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International Etiquette

Unusual business etiquette in 10 popular destinations

Brits doing business abroad have been offered advice on the corporate culture around the world – and some tips could apply to Zoom calls too.

As part of the new lockdown measures, many companies will have had to put a pause on international business trips, so the travel and luggage shipping experts at My Baggage are urging employees to get to grips with common customs in 10 popular destinations before normal travel resumes.

Japanese business people regard the business card very seriously, so you must always accept them with both hands and take time to study the information before putting it away.

And in Hong Kong, the most senior member of staff should always be offered a seat at the head of the table during any meeting or business dinner.

In comparison, a lot of European countries take a much more relaxed approach to business, but even the Italians have two business cards – one for business and another for social gatherings.

A spokesperson for My Baggage said: “It’s hard to say when workers will be able to hop on a plane to freely meet clients and colleagues abroad again, but because of the difference in culture in many popular destinations, it won’t hurt to do your research now so that you’re prepared.

“Plus, some essential business trips are still going ahead, so knowing what you should and shouldn’t do in meetings, for example, could save business people from making an embarrassing faux pas in some countries.

“The Brits take work pretty seriously, so you certainly wouldn’t catch us doing business in a sauna-like the Fins do – but they say the sweltering conditions actually enhance creativity and encourage more open dialogue.

“These tips will also help ex-pats relocating for work, who want to get up to speed and settled in their destination country as quickly as possible.”

1. Japan

If you are offered a business card in Japan, you should take it with both hands and pause for a moment to study the information before putting it away, as Japanese business people view the business card as a particular item of importance. In addition, the business card should never be written on or played with during a meeting, as both are signs of disrespect.

Napping in the office is also common in this country and is seen as a sign of employee diligence. The word for the practice is “inemuri” or “sleeping on duty” and is most prevalent among senior employees.

2.    Hong Kong

It’s rude to start eating before the host in Hong Kong, and seating placements are also tied to seniority; the most senior member of staff should be offered a seat at the head of the table during any meeting or business dinner.

3.    South Korea

If you join Korean colleagues for dinner, you might find yourself at a karaoke establishment – and you will be expected to sing.

4.    China

In China, the customary tradition is that gifts are presented when you show up for a business meeting. However, gifts can be refused up to three times before being accepted, so it’s important to continue offering your present until it is taken.

Informality also has no place in the Chinese boardroom, so always address clients here by their surname and title or risk some serious offending.

5.    United Arab Emirates

Left-handers may have some trouble doing business in the United Arab Emirates, as in a lot of Middle Eastern countries, the left hand is considered unclean and used strictly for bodily hygiene. As a result, it’s important to eat, shake hands and pass documents with the right hand only. Using the left hand is a serious insult.

6.    Egypt

Business meetings are never scheduled for Fridays in Egypt, as it’s considered a day of rest.

7.    Finland

Hot-bath negotiations are the norm in Finland, where an affinity for saunas is deeply rooted in the culture. These sweltering sessions are thought to enhance creativity and encourage more open dialogue. In fact, the practice is so widespread that many large companies have saunas in the office!

8.    Germany

Germans often respect direct communication – the more straightforward, the better. So, it’s wise to remain serious and devoid of humour, as jokes may not be appreciated in a business context. My Baggage has created this comprehensive guide to Germany as a destination.

9.    France

French workers pride themselves on maintaining a clear distinction between work life and personal life, which led to an initiative that was passed a couple of years ago allowing employees the right to ignore work-related emails sent after working hours. The “right to disconnect” applied to companies with more than 50 employees. This means you should also make appointments for both business and social occasions. It’s not acceptable to just drop in on someone unannounced.

10.  Australia

Set your alarm early when doing business in Australia, as punctuality is absolutely key when meeting to discuss business. Don’t lose a deal because you were five minutes late. That might wash in the UK, but it’ll probably get noticed when you’re down under.

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