Going abroad on business translates into a
quagmire of different languages, gestures and customs that can
perplex even an experienced world traveler.
Take, for example, the wingtips or dress pumps youíre
wearing. Shoes are forbidden in Japanese homes or traditional
restaurants unless the owner insists. So make sure you pack
plenty of clean socks without holes.
Dress codes, tipping, gift giving and table manners are
likely to be markedly different the farther you travel from
the United States. When youíre planning a foreign business
trip, doing some etiquette homework is nearly as important as
making plane reservations
or booking a hotel. It can
mean the difference between clinching a deal and coming home
Hereís a sampling
of how different customs can affect business relationships
Meishi, as the Japanese call them, are a way of life
and key to establishing credentials in Japan. So bring a large
supply. One side should be in English, the reverse in
Japanese. Include information about professional organizations
you belong to since the Japanese want to learn as much about
your qualifications as possible. And then, there's the
ritual Ė business cards are presented after the bow or
handshake with the Japanese side up. Spend a few moments
examining it and then put it in your card case, not
your back pocket. If you're seated at a table, place the card
in front of you.
Language. Be precise and don't use American slang and jargon. In
most European countries, for example, the bathroom is the room
with the tub. So donít ask
one unless you need a good soak. And donít ask for a restroom
or a powder room. They'll probably tell you there is none. A
toilet is a toilet and thatís what you ask for. Generally, you
donít have to learn the language of the country you're in, but
it's appreciated when you take the time and effort to learn a
few basic phrases.
"In Paris they just simply opened
their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French.
We never did succeed in making those idiots understand
their own language."
ó Mark Twain, Innocents
Titles, names and
respect. This can be
confusing, particularly in many Asian and Pacific countries
where surnames come first and given names come last. That is,
until you run into an accommodating businessperson who has
adopted the Western practice of first comes first to make life
easier for Americans. Your best bet is to find out the customs
To avoid offending foreign business contacts, don't use
first names unless you're asked. And show special respect for
older people in Asian countries. Age is very important and you
shouldn't be surprised to be asked in Vietnam: "How old are
These are just a few of the cultural differences
you may face when traveling overseas on business.
Where can you go for information so you wonít be the brunt
of jokes or lose lucrative deals? Of course, you can head to
the library to get some insight. There are series of books
like Culture Shock! A Guide to Customs and Etiquette
for numerous countries around the world.
to slurp your noodles in Tokyo, never give a Thai a knife and
donít handle food with your left hand in India. Youíll find
out why when you do your homework and it will help you win
some valuable business.
can contact the American Embassy when you're in another
country or get in touch with foreign embassies and
consulates in the United States. Part of their job is to
help facilitate trade between the countries by answering
questions, providing written material and hosting
educational programs. The French Embassy in Washington,
for example, gives lectures on doing business in France
that include information about differing management
Colleagues and professional
employees can provide you with details if theyíve
already done business in the country you're traveling
to. And you can contact your accountant or attorney for
additional knowledge about government restrictions and
are 85 U.S. branches around the world that provide
insights and services for companies that want to go
The Internet. Several sites provide
country-by-country descriptions of business customs,
including ExecutivePlanet.com and GetCustoms.com. The State Department also has
detailed background notes on individual countries that
can help show overseas counterparts that you know
something about their part of the world.
The Concierge. In a strange foreign city, don't
overlook an obvious source of advice. The hotelís
concierge can tell you the best restaurant for a
business lunch, the proper thank-you gift and the kind
of flowers not to send.