When business travel takes you across the world, you will need to be prepared to deal with different people, customs and rules. Learning about the culture before arrival will help you make the most of your trip and avoid embarrassing faux pas.
Here are five common things to consider to when traveling internationally:
- Attire: The ‘business casual attire’ approach so omnipresent in the U.S. may set you off on the wrong foot in other countries. Dressing conservatively, in a dark business suit for both men and women, is expected in many European and Asian countries, like the U.K. and Japan. Showing too much skin is also frowned upon in a professional context in Japan and Middle Eastern countries, so always travel with a jacket and close-toed shoes for business meetings.
- Introductions/Greetings: A handshake is a warm greeting in many Western countries, but the gesture doesn’t necessarily translate to all cultures. In Japan and India, for example, bowing is a typical way of greeting each other. Rank and order is also important in many cultures – in Japan, this requires greeting senior-ranking people before younger people and allowing them to enter and exit the room first.
- Body Language: Body language is another important consideration. Direct eye contact should be avoided in Asia; in the Middle East, use an open palm to gesture rather than pointing with your index finger and be careful not to sit cross-legged – the bottom of your foot is regarded as the lowest part of your body and showing it is considered disrespectful. Having a working understanding of body language cues like these in business meetings will show a level of knowledge and respect.
- Gifting: Providing a gift for the person you are conducting business with is considered a sign of respect and gratitude in many countries. Remember to pack a small token from home, and be sure to understand gift giving etiquette before arriving. Business gifts are common in China and it’s important to present it to the receiver with both hands. On the other hand, in France, business gifts are not usually exchanged at the first meeting and in Italy, they are only exchanged after a relationship has been established as a sign of friendship.
- Punctuality: Be patient and prepared to start your meeting with a slight delay when working with partners in places such as Italy, Ireland and France, so don’t take a delay as a sign of disrespect. On the other hand, Germans like to stay on schedule and appreciate on-time counterparts, so be punctual!
With business borders constantly expanding, understanding your destination’s cultural differences is not only good manners, it's good business. We hope this breakdown will help you best prepare for your next meeting abroad!