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Mind Your Manners
Whether you're exhibiting internationally or at domestic shows with attendees from overseas, you need to know your audience. After all, when it comes to face-to-face marketing with foreign buyers, assuming the wrong posture, wearing the wrong attire, or even greeting the wrong person first can land you in hot water faster than you can say "international incident." But it's impossible to sidestep these snafus if you don't know what they are. So to help you adeptly navigate a multitude of cultural faux pas, here are tried-and-true tips on how to handle meetings and meals with prospects and clients from 11 different countries. By Kevin Farrell
Speaking: Jumping right into business is considered rude. Each meeting should begin with several minutes of small talk. Avoid controversial topics like religion, politics, or jokes at Canada's expense. Instead, stick to safe topics such as the weather, your accommodations, and complimentary talk of a show's host city.
Attire: American-style business attire is suitable for meetings in Canada and with Canadian attendees. Anything happening in the major Canadian cities' financial districts – like Toronto's Bay Street – will be an occasion for more formal attire, such as suits and ties. Anywhere else, buttoned-up shirts paired with slacks or even jeans are usually appropriate for business meetings.
Formality: Interrupting someone while they are speaking is ill-advised, as is commenting aloud on someone's accent. Rather than draw attention to the fact that you can't understand the way something is being said, ask guests if they would mind repeating themselves. Canadian businesses are oftentimes more multicultural than their U.S. counterparts. In addition to English, French and a number of Asian languages are often spoken within the walls of companies based out of Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.
Dining: Business meetings will usually be catered to a certain extent, primarily with juices and light snacks. But wait until your host invites you to partake before helping yourself.
Introductions: Women should be the first to initiate a handshake, which takes a gentler form than the sturdy U.S. gesture you may be used to. Match your guests' pressure, as overwhelming their shake can be seen as a sign of dominance. Don't be surprised if both women and men offer you a quick kiss on the cheek.
Timeliness: Punctuality is overrated in many Latin American countries, with Mexico being no exception. Meetings will often begin 10 to 15 minutes after the scheduled time.
Titles: Your hosts may affectionately refer to you as friends or make polite jokes at your expense. A relaxed smile will go a long way here. Initially refer to your host or guest as Señor or Señora, but adjust accordingly if you are asked to use their first names instead.
Body Language: Keep your hands off your hips, as that posture may be inferred as a sign of anger. Mexicans may stand closer to you when speaking than you are used to, and animated conversations are often punctuated with touches to the arm or shoulder.
Speaking: Mexicans will often acknowledge U.S. political news, and won't shy away from offering their opinions. It is best not to rock the boat by signaling your opinion. Rather, simply agree the news is happening. Also, avoid referring to yourself and other U.S. residents as "Americans." Beyond our borders, the term is used to describe those who call any of the countries in North or South America home. So calling yourself American can be interpreted as suggesting that Mexicans are somehow not Americans also.

Speaking: Many Brazilians have studied English, and they will often welcome an opportunity to practice their craft. But remember that Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish, as their primary language. Attempting to speak Spanish with a Brazilian will be interpreted as an embarrassing insult.
Dining: Brazilians are beer drinkers, even during business dinners. And they prefer their boozy beverage served "estupidamente gelada," or as cold as physically possible. As such, large bottles are served to a table one at a time and poured into tiny glasses meant to be imbibed as quickly as possible, almost like a shot. If your host is ordering more, then it is considered polite for you to keep up.
Formality: Business meetings often meander off topic, touching upon the personal lives of participants.
Body Language: As in many countries, the U.S. gesture for "OK" has a different meaning in Brazil and should be avoided. A thumbs up, on the other hand, is acceptable.
Introductions: Brazilian handshakes are generally as firm as those stateside, but may last longer. Don't pull away as quickly as you normally would.
Timeliness: In the country's cosmopolitan cities such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia, punctuality is critical. But in smaller cities, tardiness is expected.
Timeliness: To foster productivity, many British companies have instituted meeting rules and regulations. These can cover a wide array of parameters, from restricting meetings to specific hours of the day, to only holding meetings in rooms without chairs to keep the get-togethers reasonably brief.
Attire: Curiously, while men can generally wear the same dark suits that they would otherwise wear for meetings in the United States, there is a notable exception when working in the United Kingdom: Striped ties should be avoided, as individual colors and patterns can signify hometown pride or bitter rivalries, or even be interpreted as offensive.
Introductions: Handshakes require a light touch in the United Kingdom, where eye contact is kept to a bare minimum. Shaking hands with someone in London can at times feel like it is barely being tolerated, even though it is a necessary part of the introductory process.
Dining: Business is an entirely appropriate topic of conversation when dining with U.K. prospects or partners, and informal meetings between co-workers in restaurants or more relaxed "gastropubs" are occurring with increasing regularity.
Speaking: People in the United Kingdom are notoriously private – stiff upper lip and all that – and will avoid speaking about their personal lives. So do not pry into the private lives of your guests. The British have zero desire to share personal information or expend energy on small talk.

