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22 November 2016

Business Etiquette Across the Globe: How to Navigate the Culture Shock


Culture shocks from around the world

The world continues to become a smaller place as digital technologies transcend oceans and dissolve boarders, allowing corporations to forge international relationships and partnerships that would otherwise go unformed.

These modern-day miracles do not come without their complications, however, as business etiquette can greatly differ from region to region. Culture shocks from around the world can often lead to potential business associates embarrassing themselves and outright botching deals.

These mistakes come in many forms, whether it be an improper greeting, social media conundrums, or inadvertently disrespectful marketing materials; this makes it vitally important to have a keen understanding and perception of local business customs.

In an effort to help business leaders avoid succumbing to cultural formality mishaps, here are some of the most prominent business culture shocks from around the world.

International Styles of Communication

International Styles of Communication

Proper communication is the basis of every relationship, business or otherwise, and needs to be effectively managed. If a company representative is unwitting to a certain territory’s style of conversation or negotiation, it could be detrimental to the way foreign business leaders view them and their brand.

In American culture, it is considered normal to ask about a business prospect’s day and how they are doing. This is often viewed as a way to show that they are invested in the personal well-being of an individual and their business. Countries like Spain are also quite receptive to discussing personal matters as family and relationships are highly valued.

In the United Kingdom, however, delving into more intimate exchanges is somewhat frowned upon. Additionally, these folks are less inclined to retain eye contact during a dialogue; a tendency which would be considered disrespectful in the States.

Similarly, countries like Germany and Japan are all about business. Asking personal or emotional questions to business colleges in Japan is inappropriate and makes one look foolish.

More than just the type of questions that are asked, it is also necessary to be mindful of the verbiage that is used. In places like Japan and India, the word “no” is viewed as rude and disrespectful; it is best to use phrases like “maybe” or “possibly.”

Body language also plays a huge role in international business communications. Much as the Brits have no time for “niceties” around personal conversation, they also prefer their personal space, similar to Americans and Chinese business people. If corporate dealings are taken to Brazil, however, you may be in for a bit of a culture shock as Brazilians are accustomed to physical contact during conversations. It is seen as a sign of trust between business partners, so they may end up standing closer than what is comfortable for some; take this as a good sign.

Navigating the conversational terrain can be tricky business so it is best to study the practices of the place you will be visiting as well as learn some of the countries phrases.


The Art of an On-Time Arrival


Punctuality is another valued trait in American culture. If an individual is late to an important meeting, they are viewed as disrespectful and unreliable.

Business folk in Germany and Australia share a similar viewpoint. These people are extremely hard workers and their time is perceived to be valuable. If you are late to an encounter in Germany, you have effectively jeopardized the deal. While these cultures hold importance in promptness, this is not the case in other parts of the globe.

In Italy, punctuality is more of a casual ideal. In this part of the world, meetings frequently get off to a late start. If there are any hard deadlines that must be satisfied, be sure to make this clear to avoid coming off as boorish.

France and India are similar in this regard, as things can typically be delayed due to a late arrival. Despite this, staying late is a common practice.

The same can be said for business meetings in Brazil; they may get started late, but often can last longer than expected. To avoid being seen as rude or disinterested, be sure not to excuse yourself early.

On the other hand, places like Morocco, Nigeria, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia place zero importance on early to on-time arrivals to meetings. In most of these countries, it is completely acceptable to arrive 30 minutes or more “late” to a meeting. In Saudi Arabia, it’s even considered rude to look at one’s watch during a talk.

As a best practice, avoid tardiness no matter what area of the world you are inhabiting. It is better to play it safe than to risk offending a potential business partner.


Global Gift Giving Formalities

International Gift Etiquette

Another culture shock from around the world comes in the form of gifts. Supplying a business acquaintance with a gift is perceived differently in various cultures, and even the types of gifts that are given could be misconstrued.

For example, it would seem appropriate and somewhat obvious to give a watch as a business gift. In China, however, this represents death. Additionally, black, blue, and white wrapping paper should always be avoided. When giving a gift in China, present it with both hands, as is customary.

In Japan, this courtesy is expected but also needs to be presented properly. It is rude to attempt to give a gift that is unwrapped. It is also advisable to carry the offering in a bag to avoid bravado. Moreover, gifts should be discreetly presented toward the closure of a meeting and presented with both hands, as is done in China. Some great items to give would include cuff links or high-quality alcohols like cognac or brandy.

Places like France and Italy are less enthusiastic about presents. In these countries, gifts are typically only exchanged after business partnerships have long been established.

In the United Kingdom, gifts are not typically given. The only scenarios this takes place in is when visiting someone’s home; in which case, bring a small gift, like flowers, for the hostess.

Saudi Arabia, however, has a much different stance on gifts. For these folks, exchanges only occur between extremely close colleagues and often offer extravagant items. Be wary, however, as if the present is for a Saudi man, gold and silk would not be acceptable; silver is much more appropriate.

No matter which country you are headed to, it is important to understand what role gifts play in their culture and what type should be offered. It would be awfully awkward and potentially disastrous to not present a gift to someone who is expecting such behavior.


Conducting business with foreign partners can be a complex and intricate dance. It is necessary to properly research ethics and rituals, learn a bit of the language, and properly understand the customs of the region. Culture shocks from across the world greatly vary from region to region and should be respected and honored. If you fail to show esteem, grace, and reverence towards individuals in a land foreign to your own, your chances of gaining a new business partner greatly diminish.


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