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How to Practice Proper Business Etiquette Around the World

“You did what?!

Cultural misunderstandings are natural abroad. It’s these mix-ups and confusions which lead to a greater understanding (and hopefully deeper appreciation) of another culture.

So if you do make a cultural faux-pas… relax. It happens.

However, understanding and applying a few simple dos and don’ts will help avoid these minor mishaps and make your travel, life, and work abroad a huge success.

Powerful career business woman
Photo by Victor1558 (Flickr)

Below are cultural guidelines for ten countries around the world: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, France, Japan, India, Italy, Panama, and South Africa.

Argentina

Argentina, the eighth largest country in the world, is a cultural melting pot of indigenous Amerindians, Africans, and Europeans. At the beginning of the 19th century, Argentina was the tenth wealthiest nation, but soon thereafter the economy saw a major downturn from political instability. In recent years, the economy has bounced back with foreign investment and employment growth.

In general, Argentineans value the arts, cinema, sports, dance, music, and high-quality steak, and wine. 

Religion

90 percent of Argentineans are Roman Catholic with the remainder being Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, or other denominations.

Appearance

Argentina is a fashion forward country. Dress to impress. 

Businessmen should wear a dark suit, tie, and polished shoes. 

Businesswomen should wear a dark pant or skirt suit, white blouse, and heels.

For non-business engagements, informal but fashionable clothing is appropriate.

Behavior

  • Arrive 30 minutes after the set time for non-business appointments.
  • Cover your mouth when coughing, sneezing, or yawning.
  • Don’t eat in public, unless at a restaurant.
  • Keep your feet on the floor, not the furniture.
  • Tap your index finger and thumb together repeatedly to signify a lot of something (e.g. money) or to hurry up.
  • Pat your friends on the shoulder to show your respect and friendship.
  • Send or bring flowers to any home gathering.
  • Wait for the host to show you where to sit and tell you when to eat. 
  • Keep your hands visible when dining and out of your lap.
  • Wait until after the toast before drinking. 
  • Don’t pour wine with your left hand. It’s considered bad luck.
  • Leave a little food on your plate after the meal.
  • Avoid confrontations or telling someone they are wrong.

Communication

In general, Argentineans are open and direct, yet tactful. When communicating, they tend to stand/sit close together, so don’t expect a lot of personal space. 

  • Spanish is the primary language, but many people speak English. The Spanish spoken in Argentina is slightly different and sounds similar to Italian. 
  • Shake hands with everyone when greeting and leaving.
  • Use formal titles when addressing individuals (e.g. Doctor, Professor, Senor + Surname, Senora + Surname).
  • Maintain eye contact during conversations.
  • Expect long conversations about culture, history, futbol (soccer), home and family.
  • Don’t discuss religion, politics, or historical conflicts.

Business

  • Conduct business with high level persons. They make the decisions.
  • Make business appointments ahead of time and confirm them one week prior. Avoid scheduling in January or February.
  • Bring documents and business cards in Spanish and English.
  • Be on time for meetings, but expect a long wait.
  • Greet the eldest or most important person first.
  • Business dinners are common. Lunch meetings are not. 
  • Develop personal rapport before getting down to business. Building relationships and trust first will take you far.
  • Don’t be afraid to namedrop. It’s common in Argentina.
  • Restate information during business meetings to make sure everyone is clear.
  • Expect long and difficult negotiations and contracts with new relationships.

Australia

Australia is a highly-developed country, being the thirteenth largest economy and sixth largest country in the world. The population is mainly derived from British and Irish decent, but also includes indigenous Australians. 

In general, Australians value sports, outdoor activities, cinema, music, art and entertainment.

Religion

Over 60 percent of Australians are Christian, including Roman Catholic and Anglican. 19 percent of Australians claim no religious affiliation.

Appearance

Businessmen should wear a suit and tie.

Businesswomen should wear a dress or suit. 

For non-business attire, casual clothing is appropriate.

Behavior

  • Be on time, always.
  • Maintain eye contact during conversations.
  • Don’t wink at women. 
  • Attend afternoon tea at 4 p.m., tea (a.k.a. dinner or supper) from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., or supper after 9 p.m.
  • Sit in the front seat of a taxi if you’re a male.
  • Bring flowers, wine or sweets to any home gathering.
  • Offer to help when at a home gathering. 
  • Keep your elbows off the table and hands out of your lap when dining.
  • Offer to pay for a round of drinks, but keep track and pay when it is your turn to pay again.