Introductions: Handshakes are generally just a bit less firm and a touch shorter in France than in the United States. Eye contact should be held when shaking hands with everyone in the room. The infamous French double-cheek kiss is only performed once a business relationship has been long established, and should never be initiated by the visitor. And if you eventually graduate to the kiss, it is performed alongside the cheek into the air.
Speaking: The French hold their language in high esteem and think highly of people from other countries who have committed the time and effort to learning to speak it. As such, French speakers can expect a level of professional intimacy afforded to them that may strengthen the bonds of a business deal. If you do not speak French, apologize for being unable to do so.
Attire: Dressing for business meetings in France can be intimidating, since class and status is inferred by the quality of the clothing. Men should never loosen their ties or take off their suit jackets unless invited to do so, and women are often judged by the quality of their shoes. Invitations to informal meetings still require a suit and tie, while other events such as formal dinner parties may necessitate wearing a tuxedo or evening gown.
Titles: Address everyone by their job titles and their last names until invited to do otherwise. If a professional title isn't obvious, use "monsieur" and "madame."
Dining: In France, the knife is to be held for the entirety of the meal in one's right hand, while the left hand is used to pick up the fork only when you are prepared to take a bite of food.
Formality: Titles are important in Germany, where each person should be referred to by his or her professional title or position and last name.
Body Language: Don't keep your hands in your pockets, as doing so suggests low class or slovenliness.
Introductions: If Oprah were to visit Germany, she may rightfully proclaim, "You get a handshake! And you get a handshake! Everybody gets a handshake!" Quick, firm handshakes should be exchanged between everyone in the room, from the executives to the mail lady, or even any children that happen to be present. It is also polite to use the greeting "Guten tag" (good day) or "Guten abend" (good evening).
Attire: Bright and bold colors should be avoided. Dress conservatively in form-fitting suits or dresses akin to what you might wear in the states. Socks should be dark, plain, and without patterns or logos.
Speaking: Direct conversations toward the most senior-ranking person in the room during meetings and presentations, at least initially. Feel welcome to address other individuals as they are called upon first by their own team leader.
Timeliness: Punctuality is very important in Germany. Be on time for every meeting. Arriving just two or three minutes late can be extremely insulting to a German executive, especially if you are in a subordinate position.

Attire: In much of the Middle East, women are expected to dress very conservatively, showing as little skin as possible. At the very least, visiting American businesswomen must wear clothing that covers their shoulders and reaches past their knees.
Introductions: Handshakes tend to linger longer than those stateside and should be performed from the most senior member in the room to the least. After giving your name, offer the phrase "assalamu alaikum," meaning "may peace be upon you."
Formality: Arabs generally address one another with a respectful title and their first name. Address the topmost officer as Sheikh or Sheikha, meaning "Chief," and all others in the room as Sayed or Sayeda – Mr. and Mrs. – along with their first name. Likewise, don't correct your hosts if, for example, they call you Mrs. Lisa or Mr. Ken.
Speaking: Doing business in the UAE's biggest cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi takes time. Initial meetings are not intended for the discussion of business. Instead, both sides meet to feel each other out, demonstrating their character and attitude. And be aware that verbal agreements are treated the same as those carved in stone.
Body Language: All public interaction with your hands must be performed with the right hand, whether you are handing someone a letter, shaking hands, or holding a fork in a restaurant. The left is thought to be unclean.
Dining: Alcohol is legal in some Western-style hotels and restaurants, but it is prohibited in the vast majority of the country. It will rarely be offered to you in business settings or dinner meetings, and ordering it in such settings is not recommended.
Timeliness: One of the biggest cultural hurdles for Americans in India is the nation's relationship with time. Indians will often use "10 minutes" to express half an hour of time, and running five minutes late can easily mean three or four times as much. U.S. business travelers should continue to arrive for meetings on time, but avoid outwardly expressing dissatisfaction if things don't get moving until well after a meeting's scheduled start.
Introductions: Although Western businesspeople are increasingly expected to introduce themselves with a firm handshake, the traditional Namaste greeting is still widely used in India. To perform the greeting, bring your hands together in front of your chest as if to pray, and bow slightly. Alternatively, saying the word "namaste" aloud can be used to communicate the same thing.
Formality: The words "please" and "thank you" are generally absent from Indian culture, and your usage of them can create anxiety and indebtedness for your host or guests. So rather than thanking someone for welcoming you to their office or taking you to dinner, for example, express your gratitude via compliments such as "It is a pleasure to be here among your team" or "This meal has been delicious."
Body Language: Waving and shaking your raised hand doesn't mean "hello" in India. Instead, the gesture is interpreted as "no" or "leave me alone."
Dining: In traditional Indian dining environments, the meal will often be eaten with hands instead of utensils. But eating with your left hand is held in extremely poor taste. Also, be certain to wash your hands both before and after the meal.

