Sales Coaching Blog

International Business Etiquette Tips for Sales

Posted by Sarah Wirth

June 18, 2012

As you start expanding internationally, it is important that you learn about the customs and behaviors of your customer's host country.  It's important because a misstep in business etiquette is more than embarrassing. It could cost you a customer and you may never know why.

Here are some tips about business customs in five countries, gleaned from Vayama's Etiquette for the World Traveler and Cyborlink.com's resources on how business is conducted in different countries (both are great places to dive deep into the ins and outs of different country's ways of doing business). Read the full article CLICK HERE

Business Etiquette Tips

FRANCE

  • Dress: French people dress very well, and you should, too. Sneakers and overly casual clothing will label you as a tourist.
  • Restaurants: Keep your arms on the table during dinner; it's considered rude to put them in your lap. Service fees are included in restaurant and bar bills, but it's customary to round up or add an additional 5%.
  • Business Behavior: Shake hands when meeting, but not as firmly as in the U.S. Close friends do the double-air-kiss, left side first. Expect people to be late. Meetings are formal, and seating is by status. Don't be impatient or confrontational. Peers use first names in private, but last names in public. You may address people as Monsieur, Madame or Mademoiselle without adding their surname.

JAPAN

  • Dress: Even though it's becoming more westernized, Japan is a very traditional country. Dress formally for business, with dark colors.
  • Restaurants: Don't spear your chopsticks into your rice bowl. It's a sign of respect to slurp noodles and soup. Tipping is not customary. When offered a drink, say yes. Toasts are important. Never pour your own drink and always pour your companion's. Tone down hand gestures. Never blow your nose in public.
  • Business Behavior: Japanese do shake hands, but you also want to bow when greeting; the higher their status, the lower you bow. Business cards (with one side in Japanese) are presented formally with two hands. Gifts are an important ritual; the wrapping is as important as the gift. Use both hands to give or receive a gift; don't open the gift in front of the giver. Avoid saying "I hope to see you again." In meetings, wait to be told where to sit. Don't be surprised to be asked very personal questions, like how much you earn. Understand that Japanese people often will say "maybe" when they mean "no," and it may take several formal meetings to close a deal, so be patient.

ENGLAND

  • Dress: Dress conservatively, and avoid loafers or striped ties.
  • Restaurants: Watch your table manners; no elbows on the table, and no slurping. Do tip but check to see if a service charge is already on the bill first.
  • Business Behavior: The British are reserved, polite and formal, so tone down gestures, your voice volume and your behavior. Don't be too casual. Punctuality is important. Don't bring gifts to business meetings, and expect a slower decision process. Don't use first names unless asked, avoid asking personal questions, and avoid talking about religion, politics or the royal family's personal business.

SINGAPORE

Because it's such a multicultural city, many rules of etiquette depend on the nationality of the person involved. You can read more about how Chinese, Malay, Indian and Muslim cultures differ in what is expected at World Executive.

  • Dress: Men usually wear a shirt and tie, and women wear blouses and skirts. It's hot, so jackets aren't required.
  • Restaurants: Let the host order. If you're dining with Malay or Indian people, don't eat with your left hand. If you are dealing with someone of Chinese descent, you may find yourself in the position of hosting a banquet. Tipping is not customary.
  • Business Behavior: Appointments should be made well in advance. Have high quality printed materials. Present your business card with two hands. Never touch someone's head, show the bottoms of your feet or point. No public displays of affection. Don't talk about religion or politics. Don't be late and don't get angry.

ITALY

  • Dress: Italians are elegant and fashion-conscious, and business dress is formal. People will notice your shoes and accessories, and to Italians, quality matters.
  • Restaurants: It's considered rude to leave the table during dinner or to put your hands in your lap. A service charge may be included, but additional tips are appreciated.
  • Business Behavior: Make appointments in advance. Expect haggling and loud discussions. Italians touch more than other cultures, so if a business associate hugs you, hug back. Be punctual, even if others aren't. Avoid talking about politics, religion, the Mafia or family.

Wherever your business or travel takes you, do as much reading as you can to familiarize yourself with business etiquette faux pas of any country before you go, and you can avoid the embarrassment of finding out later that your American ways offended someone and cost you the deal.

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