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Tips for Doing Business with These 10 Global Cultures

By Sean Hopwood, Last Modified
Feb 20, 2019
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> Business Basics

Businesses that seek to conquer new markets should not only worry about marketing and logistics. They also need consider the local business customs of the new territories they're working in.

Doing business with people from different cultural backgrounds can be challenging. Being mindful of effective communication is not going to be enough. It’s imperative to be sensitive to cultural considerations.

The following are notable cultural distinctions among businesspeople and customers in top global markets outside the United States.

1. Japan: The high-tech country that still uses physical business cards

The world’s third-largest economy is one of the first countries to embrace the digital revolution, but it has not abandoned the traditional business cards. It is advisable to prepare stacks of these cards when dealing with Japanese business professionals. Business cards are part of a unique business tradition. They should be passed with both hands and similarly accepted by the recipient with both hands.

Further more, Japan is known for their high regard for age and status. Be sure to show courtesy or deference to people of age and those who hold authority, as a way of showing respect.

2. United Kingdom: Using humor and indirectness to avoid conflict

The British business culture leans away from direct statements, to avoid conflict and show politeness. It is considered rude to disagree with someone outright. Being straightforward can be viewed as arrogant, abrasive or aggressive. These can adversely affect the possibility of establishing good business relationships.

Additionally, it helps to use humor to lighten up the mood. The British are said to favor dry and witty humor. If you don't find a British joke funny, though, don't forget the value of indirectness. Fake a smile or laugh if possible, and never show a dismissive or jeering reaction.

3. India: Body language mindfulness goes a long way

Being aware and practicing body language in Indian business culture can be likened to doing yoga. There are many things to remember. Some of the notable ones are as follows:

  • Do the "Namaste" pose when saying hello or goodbye by placing your palms together, with the fingers touching and pointing towards the sky.

  • When shaking hands or offering and receiving gifts, money, checks, and business cards, use both hands or your right hand.

  • Keep your feet flat on the ground and never point your toes or soles towards anyone. Also, never point your fingers at anyone.

  • Take off your footwear as you enter someone's home.

  • If your footwear or feet touch someone, be sure to apologize promptly.

  • When having a business dinner, if the host eats without using a spoon/fork, do the same and eat with your right hand. The left hand is considered unclean in Indian culture.

4. Russia: Time is precious, but don't forget to socialize

Russians value their time, so be sure to come on time during meetings or appointments. Don't just show up to meet a Russian professional; be sure to set an appointment first. However, don't be too surprised if your appointment is canceled on short notice. During meetings, it is advisable to allocate some time for socialization before going to the business discussions. You can make up for the time "lost" during the introductions by offering a detailed and well-organized presentation.

5. China: Offending and being easily offended are a no-no

China has a diverse and unique culture. Don't expect it to align with what you have been accustomed to. For one, you should be tolerant of the high volume Chinese businesspeople speak at and the loudness of their offices and workplaces. Another essential point to remember is respecting personal space. Avoid physical contact as much as possible. Moreover, meals should not be treated as meetings. If you are invited to a dinner, you may notice that you are introduced to non-business people and the discussions are not purely business related. 

If you are setting up a store in China, exert the effort to adapt not just in the way you deal with businessmen but also with the locals. Retail translation or localization can be of significant help in this regard. See to it that your product packaging, branding and marketing are compatible with the local market.

6. Germany: Emphasis on planning, punctuality, and respect

Germany is a country that has punctuality embedded in their DNA. Never be late to meetings or appointments with German professionals. Respect the German business culture, especially in their preference to have everything planned and organized. They don't like surprises or abrupt changes in schedules or planned activities. Additionally, understand that Germans want their business and personal lives clearly distinct from each other. Avoid talking or doing business with a German professional on vacation or in a family dinner.

7. Australia: Laid back but in control

Many perceive Australians as laid back people, which is mostly true, even in the way they do business. However, being laid back does not mean they don't value punctuality and organization. Australians do take their business seriously, so come prepared to meetings or appointments. Be sure to show respect and avoid using a position of power as leverage when doing negotiations. Be honest and put emphasis on common sense when doing business discussions. As much as possible, avoid methodical approaches in winning negotiations.

8. Italy: Relationship-oriented business

The Italian sense of family manifests in the way they do business. However, Italians also have a sense of formality. Shake hands like professionals do. Dress for the occasion. Be prepared when having meetings or business appointments. The Italians are relatively lax when it comes to time, but avoid making them wait. If you can’t make it on time, be sure to tell them in advance and provide a good reason.

9. United Arab Emirates: Emphasizing Arab customs

Arab businesspeople tend to look intimidating. You don't have to appear meek in their presence, but be sure to learn about their customs before you interface with them. Mind the clothing in particular: For men, you wouldn't go wrong with suits, and darker colors are perceived as more professional. For women, a suit is recommended, but skirts are allowed as long as the hem is below the knee. Non-Muslim women are not required to wear the hijab.

During conversations, start with light discussions to establish a relationship and build trust. Just avoid controversial or abrasive topics, even when you're just being overheard by your Arab business counterparts.

10. Belgium: Fostering an egalitarian approach

Belgians are open to compromising, negotiating and invoking common sense in doing business. They seek to establish mutual trust and usually treat everyone equally regardless of status. Punctuality and respect for each other’s time is of critical importance. Moreover, they tend to favor doing business with those they already know. As such, it would be an advantage to have third-party introductions.

This is by no means a comprehensive guide to dealing with businessmen from different cultural backgrounds. However, this should serve as a reminder for everyone to learn to adjust and be mindful of cultural differences, as culture plays a significant role in business dealings. 

Sean Hopwood
Sean Hopwood
See Sean Hopwood's Profile
I am a polyglot, the President of Day Translations, Inc. and its sister companies, World Interpreting, Inc. and Your Spanish Translation. As a child I was already fascinated with languages and different cultures, which later developed into a much stronger passion, something I nurtured and worked hard for. Eventually, I found success when I established Day Translations, Inc.
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