Introductions: Introduce yourself to everyone in order of seniority within the company. Defer to the greeting that your Chinese host (or guest) initiates, whether it be a gentle nod or a brief handshake with a light touch, followed by a slight but deliberate 45-degree bow. Anything deeper in a professional setting might be interpreted as mocking your host.
Dining: Be prepared to put yourself in the hands of your host, who will do all of the ordering for the table. If you are asked what foods you are interested in trying, feel free to offer an opinion, but it is generally better to defer to your host's judgment. The host will be the only one to speak to the waiter and to deal with paying the bill. Restaurant bills are never split among groups in China, and your host may be embarrassed if you offer to chip in.
Body Language: Giving and receiving business cards – or pamphlets, restaurant checks, or handouts during meetings, for that matter – should always be performed with both hands. And business cards should be read and acknowledged before tucking them away.
Formality: Remain calm and composed at all times. In China, outward displays of emotion are seen as an embarrassment to those around you. If you feel your anxiety rising, explain to your hosts that you would appreciate their help in understanding the matter. Deference is the name of the game in Chinese etiquette, in the boardroom and out in public.
Speaking: Wait to be called upon before chiming in. Avoid talk of death and comparing your experiences in China to those in other Asian nations.
Body Language: Closing your eyes when being spoken to is considered a signal of deep concentration and focus on what is being said, rather than an indication of boredom or drowsiness. If you suspect your audience is dozing off, carry on speaking normally. Once you've finished, your guests will open their eyes.
Speaking: The word "hai"– or yes – is said repeatedly throughout meetings by all participants in the room. But don't misconstrue what is actually being communicated. "Yes" doesn't indicate agreement, but rather serves as an acknowledgement that what you are saying is being heard and understood correctly.
Introductions: Skip the handshake in exchange for a deep, thoughtful bow to your hosts or guests as you introduce yourself. The deeper the bow, the more respect is demonstrated. Business cards printed in Japanese should be offered to each person in the room.
Timeliness: Tardiness will not be tolerated, so always plan to arrive at meetings with time to spare. Using the Japanese public transportation system as an example, any train or bus arriving more than one minute past its scheduled arrival time is considered late.
Dining: Wait for your host to begin eating before indulging in your own meal. And always leave a small amount of food on your plate, as clearing it will be interpreted as a sign that you are not full or satisfied.

Introductions: During introductions, give everyone in the room a firm handshake with eye contact. Offer both your first and last name, and repeat back the first name of the person you're shaking hands with. For example, "Hello, I'm David Haynes. It's nice to meet you, Leah."
Titles: After you've introduced yourself to the group with both your first and last name, feel free to address everyone in the room by their first name alone.
Dining: Heed the old adage your grandparents taught you: Elbows off the table. When you've finished your meal, place your fork and knife next to each other on the plate. Tipping is generally included in the bill, but exemplary service should be met with an additional amount. Offer to pick up the bill, but allow your host to pay if he or she insists.
Formality: Australian etiquette is generally akin to what we're accustomed to stateside. Assume a relaxed but professional demeanor.
Speaking: Don't hesitate to add your opinion to a conversation. Australians will generally welcome another cook in the kitchen when discussing business, as long as you don't repeatedly interrupt another speaker or offer off-topic conversation.
Body Language: Avoid making a peace sign with your palm facing you – such as when signaling "and second of all …" An inward-facing peace sign is equivalent to giving the middle finger in the United States.
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