Worst Mistakes You Can Make During An Overseas Business Meeting


New study reveals embarrassing blunders Brits make abroad and top secrets for surviving your next business trip (for those who don’t have a clue about business etiquette)

Did you know that in Russia, it’s seen as insecure to smile during a business meeting? Or in Hong Kong, giving gifts within business is viewed as bribery? UK online printer instantprint recently conducted a study on International Business Etiquette, collecting anecdotes from senior business people and speaking with experts in the field for their top tips.

The study revealed some rather interesting stories and statistics, such as 78% of business people are not fully educated on what the ‘‘correct’’ business etiquette is internationally and 56% have encountered an awkward situation because of this.

Instantprint spoke with Business Etiquette International to uncover the top ten tips Brit’s can use to prepare for international business travel.

  1. Know what type of handshake to give. In China, it may be wise to wait and see if your host offers a handshake.
  2. Discover what gifts are acceptable in each country before purchasing or giving anything. In some countries, such as Hong Kong, it’s viewed as bribery.
  3. Be aware of the different customs for different nationalities. For example, in Middle East/UAE the left hand is considered unclean so when dining use your left hand as little as possible, especially with group shared dishes. 
  4. Be careful with what humour you use. Whilst it may be amusing in your country, it may be considered as extremely offensive in others.
  5. Ensure your body language matches what you’re saying so you’re easy to understand.
  6. A sign in one nationality could mean something entirely different in another. Ensure you do your research for each country!
  7. Understand the best way to introduce yourself. In China, it is polite to do a slight bow, India traditionally place their hands in a prayer like position and in Mexico they greet each other with a handshake, pat or hug.
  8. Discover the dress code beforehand. In Sweden, casual clothes are generally preferred to smart.
  9. Appreciate the general cultural mannerism for meetings. In Russia, it’s viewed as insecure to smile during a meeting.
  10. If you intend to present a business card, a great way to build a rapport discover the culture’s norm for business card exchanging. In Hong Kong it’s preferred to present your business cards with both hands, whereas in Brazil there is no ritual or tradition, so give away whenever and as many as you feel.

Finally, Don’t be offended by anything that doesn’t fit in with your own culture, most will then extend this back to you.

‘’Marla Harr, Consultant at Business Etiquette International, says:

’It’s imperative for individuals who travel abroad for business to educate themselves and their teams on the proper business etiquette and accepted protocols for that country. Not knowing the idiosyncrasies within the culture can have unintentional misunderstandings that can be embarrassing, costly to a marketing campaign or a contract deal falling apart.”

From business meetings being confused as a first date (awkward) to that annoying colleague who always manages to offend the hosts, it’s clear that not all business people – no matter what level of seniority – fully understand international business etiquette.

Check out instantprint’s full study to discover funny blunders from senior business people and top secrets for surviving your next overseas meeting, here.

Co-founder of instantprint, James Kinsella, commented on the study findings:

‘’Often, the smallest gesture such as handing over a business card correctly will be massively appreciated by your hosts. Despite the uncertainties of Brexit, globalisation means even the smallest of businesses can interact with suppliers or contacts abroad, so understanding their country’s correct business etiquette can do wonders for your working relationships.”

Nail Business Etiquette By Country

Sharon Schweitzer JD, international business etiquette expert, author and founder of Access to Culture, provided us with her professional tips for the most travelled countries for business.

China – Greet with a slight bow of 30 degrees from the shoulders, for three seconds. Lower your eyes when bowing. If applaud occurs when greeting ensure to applaud back.

India – Stand at least arm’s length from your contact. You may be greeted with Namaste and/or handshake, follow the lead of your host.

Mexico – It’s expected to greet every individual in the room and say goodbye otherwise it’s considered rude. Men may wait for women to initiate a handshake.

Russia – Avoid shaking hands under or through a doorway. Smiling during meetings is considered as insecure so keep a neutral face.

Canada – French Canadians may greet you with a light kiss near both cheeks. If you are greeted in French say ‘Bonjour’ in response then continue in English, unless you speak French. Smile and make eye contact when greeting.

Brazil – Enthusiastic greetings and extended handshakes are common. Women may be greeted with light kisses on the cheek, even in professional situations.

France – The French handshake is quicker than the Western one; expect a single, brief shake.

Indonesia – When men and women shake hands, each person clasps their own hands together, interlocking their fingers, and then touches the tips of the other person’s clasped hands.

South Africa – Ensure to exchange your business card during introductions. It’s also polite to make a short verbal comment about a card you’ve just received.

instantprint quizzed 50 business people, ranging in experience, to discover which rules of business etiquette they've found the most surprising when travelling.

Japan – ’When working in a Japanese company, they wanted to bring us all individual presents and I was unsure whether to return the favour out of my own pocket. They were not too expensive but we had not expected to buy them anything in return.’’

US – ‘’Ordering tea at a lunch meeting in the U.S (coffee was fine, but tea had to be explained).’’

China – ‘’It’s rude to finish food first.’’

India – ‘’I spent time in India. They don’t mess about with pleasantries. They get straight to the point.’’

England – ‘’Greeting people. Depends on the country and culture but it can vary in England too. In London agency or marketing roles greetings often start with air kissing, if you go up North this differs and sometimes seems awkward.’’

Saudi Arabia – ‘’I was told that in Saudi Arabia men don't shake hands with women. That's not actually true, and should be that men don't initiate handshakes with women. In certain circumstances, it's fine to accept a handshake.’’

Germany – ‘’To me it is subtle cultural differences that set British people apart from other countries. I used to work with German colleagues quite a bit and they are very blunt which sometimes does border on offensive. It is nothing personal that is just the way they operate at work which is a bit of a shock to the polite way Brits tend to work.’’

The Statistics

78% of business people are not fully educated on “correct” international business etiquette.

56% of respondents had encountered an awkward situation due to not being fully educated on foreign business etiquette.

Only 2% of business people have attended business etiquette classes; 98% have either taught themselves or just hoped for the best!

In contrast, 78% of respondents said people from outside the UK who travel to Britain mostly or definitely understand British business etiquette.

But we are a confident bunch. 80% of respondents said that not understanding international business etiquette doesn’t affect their desire to travel with work.

Away on a business trip soon? Or know a colleague who has no business sense who is?

Share over Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and show off your cultural side.



No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Already Registered? Login Here
Sunday, 25 August 2019
If you'd like to register, please fill in the username, password and name fields.

Member Login

Business Insights & Tips


Jill Holtz
1973 Points
Tena Glaser
1392 Points
Michael Lane
802 Points
Ron Immink
732 Points
Fionan Murray
720 Points
View Leaderboard