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Understanding cultural differences for exporters can make the difference between a successful business meeting and a disaster, here Technical Translations explore just a few important considerations for experienced and novice exporters.

Dress Etiquette

When considering dressing for business abroad, again you should take the time to do a bit of research into the habits and customs of the country you are visiting. A good rule of thumb however, is to avoid dressing flamboyantly.

Stick to white shirts and dark coloured, well-cut suits. Women should wear skirts below the knee, should always wear tights and should avoid wearing stiletto or very high heels or too much makeup. If you’re wearing nail varnish make sure it isn’t chipped. Make sure your shoes are clean and polished, and men should always wear a tie.  If doing business in a Middle Eastern country, cover your arms to the elbow.

You’re aiming to look respectable and trustworthy and people you meet will generally perceive your attitude towards business as reflected in your attire. In countries such as Denmark or Japan, modesty in dress is equally important but for very different reasons. The Japanese don’t like non-conformist appearances (hence the saying “knock down the nail that sticks up”) and the Danes frown on ostentation or a display of wealth.

Manners and gestures.

Good manners go down well everywhere. Rise when seated to greet people.  Smile and say please and thank you. Open doors for people if you are nearby.

Try to avoid talking about personal or family matters. The weather and the local area are generally considered safe topics and of course everyone expects the English to discuss the weather!

When seated do not cross your legs by resting one ankle upon the knee.  In many cultures showing the sole of a foot is considered rude.  Don’t point. In India and Japan the whole hand is used to indicate something, rather than the index finger. And avoid kissing or hugging, putting an arm round anyone’s shoulders or even patting someone on the back. Many cultures place great importance on the observation of personal space.

 Handshakes – When doing business in countries where a handshake is normal practice, it should be firm and brief.  If a man is introduced to a woman, especially of an older generation, it may be polite to wait to see if a hand is extended first.  Shake hands both on meeting and departing and remember not to leave the other hand in your pocket while doing so as this is poor etiquette.


Time and timekeeping

Be punctual. Lateness is not easily forgiven, especially if repeated, and will reflect badly on your perceived aptitude and ability to deliver.  Even in cultures where the locals seem to ignore the clock they’ll be expecting you to be on time.

Many other cultures use time as a negotiation tactic and it is recommended therefore that you are cautious with respect to making it known if you are under any time constraint – as they may use this to their advantage.  In the Muslim world, Friday is the day of rest.

Getting an appointment – Americans should note that in most other countries the date is written as date/month/year rather than month/date/year.

Gift giving

Business gift giving is not part of the business culture in the UK, but elsewhere in the world gift giving is of VITAL IMPORTANCE.  Gift giving is a vital area where understanding cultural differences for exporters can ensure that you act appropriately and avoid offending your host or business prospect.

Business cards exchange – Don’t put cards into a trouser pocket – consider it carefully before placing it into a wallet or holder in an inside breast pocket to show that you value it.