Bow Or Shake Hands
If you do something
out of the ordinary in a foreign country, youíre in for a short
ride... Here are some dos and doníts of business etiquette
youre human, (were assuming!) there will be times when
you step on toes, forget an important name, pop off with a harsh
comment, or (heaven forbid!) use the wrong fork. We all do. Think
about the outtakes scenes at the end of some movies
where we see how many times it took to get things perfect, even
when everyone was performing to a script! This is real life, there
are no scripts, and were all making it up as we go along.
But beware, if you do something out of the ordinary in a foreign
country, youre in for a short ride...
China, for example, always address a person using his or her family
name. My American colleague did the unthinkable and greeted his
Chinese counterpart Mr Alfred Wong, Good evening Alfred.
evening Mr Simpson, and it is Mr Wong or Chairman Wong, came
the stern response.
business purposes, it is tradition to call a Chinese person by his
surname along with his title, such as Director Chan
or Chairman Lee. Chinese culture frowns upon quick informality.
Apologising for my ignorance, I exchanged business cards politely.
And while I took particular care as not to further invite his wrath,
I unknowingly put the card in my back pocket. And before I knew
it, voilà! The meeting came ended, even before it had begun.
sure you dont commit this same blunder, always take a quick
look at the card before putting it in your front shirt pocket; never
in your back pocket, as this is seen as a sign of disrespect. Thais,
on the other hand, address one another by first names and reserve
last names for very formal occasions and written communications
only. In Japan too, the Western practice of accepting a business
card and pocketing it immediately is considered rude.
a recent trip to Belgium, a friend speaking from past experience
had advised me, Always greet a Belgian associate with three
kisses on the cheek, alternating from one cheek to the other.
At my business meeting the same day, I made sure I followed his
instructions to the T. I could see the surprise on my counterparts
face, he was impressed by my knowledge of the local customs and
culture. Gloating with pride, I pointed my index finger at him and
inquired, Would you like some coffee? No, thank
you, came the curt reply coupled with a scornful look. Dont
ever point your index finger at somebody in Belgium, it is extremely
be amazed to know that the okay sign commonly used in
the United States and the United Kingdom (thumb and index finger
forming a circle and the other fingers raised) means zero in France,
is a symbol for money in Japan, and carries a vulgar connotation
lucky to have found a little free time (a rare opportunity, indeed)
on my business visit to Bulgaria last year, I decided to venture
into the countryside. I stopped by a quaint inn, and this plump
waiter came up and asked, Would you like a mug of beer?
I nodded my consent. I took in the countryside ambience as I waited
for my beer. After waiting for over 15 minutes, I became restless
and approached the waiter for my beer. He gave me a startled look
and explained, But you said no, sir. Did I??? Seeing
my shocked expression, he realised what the confusion was all about.
He politely informed me, A nod means no in Bulgaria and shaking
the head from side to side means yes.
there you have it, some basic principles to remember when travelling
the world for business and not-so-business purposes. It might help
to do a little preparatory research
in the business etiquette of a foreign country, rather than learn
it the hard way...