Communication

In general, Australians are easy going, mindful, authentic, sincere, and modest. They’re also known for being direct, but with a sense of humor. They dislike pretentiousness.

  • English is the primary language, but expect a thick accent and slang.  
  • Shake hands with everyone when greeting and leaving.
  • Expect friendly, open and opinionated conversations about sports, travel, home and family.
  • Don’t talk about religion, politics, or historical conflicts.

Business

  • Schedule an appointment in advance and always arrive on time.
  • Use first names at meetings. Australians aren’t accustomed to formalities.
  • Approach business negotiations with a win-win attitude.
  • Don’t spend too much time developing personal rapport ahead of time. Business negotiations are based on business. 

Brazil

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and has one of the fastest growing economies, currently the sixth in terms of gross domestic product. Despite its rapid growth, social and economic problems are still an issue. Brazil’s rich diversity results from its mixture of races and ethnicities. 

In general, Brazilians value aesthetics, sports, dance, cuisine, music, celebrations, architecture and family.

Religion

Roughly 90 percent of Brazilians are Roman Catholic and 16 percent practice Afro-Brazilian (tribal and Catholic beliefs).

Appearance

Brazil is a fashion forward country, so dress to impress. 

Business executives should wear a 3-piece dark suit, while businessmen should wear a 2-piece suit.

Businesswomen should dress conservatively in a dark pant or skirt suit, white blouse, and heels with manicured nails.

For non-business attire, informal but fashionable clothing is appropriate.

Avoid wearing yellow and green as seen on the Brazilian flag.

Behavior

  • Arrive 30 minutes after the set time for non-business appointments.
  • Cover your mouth when coughing, sneezing, or yawning.
  • Touch arms, shoulders, and the back as a sign of friendship and respect.
  • Don’t make the “OK” hand sign.
  • Pinch an earlobe to show appreciation.
  • Make a fist and place your thumb between the index and middle fingers with the same hand as a sign of good luck.
  • Brush your fingertips up your chin to show you don’t know.
  • Do be aware that Brazil’s class system is determined by economic rank and skin color.
  • Don’t embarrass or make fun of a Brazilian. It’s bad for both parties.
  • Bring a gift to a home gathering or send flowers the following day. Avoid purple flowers which are used for funerals only.
  • Wait for the host to sit first, then follow suit.
  • Expect to eat a large lunch and small dinner. Tip 10%.
  • Avoid confrontation.

Communication

In general, Brazilians are prideful, opinionated, animated, and straightforward.    

  • Portuguese is the primary language.
  • Shake hands when greeting and leaving. Expect a good long shake. Men should wait to shake a woman’s hand until after she’s extended hers first.
  • Women greet with a light cheek press and kiss into the air (left, then right).
  • Use formal titles when addressing individuals (e.g. Doctor, Professor, Senor + Surname, Senora + Surname).
  • Maintain eye contact during conversations.
  • Expect lengthy conversations about culture, history, futbol (soccer), home and family.
  • Don’t talk about religion, politics, historical conflicts, Argentina, poverty, or the Rain Forest.
  • Listen for “jeito” which means nothing is permanent and rules can change.
  • Don’t be bothered by countless interruptions. It’s acceptable.

Business

  • Make business appointments at least two weeks ahead of time. Confirm the meeting in writing.
  • Arrive on time for business meetings, but expect to wait and don’t get impatient about it.
  • Bring documents and business cards in Portuguese and English.
  • Develop personal rapport before getting down to business. The person is the business, not the company.
  • Don’t discuss business before your hosts begins.
  • Expect a lengthy process developing relationships. Don’t rush.

China

China is the second largest country and has fastest growing economy in the world; currently their economy is second in terms of gross domestic product. The population of over 1.3 billion is the country’s largest resource. In 1978, the government introduced a market-based economy, which turned China into a powerhouse. The imbalance of the population could lead to slow growth in the future. 

In general, Chinese value cuisine, education, business, celebrations, art, calligraphy, and sports.

Religion

Roughly 85 percent of Chinese are atheist. However, teachings of Confucius (500BC) are tightly integrated into the culture.

