From the Boardroom to the Dinner Table: Business Etiquette Around the Globe
You wouldn’t dream of purposely disrespecting an international business client or business partner. But, sometimes, a seemingly innocent action or gesture that would be completely acceptable in a Toronto boardroom would shock people in another part of the world. That’s why understanding the customs and etiquette of various business communities around the world is essential to business success. Here are some that might surprise you.
- Australia: Travelling solo? If you are a man and hailing a taxi alone, you should sit in the front seat.
- New Zealand: You better set your alarm extra early for that 9 a.m. meeting. Punctuality is so valued in New Zealand that it is common to show up early for all appointments.
- China: If you brought a gift for your Chinese business partners or clients (a bottle of Canadian maple syrup, perhaps?), hand it to them with both hands rather than one. This is a customary sign of respect.
- Taiwan: In North America, we are taught to finish everything on our plate. If you’re having a business meeting over dinner in Taiwan, however, it is expected that you will leave some rice in your bowl.
- Japan: Exchanging money at a business meeting? Ensure it is in an envelope because money is not openly displayed.
- India: “No” is a no-no in India. It is considered rude to say “no” during business discussions so, instead, use safe terms such as “I will try” and “possibly.” On the flipside, don’t thank your business partners or clients at the end of a meal because it is considered a form of payment and, therefore, insulting.
- United Arab Emirates: When you’re handing someone your business card (or anything for that matter), ensure you do so with your right hand. The UAE is a Muslim country and religious customs dictate that the left hand is unclean.
- Turkey: Be prepared to get personal. Turkish business people do business with those they trust, like and respect. So, lunches and dinners are for creating personal relationships. Don’t talk about business unless your business counterpart brings it up.
- South Africa: Laugh a little! Or better yet, make your hosts laugh. Humour here is accepted, especially as an icebreaker.
- Kenya: Sometimes it can be difficult to tell someone’s age but when dining with business partners in Kenya, keep your eyes open before picking up your fork. The oldest male at the business dinner table must begin eating before anyone else can start.
- Zambia: It’s natural to make nervous small talk, but when in Zambia never ask your host what ingredients are in your food. It suggests that you suspect your host is trying to poison you.
- United Kingdom: No, you aren’t boring anyone if they don’t hold eye contact. In the U.K. eye contact during conversations is seldom retained.
- Germany: Unlike South Africa, in Germany business is no laughing matter and humour is not appreciated in a business context.
- France: Have you been waiting for your business meeting to start for more than two hours? Is it around lunchtime? That explains it. In France, it is common to leave the office for a two-hour plus lunch.
- Brazil: During a business meeting in New York, no one would bat an eye if you picked up a sandwich with your hands. In fact, you’d get more attention if you didn’t. Not so in Brazil. Even for casual bites like pizza or a sandwich, use a utensil or napkin.
- Mexico: A day of non-stop meetings brings on major hunger pangs but never dig in to that food platter they just rolled in before your host says, “Buen provecho” — meaning “enjoy your meal.”
- Argentina: Because Argentineans are close talkers, don’t be surprised if there is less personal space than you are used to or if someone touches your arm as he or she speaks. If you need space, step to the side. Stepping back is disrespectful.
At Centennial College, students in the Business Administration – International Business (Co-op) program have the opportunity to not only study international trade law, finance, international sales and negotiation, business planning and research, international marketing and corporate social responsibility in international development but also to travel abroad.
By Izabela Szydlo