First of three articles
Doing business in the global arena can be an overwhelming experience, especially if you are physically traveling abroad. Approach your global experience as you would a final exam — if you prepare, you will feel comfortable and will exude confidence and poise. Practice cultural sensitivity and treat everyone with respect, even when you are meeting foreign counterparts on U.S. soil.
While each country has its own business etiquette, a few basic rules apply to all: Have a special set of business cards printed for your international trip, with one side in the principal language of the host country and the other in English; when presenting your card, do so with both hands and with the host language side facing your presenter; when you receive a business card, treat it with respect — accept it with both hands and read it carefully; do not write on it, or put it in your back pocket or wallet.
This three-part series examines the etiquette specifics of regions and countries to which many U.S. businessowners, corporate executives and government officials travel on business:
Don’t expect a firm shake; it will be rather limp, with little or no eye contact. If you are greeted with a bow, return the bow at the same depth extended to you. The bow is respected and appreciated in the Japanese culture. When bowing, lower your eyes and keep your palms flat against your thighs. You may also shake hands and give a slight bow at the same time.
Be punctual for business and social meetings.
The Japanese pride themselves on neatness and cleanliness. Dress to impress at all times, even in the summer months. Men should wear business suits. Avoid casual attire, even in a social gathering. Shoes that slide on are the best choice for men, as you will be removing them for slippers when entering a Japanese home. Women should dress conservatively; dresses and skirt suits are preferred. Pants on women are not appropriate. Limit jewelry and perfume. Wear low-heeled shoes so as not to tower over your Japanese business colleagues. If you chose to wear a kimono in a social gathering, remember to wrap it left over right. Right over left is reserved for the deceased.
Slurping is acceptable, so slurp the noodles in your soup. Don’t say “no” to a drink. If you are not a drinker, fill your glass with water and keep it more than half full at all times. An empty glass or plate means that you want more. Have your soup with your meal and replace the lid of the soup bowl when finished. Toasting is very important to the Japanese, return a toast with a toast.
Expect to exchange gifts at the first business meeting, most likely at the end of the meeting. Always wrap gifts. Presentation is more important than the gift itself. Never wrap a gift in black or white paper. Rice paper is ideal. Your gift probably will not be opened right away, but follow the lead of your host. Give and receive gifts with both hands. Treat it with respect and care and if you are asked to open it right away, do so enthusiastically. Give quality gifts from well-known, high-end stores: brandy or scotch, wine, popular electronic or toys for your associates’ children.
Next: Asia (cont.) and Europe
Stephanie Hunt is the founder and director of Swan Noir L.L.C. (www.swannoir.net), specialists in communication, social and dining skills.