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Lead Your Team Strategy

10 Unusual International Business Customs That Might Surprise You

10 Unusual International Business Customs That Might Surprise You
Russia is just one of the many countries where business customs differ than those of American businesses. / Credit: Russian cathedral image via Shutterstock

Entrepreneurs who take their ventures overseas better be prepared for a different way of doing business.

While being able to communicate effectively is one component to succeeding internationally, the second  involves following proper protocols and etiquette. From the way business cards are handed out to what is ordered during a working lunch can make or break a foreign business relationship.

While different, many international customs are a bit more unusual than others. Here are 10 of the more unique international business customs.

Being on time to a business meeting in Russia is of the utmost importance. At least for one party, that is. While Americans are expected to arrive not a second after the meeting's scheduled time, Russians feel free to show up as late as they desire and are unapologetic about it. The move is designed to test the patience of their U.S. counterparts.

Americans working in China better have a gift ready when they show up for a business meeting. However, don't expect it to be eagerly accepted.

In China, the customary tradition is that gifts are refused up to three times before being accepted. It is important to continue offering until the present is finally taken.

While the business card has declined in importance in the U.S., that is far from the case in Japan. When doing business with the Japanese, Americans should be armed with stacks of their business cards, which should be printed in both English and Japanese.

The business card is held in very high regard in Japan, so when handing them out it is critical to pass them out with both hands, Japanese side facing up. When receiving a business card, Americans should accept it with both hands and thank them while doing so. In addition, the business card should never be written on or played with during the meeting, as both are signs of disrespect.

Expect a complete invasion of personal space if doing business in Brazil. While it could be considered impolite in the U.S., in Brazil it is customary to stand extremely close and use lots of physical contact while talking.

While the normal reaction might be to back away, those who do risk losing out on a potential business relationship, since it is considered disrespectful.

Left-handers may have some trouble doing business in the United Arab Emirates. In Middle Eastern countries, the left hand is considered unclean and used strictly for bodily hygiene.

It is important to eat, shake hands and pass documents with the right hand only. Using the left hand to do any of those activities would be a serious insult.

When at a business dinner in India, Americans better be careful what they order. Those looking to make a good impression should refrain from digging into a juicy steak or hamburger during the dinner.

Since the cow is considered a sacred animal in India, some can consider it a sign of disrespect to order any type of beef dish – or wear any type of leather — during a business lunch or dinner.

While deadlines are usually considered firm dates in the U.S., the same can't be said in Spain. When doing business with Spaniards, U.S. business owners shouldn't expect deadlines to be made on a regular basis.

While they won't set out to purposefully miss deadlines, those in Spain view them more as a guideline and not as something that is frowned upon if missed. Americans shouldn't be insulted by this, but instead should schedule these potential delays into any timelines.

While Americans are used to doing business in plenty of locations outside the office — restaurants, golf courses, etc. — they probably aren't as comfortable holding a meeting in 125-degree steam.

In Finland, enjoying a relaxing sauna is an honored tradition. In order to help build the relationship, Americans shouldn't decline the invite, as it is considered a sign of hospitality and that the meeting is headed in a positive direction.

Be prepared to spend some time just saying hello and goodbye when in business meetings in Belgium. While a handshake will suffice as a greeting in the U.S., the Belgians prefer the kiss — or the "air kiss," to be more precise.

While strangers will shake hands at first, Belgium business professionals greet each other with three air kisses once a relationship has been established. Protocol calls for the kisses to be given on the right cheek, then the left cheek and back to the right cheek. Not giving the kisses, or not following the right order when giving them, are both considered disrespectful when dealing with Belgians.

When doing business with British professionals, Americans shouldn't feel as if a game of charades is breaking out when the British start tapping their nose. Rather than a fun game, the tapping indicates that what is about to be discussed should be considered private and confidential.  

It is important to be looking for that signal, or risk sharing something the Brit had intended to keep secret from others.

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.

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