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Business etiquette around the world

Not sure how to behave in a business context with someone from a different culture? Find out more about behaviors in a business context in different countries.

You have just applied for a very nice internship in China and your potential manager wants to meet you in person in a city that’s easy to go to for both of you. They were impressed by your CV and really liked the way you behaved on the first Skype interview. However you do not know how to behave during a business lunch with someone that comes from a totally different culture.

Does this scenario sound familiar? If yes, then you probably want to keep on reading and find out more about how to behave (and not to behave) in a business context in different countries.

The first aspect you might want to pay attention to is the way you introduce yourself. It probably is the most crucial aspect of the whole business meeting. The old adage “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” is very true. The first impression you give to the person in front of you is very likely to influence the rest of the meeting. Therefore, it is important that you know the right way to introduce yourself depending on the country you are in and the person you are talking to. This goes hand in hand with your overall behaviour throughout the whole meeting.

Nowadays, it is very trendy for recruiters to have business meetings or interviews during lunch time. It is a way for them to assess you. You therefore do not want to overlook the dining etiquette of the country you will be in.

Let’s look at the above points per country.

Australia

In Australia, business meetings require a firm handshake and a sharp dresscode. There are no restriction in regards to business cards and you can address the person in front of you by their first name.

Brazil

The handshake needs to be firm and you should address the person in front of you as “Senhor X” or “Senhora X”. The dresscode needs to be clear-cut however there are no particular rituals to handle business cards.

In regards to dining etiquette, you should know that meals are usually quite long, in facts a lunch can last more than 2 hours.

Canada

In Canada, the handshake needs to be strong as well but you can address the person you are talking to by their first name. Here too, the dresscode needs to be sharp but do not worry too much about how you give and receive business cards.

Denmark

Here the handshake has to be strong and you should address your counterpart as “Herr X” or “Fru X”. The dresscode has to be clear cut but there are no right or wrong ways to handle business cards.

One tip that could be useful when eating in Denmark is that people expect you to finish everything that’s on your plate.

France

In France the handshake can be light but you should always address the person you are speaking to by “Monsieur X” or “Madame X”. Here as well, the dresscode has to be clear cut but there are no right or wrong ways to handle business cards.

It is important to highlight that a good conversation starter could be apologizing for not speaking French.

Germany

Business meetings in Germany are quite similar to French ones except that your handshake should be firm and the correct way to address the person in front of you is “Herr X” or “Frau X”.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, the handshake should be light however, you should give and receive business cards with both of your hands, you dresscode should be sharp and the best way to address your interlocutor is by using “Mr X” or “Mrs X”.

In regards to dining etiquette, in Hong Kong it is deemed rude to start eating before the host does.

India

It is recommended to combine a firm handshake with “Namaste”, to address your conversation partner with “Mr X” or “Ms X”, to wear a sharp dress code and finally to handle business cards with two hands and respect (i.e. do not put the card you received in the back pocket of your pants).

When you are travelling to India, remember that you should only use the right hand to eat.

Ireland

Here it looks very much like Germany with the only difference being that in Ireland, you can address the person you are talking to by their first name.

Israel

If you ever find yourself in an Israeli business context, make sure of three things: that your handshake is firm, that you address the person you are talking to as “Mr X” or “Ms X” and finally that you handle business cards with respect (you should take them with two hands and put it away in a way that shows that you respect the person in front of you).

Japan

In Japan you should go for a light handshake and greeting the person you are talking to by their surname and adding “san” after it (it is expressed the same way for both men and women). You should wear a clear-cut dresscode and handle business cards with two hands.

New Zealand

The business in New Zealand proceed just the same way as in the UK. (see below)

Russia/Spain/Switzerland/United Kingdom

Business meetings in the countries mentioned above have the same requirements as the ones in Germany.

It is important to highlight the fact that in Russia, smiling too much can be perceived as insincere. Additionally in Russia, when eating with someone, you shouldn’t start drinking until the first toast is offered.

Another dining tip, this time for Switzerland, is that you should never cut potatoes with a knife, but with a fork.

Finally, when going to the UK, you should keep in mind that “tea” and “dinner” can have different meanings across the different countries.

Singapore

A business meeting in Singapore requires a firm handshake, the use of both hands to give and receive business cards and accepts a casual dresscode.

It is important to note that the greetings in Singapore depend on who you are meeting. If you are meeting Chinese people, you should address them with “Mr X” or “Madam X”; but if you are meeting Malays or Indians, you should use “Mr X” or “Ms X”

South Korea & Taiwan

In both these countries, you should give a light handshake and address the person in front of you with “Mr X” or “Ms X”. It is recommended that you were a clear cut dresscode and handle all business cards with both your hands.

As far as Korea is concerned, be prepared to sing a solo karaoke number after the meal.

When you go to Taiwan, whether it is for business or for leisure, remember that it is expected that you leave some rice in your bowl.

Sweden

In Sweden, your handshake needs to be firm however you can address the person by their first name, wear a casual dress code and not worry about the way you handle business cards.

In regards to dining etiquette, you should look into the eyes of the person being toasted and say “skâl” [skohl]

United Arab Emirates

In UAE, the handshake needs to be firm and the dresscode sharp. You need to pay attention when handing out business card by making sure you only use your right hand to do so. In order to address the person you are talking to, you can use their first name however by placing “Sayed” or “Sayeda” before it.

When you are travelling to UAE, remember that you should only use the right hand to eat.

United States

Business meetings in the US are quite similar to the ones in Canada, with the only difference being that you can choose to dress as a proper businessman or in more casual clothes. 

Make sure to carry these tips with you, you never know when they might come in handy!

Author: Chiara Eckenschwiller – Bachelor Student