Appearance

Businessmen should wear a subtle colored suit, tie, and clean shoes. 

Businesswomen should dress conservatively in a subtle colored pant or skirt suit, high neck blouse with sleeves, and flats. Don’t wear heels or reveal skin.

For non-business attire, casual but conservative clothing is appropriate. Avoid bright colors.

Behavior

  • Avoid personal contact with people. The opposite sex should never touch in public.
  • Use an open palm when pointing. Never point with your finger.
  • Don’t put your hand in or around your mouth.
  • Be aware of the importance of “face” which translates to honor, reputation, and respect. Don’t expose a person’s actions or deeds in public. 
  • Respect elders. Greet them first. 
  • Wait to eat or drink until your host has begun.
  • Taste all dishes that are offered to you.
  • Don’t place chopsticks straight up in a bowl. It’s a sign of death. 
  • Don’t drop chopsticks. It’s a sign of bad luck.
  • Place chopsticks down before speaking or drinking.   
  • Don’t eat the last piece on the serving tray.
  • Leave some food on your plate when you’re finished eating. 
  • Slurp or belch to show a sign of pleasure from the food.
  • Use discretion when tipping. Until recently it was considered insulting, but now has become more common. A few coins is generally acceptable.
  • Remove your shoes when entering a home.
  • Give gifts to individuals in private, or groups in public. Giving a give a gift to an individual in public may cause embarrassment. Don’t give the following gifts which are associated with funerals: clocks, straw sandals, knives, scissors, a stork or crane, handkerchiefs, or anything white, blue, black, or with the number four. 

Communication

In general, Chinese are sincere, loyal, respectful, group-minded, and non-direct. They might say something to “save face” (or show no signs of disrespect), while meaning something entirely different. The Chinese also have a good sense of humor and often laugh at themselves. Be prepared to laugh at yourself, but don’t make fun of anyone else.  

  • Mandarin is the primary language but many people also speak Wu, Cantonese, and Min.
  • Bow to everyone when greeting. If you’re offered a hand, shake hands in addition to looking towards the ground.
  • Don’t make eye contact for long periods of time. It’s disrespectful.
  • Applaud when greeting a crowd or large group.
  • Don’t use your hands when communicating. Keep them at your sides.
  • Be aware of non-verbal communication such as facial expressions, tone, and body language. Many Chinese will communicate with an emotionless expression as to avoid communicating disagreement or agreement.
  • Use formal titles when addressing individuals (Mr. + Surname, Ms. + Surname).

Business

  • Make contacts and business appointments in advance. Chinese generally like to work with intermediaries that they’ve done business with in the past and can vouch for you.
  • Arrive early or on-time, but never late.  
  • Use both hands to hold business cards when giving or receiving.
  • Don’t write on a business card or put it in anything but a card case.  
  • Make and bring documents in Chinese and English for all meeting participants. 
  • Don’t use color in documents or presentation as colors have various meanings. Stick to black and white.
  • Have the highest ranking employee lead the business meeting.
  • Send an agenda before the meeting and follow it closely. 
  • Bring your own interpreter.
  • Expect a slow decision for business. Be patient.
  • Recognize non-confrontational behaviors. You might hear “yes” when it really means “no” in an effort to be non-confrontational.
  • Leave after the host and participants have left the meeting.
  • Show a gesture of thanks by purchasing dinner or giving a pen to individuals in private. Gift giving is generally not common and sometimes illegal. 
  • Save business discussions for the workplace, not during a meal.  

France

France is the fifth largest economy in the world and 2nd wealthiest nation in Europe behind Germany. As the largest western European country, France is the most visited country in the world, for business and personal travelers alike. Their strong intellectual, economic, military and political influence makes them of the top powerhouses of the world.

In general, French value food, wine, literature, art, music and family.

Religion

Roughly 80 percent of French are Catholic with the remaining population being Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or other denominations.

Appearance

The French value fashion and well tailored clothing.

Businessmen should wear a dark suit, tie, and clean shoes. Do not remove your tie or jacket in the office. 

Businesswomen should dress conservatively in a dark pant or skirt suit, neutral blouse, and heels. 

Avoid wearing bright colors or ostentatious jewelry. 

For non-business attire, casual but conservative neutral clothing is appropriate.

