When doing business abroad, it is advisable to know the main rules of international etiquette. The culture and tradition of each country make people behave differently, and if the business executive does not know how to adapt to that behavior, it can provoke a rejection from the other party, which makes it more difficult or even endangers the success of negotiations.
While social media has become the dominant means to engage new business prospects around the world, nothing will ever beat the effectiveness of a face-to-face meeting to close an international business deal.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to learn the general cultural customs of the countries that you do business with. Doing so will help ensure that you’re polite and professional in all your international business travels.
In this article, we offer 30 essential international business etiquette rules, one for each country, chosen among the main world markets. We are sure that its implementation will help international negotiators to establish better relationships with their potential clients and partners and, in this sense, will bring them closer to the achievement of successful agreements.
Argentina: It is preferable to behave as in the old Europe. Argentines admire European culture, especially French and English. It is said that Argentines are Italians who speak Spanish, dress like English and would like to live in Paris.
Australia: Behavior should be as natural as possible. Australians do not like people who try to impress, pretend, or show themselves superior. The expression “Fair go,” which is used in the sense of “giving the same opportunities to all people” reflects very well the egalitarian spirit of the country.
Belgium: This is a country fragmented into two blocks: the Flemish and the Walloons. We must avoid referring to this division and also to the role of the royal family as it does not have too much acceptance. Do not forget that the King does not have the treatment of King of Belgium, but is the King of the Belgians. Of all the Kings and Queens that are in the world, this is the only King that carries this type of title.
Brazil: Brazilians consider themselves Americans. The terms “Latin American,” “South American,” and “Hispanic” should not be used to refer to them. Nor should the expression “in America” be used when speaking of the United States.
Canada: Canadian culture is closer to the British than to the United States. Even in the Quebec region – despite the French language – it is more like the British than the French. During the conversation should avoid talking about the sovereignty of the Quebec region as well as establishing comparisons with the United States. They consider that Americans are more aggressive and materialistic than they are.
Chile: It is convenient to avoid any comparison with Argentina, in all areas, cultural, sports, business, etc. The difference between the Chilean business culture (of Anglo-Saxon influence) and Argentina (Italo/Spanish) is as high as the 6.900 meters of the Aconcagua summit, the highest peak of the Andes mountain range that separates both countries.
China: You must show maximum respect to the highest-ranking managers: treat them as Sirs (Xian Shen), let them enter the meeting first, wait for them to sit down and up, listen to them with the utmost attention, never interrupt them, etc. Anyway, give them a deferential treatment according to their status and power.
Colombia: This is the Latin America County where the etiquette is more important. Use a low tone of voice, avoid bad words and expressions, and show at all times a courteous and friendly behavior, although more formal in the interior of the country (especially Bogotá) than on the coast (Barranquilla, Cartagena).
Ecuador: The regional differences between the Serranos (Quito) and the Costeños (Guayaquil) are very important for doing business. The first, constitute the social elite of the country: they are more conservative, formal, and reserved during negotiations. The costeños are more entrepreneurs, open to new businesses, more flexible and relaxed in their commercial relationships.
France: It is really positive to praise the country and its products (wines, food, fashion, etc.). Unlike the Germans who consider that “everything German product is good,” the French think that “all good products are French.” Recognize it; they will like it.
Germany: Personal questions (family, salary, etc.) should not be asked, nor should we talk about one’s personal life, as it could be understood that our German partner should talk about his own. Avoid any topic of conversation related to World War II and Nazi Germany.
Saudi Arabia: You have to show utmost respect for all their religious rules and customs, such as the prohibition of eating pork and drinking alcohol, the six prayers they perform during the day, fasting during the month of Ramadan or family relations (polygamy).
Spain: It is better not to contradict Spanish people. Once the Spaniards have adopted a position, it is very difficult for them to turn back due to an attitude of pride typical of their character. The expression “give the arm to twist” is used in Spain as a synonym of “Changing your opinion,” which gives an idea of what it costs them.
South Korea: Koreans do not like that foreigners criticize any aspect of their country or their way of life. Being a country that is very homogeneous from the ethnic and racial point of view, they consider that their culture is unique and superior to that of other countries, including China and Japan.
United States: It is a very nationalistic country (flag, anthem). You have to be very careful not to criticize their culture or the way they live (American way of life). They are very respectful and do not criticize other cultures.
Mexico: It is a very nationalistic country, especially in defense of its culture against the United States (current era) and also against Spain (in the past). In that sense is convenient to avoid topics, such as the conquest and the Spanish colonial period, compared with the United States, border problems, and emigration. The words of ancient President Porfirio Diaz reflect quite well its position related to the United States: Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States!
Peru: Gastronomy is a good way to get closer to Peruvians. Lima is considered the gastronomic capital of Latin America. To the numerous restaurants of contemporary cuisine (novoandina), restaurants of Creole, Japanese (nikkei) or Chinese cuisine (chifa) are added. To praise their specialties (ceviche, ají, anticuchos, suspiro de Lima, etc.) is to recognize a reality of which they feel very proud.
Poland: Poles like to spend the nights talking and drinking in bars. Accompanying them and drinking a lot (beer or vodka) like they do is the best way to socialize to do business. If somebody leaves soon, it may seem impolite.
United Kingdom: The English are, possibly, the most educated businessmen in the world, applying what is known as the British manners: they greet very formally, How do you do?; when they are given “thank you,” they answer with another “thank you,” and are continually asking for forgiveness with different expressions (I’m sorry, I beg your pardon, excuse me, etc.). It is convenient to also be extremely polite to be at their level.
Russia: Alcohol (mainly vodka) is a very useful way to interact with Russians. For them, drinking vodka is a pleasure and a ritual. The glasses are filled to the brim without lifting them from the table, never raised, as it would be to risk fortune. It is mandatory to finish every bottle started. The advice is obvious: you have to drink very slowly (vodka is 40º!) and do not try to put up with them.
South Africa: Talk about politics, religion, and racial conflicts should be avoided. If this last topic comes out, it is better to listen than to speak. It must take into account that, on racial issues, whites of British origin have more moderate ideas than Afrikaners (mostly Dutch), who are more extreme.
Sweden: Swedes are serious, formal, and reserved. Humor is not present in the negotiations. However, creating a relaxed atmosphere is important in Sweden; remember the widespread use of the sauna.
Switzerland: The Swiss concede extreme importance to punctuality. The cuckoo clock and the swatch (an acronym of Swiss and watch) are Swiss inventions. Any delay, however minimal, must be justified and apologize for it.
Uruguay: Unlike the Argentines, the Uruguayans are sober and modest. In Argentina, the Italian character predominates; in Uruguay, the Spanish inheritance is maintained. Demonstrations of wealth, exaggerations, and any behavior that denotes superiority are not welcome.
Turkey: The Turks are very hospitable. Tea (çay) and coffee (kahve) are offered during the meetings. It must be accepted as a sign of deference. The tea is served very hot, in small cups, so you have to take several throughout the meeting; It is advisable to take the cup by the edge so as not to burn; water and sugar are added, but never milk. The famous Turkish coffee should not be rushed to the end as it has grounds; like tea, it is not served with milk.
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