So much for technology making business travel obsolete! In 2018, $1.4 trillion will be spent by worldwide firms sending employees on work trips.
In today’s globalised business world, local etiquette comes far down the list of travellers’ concerns — after all, we’re all more alike than we are different. But cultural nuances are still very much a reality, with attitudes towards everything from punctuality to the exchange of business cards varying hugely around the globe.
However, if you’re jetting off to meet associates, some strategic research on your hosts and their country could mean the difference between success and embarrassment. Our fun quiz is intended to give you an insight into the subtle — and not so subtle — variations you may encounter as you collect air miles.
1. You’re visiting the Mexico office and your host invites you to dinner at her home. The bright bouquet of flowers you brought her has been thrown in the outside bin. What was your mistake?
- In Mexico, flowers should be given as romantic gifts only, so your offering may have been misinterpreted.
- According to Mexican folklore, yellow flowers represent death and red ones cast spells.
- Business gifts are considered a no-no due to their association with corruption and bribery.
2. Which of the following rules should you comply with in order to avoid an embarrassing situation when meeting a new client in Japan?
- The most senior people in the room should exchange business cards before anybody else.
- Both hands should be used to give and receive business cards.
- When giving a business card, its front should be turned towards the receiver.
- Received business cards should be kept on display for the duration of the meeting — not packed away in wallets or bags.
- When you give a business card, you should say your name and that of your employer.
- When you receive a business card, you should read aloud the name and company of its owner.
- All of the above!
3. An American woman doing business with a customer in Saudi Arabia dials into a conference call and begins by running through action points from the previous session. Why is this likely to offend those attending?
- It’s customary for meetings in Saudi Arabia to begin by enquiring after each participant’s family.
- The Saudi Arabian participants would have read this as a sign that the American woman doubted their word that they’d deliver against their action points.
- It’s seen as a sign of disrespect for a businesswoman to open the discussion — the most senior male in attendance should always be first to speak in Saudi Arabian business settings.
4. Your Russian colleagues have organised dinner and drinks for you. Why is it important that you don’t stay too late?
- As the guest of honour, nobody can leave until you do.
- Late nights on working days are generally frowned upon in Russia.
- Your colleagues will want you out of the way so they can discuss other business matters alone — Russians regard privacy highly.
5. In which country is it usual for a person to have three cards: one for social events, one for formal business events, and one for less formal business events?
6. What is considered a mark of respect in the UK, Western Europe, US and Australia that can be a mark of disrespect in China?
- Shaking hands on first meeting.
- Arriving early for a meeting.
- Making eye contact during conversations.
7. A Harvard Business Review report sorts nationalities according to how confrontational and emotionally expressive they are. Russia, Israel, France and Spain are classified as both ‘emotionally expressive’ and ‘confrontational’ when doing business. Which group of countries is classified as ‘emotionally unexpressive’ and ‘avoids confrontation’?
- Netherlands, Germany, Denmark.
- UK, Sweden, Korea, Japan.
- Brazil, India, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Philippines.
8. In Brazil, ‘Abraços’ is a common business email sign-off. What is its English translation?
- With my most sincere regards and good wishes to you and your family.
9. You’re flying to Canada’s Quebec region to take part in negotiations. Why should you order a new batch of business cards?
- By law, business cards presented in Canada must feature the Canadian flag.
- It’s expected that business cards shared in Canada should include a good quality headshot of the owner.
- It’s good etiquette to present bilingual business cards in Canada and particularly so in Quebec.
10. Which of the following are you unlikely to hear during a meeting with Indian business associates?
- “Yes”— Indians are extremely cautious about agreeing to anything until they can be absolutely certain they are able to deliver.
- “No”— it’s considered offensive to disagree or refuse in Indian business culture.
- “Maybe,” “perhaps” or “possibly”— Indians strive to avoid ambiguity.
HOW DID YOU DO...?
1. (b) According to Mexican folklore, yellow flowers represent death and red ones cast spells. White flowers would have been a more appropriate gift for your superstitious host as folklore says they lift spells.
2. (g) All of the above! Giving and receiving business cards in Japan follows a well-established and particular protocol, so do make sure you brush up before you travel there!
3. (b) The Saudi Arabian participants would have read this as a sign that the American woman doubted their word that they’d deliver against their action points. While it’s customary for meetings in the host’s homeland (US) to begin by discussing minutes from the last session, in Saudi Arabia, such behaviour is perceived as mistrusting.
4. (a) As the guest of honour, nobody can leave until you do. This doesn’t mean you get to eat or drink first though — that particular honour is bestowed on your host.
5. (b) Italy. Social cards provide only personal contact information. Informal business cards provide professional contact information. Formal business cards provide contact info plus job titles and professional qualifications.
6. (c) Making eye contact during conversations. In the UK, Western Europe, US and Australia, giving regular eye contact to the person you’re speaking with indicates that you’re listening. In China, however, it is considered respectful to avert your gaze from the person to whom you’re speaking.
7. (b) UK, Sweden, Korea, Japan. It’s important to understand where your home or host country sits in the grid, as the Harvard Business Review states: “[The] rule of international negotiations is to recognise what an emotional outpouring (whether yours or theirs) signifies in the culture you are negotiating with, and to adapt your reaction accordingly.”
8. (a) Hugs. In Brazil, this is a common business email sign-off by men and women alike. It’s equally common for business associates of the opposite sex to greet one another with a kiss on the cheek. Personal space is not the taboo it is in some other countries — Brazilian colleagues, on the whole, are happy to stand in close proximity and touch one another on the arm when speaking.
9. (c) Business in Canada is conducted on a bilingual basis, in both French and English. Business cards should contain French translations. It’s not uncommon to use interpreters in meetings so that both languages are represented.
10. (b) “No.” In Indian business culture, it’s considered rude to look at someone you respect in the eye and refuse them something they’ve requested. Instead, an Indian colleague may seek to express “no” through body language or tone or follow up with an email explaining why they are unable to meet the request.
 Global Business Travel Association (2018)