International business etiquette infographic

As businesses start to expand beyond the borders of their domestic markets, they will need to communicate with people from many different cultures. Knowing the customs, manners and etiquette of the country or region that your business is entering is crucial to building lasting relationships with local suppliers and partners. A business deal can live or die simply because you have overlooked the idiosyncrasies of business etiquette. Here are some cultural nuances that you need to be aware of when conducting business in various regions around the world.

China

The Chinese market has become increasingly attractive to western businesses since the country opened up to foreign investment in the late 1970s. China is currently the second-largest global economy and is still growing at over 7% annually. The rise in wealthy and middle-class Chinese customers and an increase in the demand for western goods and services have resulted in many western corporations trying to crack the Chinese market. However, Chinese customs and traditions are very different from western ones. Here are just a few things you’ll need to know.

Meeting and greeting

  • Avoid eye contact
  • Exchange business cards with both hands

Eating and drinking

  • Never say “no” to a drink
  • Keep business and socialising separate

Negotiating

  • Again, avoid the use of “no”
  • Remain understated and calm

Germany

The German economy is the largest in Europe and the fourth largest in the world by nominal GDP. Since the age of industrialisation, Germany has been at the cutting edge of innovation and a huge beneficiary of the global economy. This also means that Germany is a target for multinational corporations from the rest of Europe and the world.

While Germany bears similarities to other western countries in terms of its customs and traditions, below the surface you’ll find that Germans have many unique customs. Below are just some of the things to watch out for when dealing with German suppliers or clients.

Meeting and greeting

  • Shake everyone’s hands when entering the room
  • Keep their titles formal, unless invited to use first names

Eating and drinking

  • Expect to use cutlery to consume sandwiches
  • Allow your host to drink first

Negotiating

  • Germans are very wary of hyperbole.
  • Lay off any language using self-deprecating humour
  • Be on time – lateness is frowned upon
  • The British/American OK sign (the thumb and forefinger joined to form a circle) is a German obscenity

France

France is Europe’s second-largest economy and has the world’s fifth-largest economy by nominal GDP. Personal wealth has grown very strongly in France in recent years, tripling between 2000 and 2007. With 31 of the 500 largest companies in the world in 2013, France ranks fifth in the Fortune Global 500. Foreign brands have long been attracted to France for many reasons and Paris is the second most popular location for Fortune Global 500 companies with more Fortune 500 global HQs than New York, London, Munich or Beijing.

The French have a long history of tradition and pay a great deal of attention to displaying good manners and business etiquette. However, what might be considered acceptable behaviour in the UK or USA, may be considered rude in France. Here are a few things to consider.

Meeting and greeting

  • Greet with “bonjour” (good morning), or “bonsoir” (good evening) followed by their formal title. Use “au revoir” (goodbye) when departing
  • Handshakes should be swift and light
  • In case you want to speak French, use “vous” rather than “tu”, unless invited to

Eating and drinking

  • Don’t talk business over dinner

Negotiating

  • The French don’t respect hands in pockets, yawning or scratching in public
  • Speak in quiet tones
  • Try to show appreciation of French culture, politics and history

Russia

Market reforms of the 1990s privatised much of Russia’s industry and the country has since experienced huge growth. Rated as one of the world’s top emerging markets and part of the BRIC group of nations which includes (Brazil, India and China), Russia has become a major target for foreign investment.

As a result, western businesses need to deal with those operating in Russia – and often with Russian multi-nationals which have experienced steady growth over the last two decades. Russian customs are often very different from those of the UK or USA. Here are some things to pay attention to.

Meeting and greeting

  • Always take off your gloves before shaking hands
  • Never call a Russian “comrade”

Eating and drinking

  • Moderation is frowned upon, so be aware of your drinking capacity

Negotiating

  • Russians may initially seem stand-offish. Establish trust to break down barriers
  • Talking about things other than business can build up rapport
  • Don’t be deterred by the use of the word “niet” (“no”). This can merely be the basis of opening negotiations

India

India has grown rapidly in the last two decades, allowing it to boast the tenth largest economy by nominal GDP and the third-largest by purchasing power parity (PPP). Another member of the BRIC nations, India owes much of its growth to the explosion in business services. A number of Indian companies are now in the Fortune 500 – a testament to the rise of this once-poor nation.

While many Indian business people speak good English, the language barrier may not be the only challenge facing businesses building relationships in the region. India is a deeply traditional country with a huge range of different customs. Here are some tips on maintaining high levels of business etiquette in India.

Meeting and greeting

  • Sideways hand wave is often misinterpreted as “go away” or “no”

Eating and drinking

  • It is customary to arrive around 30 minutes late for a business dinner
  • If a garland is placed around your neck, take it off within five minutes. This denotes humility

Negotiating

  • Indians don’t like to cause offence by saying “no”. When an Indian says “I’ll try” or remains vague, it often means “no”
  • Wear clean, hole-free socks. It’s polite to remove your shoes when entering an Indian’s home

Latin America

There are many countries in Latin America that are experiencing high levels of economic growth. Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America and part of the BRICs. Mexico, the second largest, has also experienced huge growth in recent years and is now part of another group, the MINT countries (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey), which have been forecast to achieve significant growth in the years to come.

Many Latin American countries have a shared history and culture. While Brazilians speak Portuguese while most of the rest of the region speak Spanish, there do still have a lot in common. Here are some of the region’s cultural nuances and tips on business etiquette.

Meeting and greeting

  • Latinos are warm and engaging people but a degree of formality is expected. Don’t call a client by their first name unless invited to do so
  • Don’t be surprised by displays of affection, such as a hug, and don’t expect everyone to arrive on time

Eating and drinking

  • Food in Latin America is a sociable event, so expect a degree of informality
  • It’s polite to accept food if offered

Negotiating

  • The symbol for OK (the thumb and forefinger joined to form a circle) is an offensive gesture in Brazil
  • Don’t expect to negotiate in English – consider hiring an interpreter
  • In Mexico, status is important so ensure a member of senior management is part of discussions

Download TranslateMedia’s business etiquette infographic.

Read more: The Effect of Cultural Differences on International Business: US and France