Cultural and Business Etiquette Around the World

Etiquette is the customary code of polite behaviour in society or among members of a particular profession or group.

Most people and businesses have tie-ups or negotiations with other businesses abroad to expand their profits and it becomes imperative to assimilate with the different cultures that the host countries offer. Knowing how to greet the host country’s counterparts, negotiate with them, break bread with them and understand their unique set of customs may be a challenge but once understood, it is a cakewalk in consolidating relations.

Here are a few points to keep in mind while visiting these foreign countries


  • For countries like Germany, Switzerland, Japan, China, it is indicative of reliability if guests are early to arrive for a meeting.
  • For business visitors to France, USA, UK, Australia, Russia, Poland, it is okay to be on time.
  • For Latin American, African and Arab countries, delays of half an hour are common.


  • Negotiations in China and Japan are time-consuming but implementation is easier.
  • Western countries make faster decisions but take longer for implementation.

Gift giving:

  • In Japan giving gifts is common; however never hand out unwrapped gifts.
  • In US gifts are modest and mostly with company logos.
  • Gifts are not given in the UK and Germany.
  • In China, Japan and other Asian countries gifts may be declined a few times before being accepted.


Argentina: People greet each other with kisses. Making  appointments 1 to 2 weeks in advance is necessary for business meetings

Arab/Muslim countries: It is considered offensive to use the left hand to move objects or take food since it is used for personal hygiene. It is impolite to eat everything on the plate. Leave something to compliment the host that the food was abundant. Wine and liquor are prohibited in Arab countries. Women are expected to dress in high collared clothes with long sleeves and skirts.

China: The business delegation is supposed to be received outside the building and not in the lobby. One should be present 15 minutes before a meeting. The Chinese tend to accept a gift after refusing it thrice. Presenting gifts with both hands is considered respectful. Gifts of 4 units should be avoided as they mean bad luck. Alarm clocks and watches are also not gifted.

Egypt: Do not use the left hand for passing things or holding objects. The custom of tips is deeply rooted. Thursdays and Fridays are off.

Finland: Schedule meetings in advance and be respectful of people’s personal space. Be careful with your words and promises as they are taken at face value. Do not be surprised if you are asked for a trip to a sauna for business discussions.

France: When one walks into an elevator, everyone says “Hello”. Try to learn French because the French are very proud of their language. Appreciate the snails and oysters given to eat if you are a non-vegetarian. Presents with company logos are disliked by the French. The French ignore work-related emails after working hours, including lunchtime. Initial meetings run long as they are primarily for discussions, not decision-making.

Germany: The Germans value their privacy. Doors are usually closed and one must knock before entering and then close the door. Wait for the host to initiate things during a business meal.

Hong Kong: If you are given shark fin soup, please appreciate it because it is given only to special guests.

India: People in India usually greet you with the traditional folded hands “namaste”. Avoid eating beef dishes because the cow is considered sacred and many states in India have banned cow slaughter and you may be fined for it also (depending on the area). 

Iran: Punctuality in meetings is appreciated. During Ramadan, drinks and smoking are prohibited in public spaces. Alcohol is prohibited in most Muslim countries.

Italy: Do not order coffee after a meal. Cocktails are not common in Italy. Drinking without eating is rare. Roll pasta with your fork.

Indonesians: Give small, corporate and wrapped gifts after first meetings. Introductory sessions in initial meetings are important as importance is laid on developing relationships for future cooperation. Indonesians love it when their culture is respected by foreigners. That is one of the reasons that in any big office meeting even foreigners are seen in ‘Batik’ shirts (an essential identity of  Indonesian culture) as a sign of respect for their culture.

Japan: It is an honour to be invited to someone’s home. One needs to remove shoes at the doorstep. Gifts should not be associated with the number 4 or 9 as they are considered unlucky. Gifts should be held in both hands. Tipping is considered insulting. Never fill your own glass in Japan, wait for your neighbour to fill it for you. When buying/ selling, the change is usually put in a tray and not give directly in your hand.

Netherlands: Men wait for women to sit down. People use a knife and fork for eating everything, even bread.

Russia: Vodka is the pleasure drink. Western alcoholic gifts are well received. Do not expect to find smoke free areas. An invitation to a Russian Dacha (country home) is an honour.

Singapore: There are stiff fines if you smoke in public, do drugs or sell/use chewing gum.

Switzerland: It is not acceptable to call a Swiss business person at home unless there is an emergency. Chewing gum in public is considered vulgar.

Saudi Arabia: Do not point at objects in homes or office as the host will feel obliged to give it to you. Males do not enter a lift if there is one or several women in it.

South Africa: Foreign visitors are invited to barbeques. December is the time for summer holidays.

South Korea: Business dinners are followed by Karaoke where the guests are expected to participate. Bow to senior businessmen first and as low as they do. However, they may also initiate a handshake. When given a business card regard it instead of immediately putting it away. 

Taiwan: Males do not sport beards unless a father or brother has died. To point to themselves, they point at their nose.

Turkey: Do not drink the whole Turkish coffee because there are grounds at the bottom.

United Kingdom: The board of directors is the decision-making body for any business deals. A British business associate may invite you to watch cricket or to the regatta. Do not jump queues as it is considered bad manners.

America: Americans are direct in communicating. Contracts are signed by consulting lawyers.

Vietnam: Foreigners would need to deal with government people for business. Interpreters may be required.

We hope that these etiquette rules will help you attain success in your workplace.
Don’t forget to share these rules with your friends and colleagues.

Sangeeta Datta is Assistant General Manager – Marketing at Viva Books.  She finds cultural & business quirks around the world very engrossing!

Books that might interest you:

Book 1      Book 2    Book 3



55 thoughts on “Cultural and Business Etiquette Around the World

Add yours

  1. Seems like my behaviour matches the Chinese where accepting gifts is concerned. Would have made an even better read if the author had mentioned her gaffes in behaviour protocols.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very good read. To the point, concise and clear. Could I also add an additional bit of information when it comes to Japan. When you are given a visiting card/ business card by someone take it with both hands respectfully. Read it before putting it away in your pocket/bag. Also, change etc when buying/ selling is usually put in a tray and not give directly in your hand.
    Absolutely spot on with French and British Etiquette. Excellent work Sangeeta !


  3. Very good read. To the point, concise and clear. Could I also add an additional bit of information when it comes to Japan. When you are given a visiting card/ business card by someone take it with both hands respectfully. Read it before putting it away in your pocket/bag. Also, change etc when buying/ selling is usually put in a tray and not give directly in your hand.
    Absolutely spot on with French and British Etiquette. Excellent work Sangeeta !

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Awesome…!!! Such an interesting read. Concise and packed with important social information, bound to surprise your hosts anywhere on the globe. Well done Sangeeta…!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. An excellent choice of topic.

    The read is very informative from a business perspective.
    I can relate to a lot of this stuff.

    I recommend you build up more content on similar lines. It will help immensely. These are such basic factors yet so important to be addressed with professional courtesy and etiquettes.

    Looking forward to another article from you.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Excellent insight and very informative …
        You can also try to weave in a story and paragraph form to make for pleasure reading …

        Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s an amazing feeling while reading articles related to etiquette and manners whether they are business, dining or kids. I am working in “The British School of Etiquette” where we meet so many people and try to teach them the best etiquette of life that can help them in future.

    Liked by 1 person

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