Business customs & protocol - being aware of worldwide business etiquette

by Rebecca Lori

Conducting business in a foreign environment can often be tricky, as etiquette differs from country to country. For example – businesswomen should wear a skirt suit in Japan and avoid wearing trousers - as Japanese men tend to find it offensive, whereas wearing a trouser suit is perfectly acceptable across Europe and the US!

The key is to adhere to the general rules of conduct and thoroughly research your chosen destination. Speak to colleagues, research on the net, and try to find all that you can about the local customs…

General rules of business in Europe & America:

  • Wear smart clothing – a clean, pressed suit is essential in most business situations
  • Talking business over lunch is acceptable in most European countries except Italy, Greece and the Czech Republic where it is usually reserved for entertaining
  • Handshakes are standard greeting gestures across Europe – in Britain and the US you are normally only required to shake hands once at the first point of meeting
  • In Europe it is polite to use the person’s full title ie Doctor Brown – this is unusual in the US
  • If invited to a meal at someone’s house it is customary to bring a gift. This rule doesn’t apply to Britain, however as taking a bottle of red or white wine is seen as polite

General rules of business in Middle East:

  • The same rules apply for clothing – dress smart. Businesswomen who are working in the Middle East should cover up their elbows and knees
  • It is normal to see Arab men holding hands as a sign of friendship – in a business situation it is likely that they will grasp your hands with both of theirs
  • You should use people’s full name and title – ie Professor Smith
  • In a meeting, you should never say ‘no’ in a direct way – this can offend!

General rules of business in Asia:

  • Try not to make eye contact when shaking hands – it’s also customary in many Asian countries to receive a bow – it is polite to bow in return
  • In Asia you should address people with their last name and professional title
  • Smart business attire is essential and businesswomen in Japan should avoid trousers
  • It isn’t impolite to leave food on your plate if you’re being entertained by associates in Asia, just make sure you try a little of each dish. Also be aware that every time your glass is empty or half-full, your host will automatically top it up – so drink slowly!

Useful books:

Business Etiquette for Dummies by Sue Fox

European Business Customs & Manners by Mary Murray Bosrock

Dun & Bradstreet Guide Doing Business Around World by Terri Morrison, Wayne A. Conaway and Joseph J. Douress








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