senior executive will put you in excellent stead for business negotiations.

Brazil

  • Remember that the native language in Brazil is Portuguese rather than Spanish, so to make a good first impression make sure you learn a few phrases in the correct language. It’s advisable to hire a translator of you don’t speak Portuguese well.
  • Brazilians see time as something outside of their control, so if they happen to keep you waiting don’t take offence or appear impatient.

Wherever in the world you’re planning to conduct business, we have a serviced apartment for you. Did you know that six members of our team speak a second language? If you need any advice for business etiquette in a specific one of these countries, be sure to give us a call anytime and we’d be happy to offer our expertise.