How social investment projects started making sense for big companies
August 17, 2016
A question of ethics
August 25, 2016
Show all

How to do business around the world without offending anyone

Do you shake hands, bow or hand over a business card when doing business in other countries? Which questions will seem impudent and what can you do to oil the wheels?

International business can be fraught. Not only will there be a lot riding on new commercial relationships, but there may be a set of cultural complexities to negotiate successfully too. Here’s a global whistle-stop tour that might help you know what to look for when you’re doing business overseas.


Presenting a business card is a serious business in China and must be done with the utmost respect. Don’t write on a business card or shove it in your back pocket, this will be seen as insulting and that you don’t care about the relationship. If you want extra kudos, get your business card translated too.

Bringing a gift to your Chinese hosts is good manners. However, they will refuse it at first and you must keep on offering it until it is accepted.

Whistling and clicking your fingers will be seen as rude as will pointing your index finger – use your opened hand instead.

Don’t frown when your Chinese partner is talking as it might be taken for disagreement and don’t make eye contact until they do.


The Japanese business community sets great store by the respectful giving and receiving of business cards. Pass them over and receive them with both hands, Japanese side up. Never play with the business card during the meeting.

If you’ve got a cold, cancel your meeting as turning up with the sniffles will be seen as insulting and may ruin your business relationship. Blowing your nose during a meeting is also bad form.

The word “no” is avoided in business conversations. Instead, a Japanese person may say “maybe” or “this may be extremely difficult”.


When you arrive for a business meeting in Russia, it’s important to be on time as lateness would be rude. However, your Russian host may well keep you waiting as a test of your patience. The only thing to do is accept this tardiness with a smile and make no comment.

Successful business relationships in Russia are built on trust which can take a while to build. Help the process by making an effort learning some Russian phrases and something of the culture and history.

Beware, though, of Russian hospitality. Moderation is frowned upon so be aware of how much you can drink.


In Brazil, it’s quite common for people to stand very close to each other and have a lot of physical contact while they talk. This is normal and it’s important not to draw back as that would appear disrespectful.

United Arab Emirates

Use your right hand for eating, shaking hands and handing over documents in the United Arab Emirates. In Middle Eastern countries, the left hand is considered unclean and used for bodily hygiene.

It’s important not to show the sole of your shoe during a business meeting as this would be a sign of the utmost disrespect.


In the Middle East, you need to spend a decent amount of time swapping pleasantries at the start of the meeting. Questions about family and hobbies must be asked and answered, no matter how much of a hurry you’re in.


Expect that your business meeting might be interrupted by phone calls, texts and requests from your host’s colleagues. It’s not a sign your host is too busy, it’s simply that it’s rude to ignore a phone call or a request.

Smile patiently and wait for the meeting to resume.

It’s considered brash to launch straight into business discussions without first asking about family, interests, hobbies and so on at the start of the meeting.


A deadline in Spain is considered something to aspire to rather than a binding endpoint. Rather than be dismayed or insulted by a deadline that comes and goes, simply build in time for delays.


If you do business in Finland, it’s possible you will be invited to continue negotiations in a sauna. Don’t be alarmed, it’s a sign of hospitality and one you’ll cause offence if you refuse.


Belgium business meetings start and end with protracted greetings. Often an air kiss will be used instead of a handshake. Business professionals often greet each other with three air kisses – always starting on the right cheek.


Business people in Germany like to work in a calm and collected manner without pushy techniques or passionate appeals. Stick to formal titles and avoid too much small talk.

Don’t be late and consider translating your business material into German.


Business is conducted in a formal manner in France, passion and personal lives have no place in the boardroom.

Handshakes are swift and light and it’s best to use someone’s formal title or qualifications if they have one. Don’t yawn, scratch or put your hands in your pockets as you will appear rude.

Getting it right

To conduct smooth and culturally harmonious business meetings, do your homework. Find out what is expected of you and how negotiation is usually done, before you get there.

ICAS’ extensive international network is there to help. Find out more about working or moving overseas as a CA and the Global Accounting Alliance.

This article was published by ICAS. You can visit the original page here