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International Business Etiquette: Part 2


28th October 2014

Emily Robertshaw

In International Business Etiquette: Part 1 we talked about dress code, greetings and giving gifts whilst travelling overseas on business. Take a look at Part 2 of our blog which demonstrates the importance of understanding foreign dining etiquette and how to ensure you use the appropriate body language.



Always ensure you’ve investigated dining etiquette and the local cuisine, as if you’re in the country for a few days, you’re likely to eat at a restaurant with your colleagues, or perhaps even in one of their homes, and it would be a shame to make a bad impression as a result of a silly mistake that you could have avoided had you done your research in advance!

foreign dining

Remember that some Asian countries such as Japan, China and Korea use chopsticks, so learning the correct way to hold them is a must before you visit. But it’s not that simple, unfortunately…in addition to knowing how to hold them, it is important to understand the appropriate ways of using them. For example, it is extremely rude to leave them standing in your bowl or to gesture with them. Always put them down on the table to avoid offence. In the Middle East, India and some areas of Africa, it is unhygienic to eat with your left hand; and in Chile, you mustn’t eat anything with your hands at all, not even chips! Japanese custom says that you should always serve drinks to others, but never to yourself. Even the smallest rules, like putting food in your mouth using a fork- which is inappropriate in Thailand –  must be observed. It becomes clear why researching before you go is so important, since something which is completely second-nature to us has the potential to send a very different message abroad.

Although we don’t have a  customary phrase that we say before eating, many cultures do. In France, Germany and Italy the phrases ”bon appetit”, ”guten appetit” and ”buon appetito” are used respectively. We actually tend to borrow the French one– perhaps it’s time we came up with more of our own! In Japan itadakimasu is said before eating, but in China there is no set phrase, although bizarrely, burping is deemed an acceptable way of showing you have enjoyed a meal. The word for ”cheers” is also a good one to make a note of for post-dinner drinks! Why not learn some of these? And there’s a list of important dining phrases here that you also might need to know in different languages. There’s nothing worse than being the only one who doesn’t really know what’s going on…


Specific dietary customs are important too, and as they are dictated by religion, not respecting them has the potential to cause offence. For example, remember that Hindus do not eat beef, and Muslims do not eat pork. Make sure you also know whether it is appropriate to tip for the service in your surrounding culture. In Japan and China it is not very common, and may often be refused, whereas in America for example, neglecting to leave a tip is considered ill-mannered.  


Body Language

Last but not least, it’s not just about what you say or do but how you say or do it too! Be aware of your body language and the gestures you make in meetings to avoid making the wrong impression or even worse, coming across as highly offensive.

okThe ‘OK’ sign varies a lot in meaning across different cultures. In the UK and the US it does mean ‘OK’, but in France it means ‘zero’ and in Japan it means ‘money’. The word ‘OK’ has in fact been adopted into many different languages so if in doubt, best to just go for the word itself instead!

Although the thumbs up sign is used as a positive acknowledgement across most Anglophone countries, in Germany and Hungary it is used for the number one and in Japan for the number five.  And be careful in Greece and Turkey, as the thumbs up is seen as a highly vulgar sign and should be avoided at all costs!

I hope this has opened your eyes as to how important it is to do your research about appropriate etiquette for different countries before you go on your international business trip. Why not start by taking a moment to look at our country business guides for an insight into business etiquette in the country you’re going to visit?




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