Each country has its own idiosyncrasies when it comes to everyday life. Even the simple act of ordering a coffee varies greatly from country to country- in Italy, ordering a cappuccino after breakfast time is a tell-tale sign that you’re a foreigner, and in France, ordering a ‘café’ will get you what would be considered an espresso in an English-speaking country.
The business world is also no exception to such cultural idiosyncrasies, and linguistic differences are not the only things to consider when interacting with clients abroad- cultural sensitivity is equally as important. Speaking the client’s language is of course important, and qualified translators and interpreters are essential for any business interacting with foreign clients, but awareness of the business culture in the client’s home country can give a business a competitive edge when negotiating abroad. Of course, a foreign client is not going to expect someone to have an anthropological level of knowledge about their culture, but demonstrating awareness of a potential client’s culture demonstrates a personal touch that can lead to a fruitful business relationship.
The following is a list of some of the more interesting examples of business etiquettes throughout the world.
In France, you should always err on the side of formality. There is a particular formal type of French that is specifically reserved for the field of business which is a quasi-language of its own. Of course, it not expected that you be fluent in this type of French, or French at all, but it is certainly necessary to keep in mind the formality that exists in French business relationships. Even colleagues who have worked together for a long time may not share the same sense of camaraderie shared between colleagues in other countries.
Japan: Formality & Socialising
Meanwhile in Japan, it would be foolish to attempt doing business in the country without first researching its very specific business etiquette. While similar to the French in that formality, particularly in dress and manners, are key in business settings, afterhours socialising is an equally important aspect of building a business relationship. It is important to be seen to be enjoying oneself, as the client may take it as an offence to their hospitality if one is not seen to be participating in afterhours socialising. It is important to socialise with the client as Japanese culture tends to be quite introverted, and therefore strong and trusting relationships must be formed for a foreign company to successfully do business with a Japanese company.
Gift giving is as appropriate as it in other countries in a business setting in China, but interestingly, giving flowers is taboo as it is associated with death and funerals in Chinese culture. Chinese business culture is relatively unreceptive to Western business when compared with their other Asian counterparts, due to the political context of the country. In certain instances, Western companies may be regarded with suspicion, so it is especially important that firm relationships be established between Chinese business people and their foreign counterparts. When interacting with a Chinese company, it is important to note that this will take a significant amount of time to form a business relationship, so it is necessary to consider whether the company is willing to commit the resources necessary to establish a trusting business relationship with a Chinese client.
Hierarchy is an important aspect of Russian business meetings; it would be considered insulting to arrange a meeting between a Russian client and someone from your company with a lower ranking than them. This would also apply during a presentation, for example, the highest ranking member of a business delegation would introduce the topics and aims of the presentation and then hand over to their lower-ranking counterpart. In contrast to other business cultures, casual physical contact is not inappropriate in Russian business situations. A pat on the shoulder, for example, may be interpreted as a positive sign during business negotiations. Falling between formal and informal, Russian business culture places importance on the credentials of the company representatives, but it is also important not to be overly formal and reserved.
From this brief tour of the different business customs throughout the world, it can been seen that it is equally important to consider cultural differences in areas like interpersonal interactions and levels of formality when doing business abroad.