When in Rome….

When in Rome….

Not every business meeting starts with a ‘namaste’. Business cards are not customary at some and at some, attire is of prime importance. With the amount of diversity that our world hosts, differences in business etiquette are no surprise. Being aware of topics like intercultural communication can help professionals recognize the value that specific cultures place on indirect and direct communication. Maintaining a fair understanding of etiquette in a business environment can further boost your proposal as well as help one avoid any offensive or awkward dilemmas.


India is a classic example of a high context country. It is very difficult to make generalisations about Indian culture due to its many different communities. Small talk is highly appreciated, including questions about the family. Hierarchy plays a vital role in Indian Business. The senior-most person is greeted first and usually oversees important decisions. Indians base their decisions on trust and intuition as much as on statistics and data. Therefore it is advisable to tailor your pitch as per your prospective partner.


Chinese business etiquette is steeped in culture and tradition. It is easy to be misinterpreted if knowledge about the law of the land is inadequate. For example, an American consultant inadvertently offended a room of Chinese people by displaying a desktop photograph of his three children prior to making a video presentation, very much in contradiction to China’s two-child policy. With respect to hierarchy, the most important person enters the room first and sits at a vantage point. Presenting a business card with two hands at the start of the meeting is of paramount importance. When doing business in China, a gift is ideal for a  business meeting. According to Forbes, travellers should persist when giving a gift, because, in order to not appear greedy, the Chinese have a tendency of declining a gift three times before finally accepting it. Knowing your way around chopsticks is definitely a plus point.


Moving west, order and structure are requisite in German business. Business environment in Germany is quite traditional, with a stark distinction between personal and professional life. Arriving late is the cardinal sin, and maybe constructed as disinterest. Humour may not always be welcome. Bluntness is a norm in business and should not be perceived as rude.


The French prize their language and cuisine, and professionals are encouraged to enjoy French culture. Apologizing for not being able to speak French is a good way to start. Meals are large and tend to last for a long time. Business cards with French translations are a great add on. Punctuality is treated quite casually in France. It wouldn’t be a surprise to hear that the country stresses on appearances, after all, it is the world’s fashion destination. Thus a formal and professional attire is recommended.


Japan is probably the most conservative of the lot. Business cards in English and Japanese must be exchanged and are to be perceived as no less than a part of a person and are to be handled with care. Both hands are to be extended and one should be mindful of not writing anything on them. Politeness can be shown by bowing down instead of shaking hands. The senior members in the group usually take charge in the meeting, whereas the younger members converse limitedly out of sheer respect and politeness. Giving out gifts is common, but never give an unwrapped gift. Japan is especially sensitive to the word ‘no’. In the country, it is customary to respond with, ‘yes’ even if you disagree with what is being said.


Business in Brazil is preferred in person rather than written communication. Physical contact during conversation is natural and highlights the trust between business partners. Meetings and business dinners tend to extend, but one must not leave early as it is considered to be rude. Unlike South Asian countries, hands are to be completely avoided during a meal. Even a sandwich should be paired with a handkerchief or so.


The United Arab Emirates, like most middle eastern countries, consider the left hand to be unclean. Handshakes and business cards are extended with the right hand. Important documents are to be held in the right hand as well.  Status is highly valued in the UAE. Dignitaries are always to be addressed by their appropriate titles. Contrary to common business etiquette, phone calls and text messages can be answered in a meeting. Long meetings tend to be disorganised and chaotic and people don’t always stick to the agenda.


This is in no way an exhaustive list nor does it cover the scope of business etiquette in the neighbouring countries. For example, you are expected to finish your plate in Denmark at a meeting. Smiling is considered to be a sign of insincerity in Russia. A typical work week in Israel is from Sunday to Thursday. Every country has its own reservations regarding the way one conducts themselves at business meetings. One weak handshake or a forgotten cup of tea could result in a lucrative deal falling through for your business. Maybe brushing up on your professional etiquette might as well get your proposal across!


Sayli Walke

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