Understanding International Business Etiquette. Part 2

Women in business

In the United States and most of Western Europe, women business executives are common, and nobody will give it a second thought if your company sends a lady executive to make a deal. Be aware though, that this is not the case everywhere. In Saudi Arabia, there will be no lady executives on their side of the table. Western women however, will be accepted. If a Saudi businessman is with his wife (or wives, as the case may be), you will not be introduced to her, or expected to acknowledge her in any way. In situations like this, a woman executive must walk between two worlds, and be especially aware of local customs and modest styles of dress.

Hello, Hola, dobrie vieczor, sawatdee, and as-salamu alaykum

First impressions go a long way, and how you greet somebody for the first time will set the tone for your entire stay. Learn about the local greetings. The standard Western handshake is by no means universal, and greetings in many countries are a lot more elaborate and formal. Many European countries are touch-oriented, and a greeting may be prolonged, involving a handshake followed by kisses on the cheek, for both men and women. In the Middle East, the handshake and kisses are between men only—for example, you would never touch a Saudi woman. Most Asian countries are less touch-oriented, and greetings do not involve touching. In India, you greet with a gesture involving pressing your hands together in a prayer-like motion and holding them up to your chest. In Thailand, you make the same motion but move your joined hand up to your face. In Japan, you bow (the lower you bow, the more respect you show).

Besides the gesture itself, there are customary words that will go with it. If you don’t learn anything else, at least learn how to greet somebody in their native language, and learn how to address them. You’ll seldom use first names only outside of the United States. In Japan, use the last name followed by the “-san” suffix. In Muslim countries, address someone with his name prefixed with “Hajji” if he is a person who has made the Hajj. In Thailand, last names are seldom used, but the first name is prefixed with “Khun”.

Open mind

There are plenty of rules to understand, but the most important factor in learning international business etiquette is to go with an open mind—embrace that other culture and enjoy it. Learn all you can about it, and come back home with that signed contract.