There’s only so much about the international business world that you can learn in your native culture. Someone brought up in the United States, for example, might not know a lot about how business is conducted in Europe, or in Asia, at least at first.
But as you expand your product-based business into international markets, it’s important to learn about the different traditions and expectations of countries other than the United States. After all, a breach in etiquette due to ignorance of a customer’s culture could easily be taken as an insult, and could ruin whatever business you were attempting to conduct.
Here are some business culture tips for different countries that might help things go more smoothly. Keep in mind, these aren’t hard-and-fast rules on what’s expected, just some information about the different traditions of other countries.
Dressing well in both formal and informal situations will probably be expected by your host.
Gift giving when meeting your clients or collaborators is not recommended, but it’s considered perfectly acceptable to conduct business at a restaurant instead of a boardroom.
And don’t count on a quick transaction. There’s often a leisurely pace in South African business dealings.
Being on time to your meetings and making strong eye contact are often important in Australian culture.
Attire tends toward dark colors and conservative styles, and overly demonstrative physical behavior, towards men or women, is generally frowned upon.
Much like South Africa, be prepared for a slower pace of business dealings in the United Kingdom. The style of dress for business meetings is more casual than you might expect, but there’s still a tendency towards conservative styles and dark colors.
There’s also generally a more reserved tone of speech in the UK. Consider the volume of your voice when speaking, and try to speak a little more carefully than you would in the U.S.
Keep George Bernard Shaw’s famous quote in mind during conversation: “America and Britain are two nations divided by a common language.”
India is a country where you might have to consider religious beliefs more than in other places. The vast majority of Indian citizens are part of the Hindu faith, which holds cows as sacred animals, and they could be offended by any leather goods or clothing you might be wearing or using.
And if you’re doing business over lunch or dinner, you might want to avoid beef or pork, once again due to the tenets of the Hindu and Muslim faiths.
There might not be as much of a language barrier as you’d expect in India, though. English is one of the two most common languages in the country. But DO make sure to use proper titles when addressing your hosts.
Interestingly enough, color can be an important aspect of your meetings in Hong Kong. Red is considered a lucky color, so it wouldn’t hurt to sport some shade of red somewhere in your choice of clothing.
Be prepared to be social. Bar hopping and karaoke are extremely popular traditions in Hong Kong, and your host will probably want to take you out after a day of doing business. And it’s often considered rude to refuse.
Remember that Hong Kong is a densely-populated country; personal space, considered so important in America, often isn’t a priority.
Be prepared for cold weather, and be sure to favor classic, conservative styles over trendy clothing.
If you’re meeting over a meal, wait for your host to start the business conversation. It’s often considered rude to begin discussing business outside the office before the host does.
Once you’ve started talking, however, your conversation can be open and friendly. There’s little consideration for formalities in much Canadian speech, particularly in more rural areas.
Just like it says in our name, Pivot International is an international company, and we help businesses all over the world. If you’re expanding your own company outside of your home country, read our post “How to Tap into International Markets with Your New Product.“