From giving gifts, to having a sit-down meal, there are many examples of etiquette you should follow if you want to have a successful business meeting. This article will look into some cultural differences to avoid looking rude.
The art of giving gifts
If you plan on giving a gift at your business meeting, make sure you don’t do the opposite and end up causing offence. Gift-giving is a popular business practice in Asia but be careful in other areas of the world, like here in the UK, as it can be misinterpreted as a bribe.
If you’re in China, a gift from your own home country would be extremely well received. For example, Western skincare products are heavily taxed in China, so would be an appreciated gift. But something important to bear in mind is that “saving face” is also important in Eastern cultures. If your gift is very expensive, this could embarrass your Chinese business partner, so try to give a gift that could be easily reciprocated to you. In the same way in Japan, the gift might be left to be opened later in private to avoid embarrassing you if they don’t like it. So, don’t be offended if they aren’t overcome with excitement and rip it open immediately.
When exchanging items such as gifts and business cards, make sure you’re stood up and use both hands as a sign of respect. Read the business card with interest and place it face up next to you on a table if you can.
If you’re eating out at a meal for your business meeting, expectations will vary largely from country to country. If you’re in India, it’s best to avoid eating beef— cows are considered sacred animals, so ordering a big juicy steak won’t go down well and can be a huge sign of disrespect. Indians don’t eat with cutlery, so get used to eating with your fingers — don’t shovel food in with the palms of your hands but eat neatly using the tips of your fingers. Always use your right hand, even if you’re left-handed, as the left hand is considered unclean.
What can drive some people mad is actually a sign of respect to the chefs. In China and Japan, you should slurp your food, as it shows that you’re enjoying it. Be free and drink from the bowl too, because you probably won’t have a spoon. It’s considered polite to leave leftovers too as it shows that you’ve been given enough food and are satisfied.
When in France, don’t offer to split the bill. Either you offer to pay it in full, or someone else will. Splitting the bill is considered an ultimate sign of unsophistication.
No, you didn’t get stood up… or did you?
In Italy, punctuality isn’t necessarily a sign of respect. If you have a new Italian business partner and they’re slightly delayed, don’t take this as a dig or doubt their competence, expect flexibility in your deadlines. It’s just not considered a priority in that country — the same goes for Indian businesspeople; punctuality is considered lightly in comparison to the west.
Germans tend to be early and organized due to their hardworking ethic. This is reflected in the quality of cars they produce such as the Audi A8, a firm favorite among businesspeople around the world. Try not to turn up late to your meeting because this devalues their time and makes it look like you shouldn’t be taken seriously. Meetings often start on the hour so it’s probably best to arrive a few minutes earlier.
If you’re travelling to do international business deals, make sure you research the country you’re heading to. There are many more customs and social norms that you might not have considered before.