In our years of work in the translation industry, we have constantly been in contact with customers abroad. In this article, we will concentrate on one faux pas that can sometimes happen within a few seconds, but can affect you or the reputation of your company for many years.
Imagine that you have a crucial meeting coming up with a potential business partner. You thoroughly prepare yourself, collect documentation, put together a creative presentation, take care to convey a good overall image, go over what you’ve been able to find out about the potential business partner, and you think everything will come off without a hitch. Suddenly the door opens, and your potential FOREIGN business partner from Saudi Arabia walks in. A smiling manager in an inappropriately short skirt greets him with a gift — a bottle of 90-proof whiskey.
Do you still think preparing the content is all it takes for a successful business meeting — and that you can ignore the cultural differences? Well, you can’t. We always have to think globally. At such negotiations, it’s best not to have a woman in risqué clothing hand over a present that violates the guest’s cultural conventions. Just as every country has different laws, each one also has a different code of business conduct. A misstep can be avoided if we pay strong attention to the roles for correct behavior and appearance. Otherwise, your business partner will think that you are frivolous and disreputable. The first seconds of communication are always crucial. This is the exact moment when we set the basic tone for the whole meeting. As they say, there’s no second chance to make a good impression. So do not miss your chance to make a perfect impression the first time!
And how do you make sure not to flub your business communication?
When first entering a foreign market, we shouldn’t just discover market opportunities, but also get to know the cultural taboos and trade practices of the given country. As they always say: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
In Japan, businesspeople do not shake hands. Upon greeting, they make a deep bow, and they reflect a long time during negotiations. Traditions play an important role in this culture — this also includes climbing the career ladder and the social position of older members of the company. Americans go by the good old slogan, “Time is money.” They like punctuality and avoid superfluous, meaningless conversations. Germans are well known for their precision and perfectionism. They adhere to strict etiquette during meetings and love punctuality. We classify the British among the more conservative nations. They are distinguished by their discipline and precision. For negotiations, they will not consider any language other than English.
To a certain extent, business negotiations with Italians and Spaniards tend to be loud, long and loaded with gesticulation. Meetings in the early hours are out of the question, and in the summer you should expect a siesta in the afternoon. The French are tough businesspeople. Their company’s system must function, and they expect the same from their business partners. They consider lunch or dinner to be part of negotiations. What the French can’t stand is lack of preparation. If you’re not prepared for a negotiation, it will come to a merciless end.
And what about Middle Eastern countries? Never discuss politics, religion or the family with people from these countries. During negotiations with small companies, the presence of women is neither appropriate nor desirable. Their customs should be consistently observed — especially the ban on eating pork and drinking alcohol. In Russia, on the other hand, it is not a good idea to refuse vodka if offered. It would be like refusing a handshake.
Believe it or not, there are many things we routinely do that are seen as a sign of disrespect in other parts of the world. Even Singapore is a country full of bans, instructions and limitations. It is not only forbidden to eat and drink in the subway, but even at the railway station. If you are in Saudi Arabia, and you do not want to spend time in jail for violating the fast, do not eat in public during the month of Ramadan. And in many parts of Asia, it is a severe insult to your host if you stand up from a set table.