Behavior

  • Be on time, however many people arrive late to meetings and appointments.
  • Knock and wait before entering any room or office until you’re asked to enter.
  • Don’t arrive unannounced.
  • Wait to eat until your hosts invites you to.
  • Keep your elbows off the table and hands out of your lap when dining.
  • Wait to drink liquor or smoke until after a meal, to keep your taste buds intact for the meal.
  • Give gifts that show intellectual interests such as books, art or music. Avoid even numbers, with the exception of 13 which is unlucky.
  • Avoid confrontation. 

Communication

In general, French are courteous, formal, respectful, and trusting.

  • French is the primarily language spoken. 
  • Shake hands and make eye contact briefly when greeting or leaving. Don’t shake hands too firmly.
  • Women friends greet with a light kiss on the cheek (left, then right).
  • Attempt to speak in French (if possible), otherwise apologize for not understanding French and having to speak in your native tongue. 
  • Expect extreme eye contact throughout conversations.
  • Expect regular interruptions and arguments throughout the conversation as it’s a form of enjoyment and engagement.
  • Don’t talk or laugh loud. Be aware of your overall volume. 
  • Avoid exaggerated or dramatic discussions. 
  • Use formal titles when addressing individuals (Mr. + Surname, Ms. + Surname), unless invited to use first names. 

Business

  • Make an appointment at least two weeks in advance and confirm it in writing. Avoid scheduling it during July or August.
  • Conduct business during lunch, rather than dinner. However either is acceptable.
  • Expect to have a business meeting conducted in English. 
  • Be patient. Meetings and negotiations can proceed slowly.
  • Expect a thorough inspection of documents.
  • Show your intelligence with a light debate. French are encouraged with intelligence.

India

India is the seventh largest country and has ninth largest economy in the world. In 1991, the government introduced a market-based economy, which transformed India into one of the fastest growing economies.  It’s also the second most populated nation in the world with over 1.2 billion people. 

In general, Indians value sports, food, art, dance, architecture, literature, and family.

Religion

Over 80 percent of Indians are Hindu with the remaining population being Muslim, Christian, and other denominations.

Appearance

Businessmen should wear a suit, tie, and clean shoes. You can remove your jacket during the warm summer months.

Businesswomen should dress conservatively in a pant or skirt suit and non-revealing blouse. 

For non-business attire, casual but conservative clothing is appropriate. Men, can wear shorts for exercise only. Women should keep all of their body covered. No tank-tops or shorts, even when exercising. Bright colors are acceptable.

Do not wear leather as cows are sacred in Hinduism.

Behavior

  • Arrive on time.
  • Don’t touch or pat anyone’s head as it is considered sacred.
  • Stand with your arms at your sides, not on your hips. 
  • Don’t signal someone with your hand or finger, whistle in public, or wink at someone.
  • Remove shoes when entering a house.
  • Keep your feet on the ground, never pointed at someone as they are seen as the most unclean part of your body.
  • Apologize if you touch someone with your feet.
  • Wash your hands before and after you eat.
  • Expect to eat with your fingers, but don’t eat with your left hand. 
  • Leave a little on your plate if when you’re done eating if you’re full.
  • Respect elders.
  • Be aware of India’s caste system (a.k.a. relationship hierarchy) that is observed at all times.
  • Give gifts for life events (e.g. marriage, death, births, etc.). Yellow, green and red are considered lucky colors.
  • Don’t open gifts in front of anyone. 
  • Don’t say “no” to anything as it’s considered rude. Instead say “I’ll think about it or try.”

Communication

In general, Indians are curious, friendly, respectful, trustworthy, and non-direct.

  • Hindi and English are the primary languages. 
  • Greet the eldest first.
  • Greet everyone individually upon arrival and departure.
  • Don’t shake hands with the opposite sex. Instead, place your hands together at the center of your chest pointed up, bow and say “Namaste.” 
  • Use formal titles when addressing individuals (Doctor, Professor, Sir + Surname, Madam + Surname).

Business

  • Make business appointments at least a month in advance and confirm in writing.
  • Build trusted and respected relationships first.
  • Conduct business with the highest authority as they are the decision makers.
  • Avoid confrontation or putting anyone in a situation where they will say “no.”
  • Conduct business during lunch, rather than dinner.
  • Expect to have a business meeting conducted in English. 
  • Expect a lengthy process. 

Italy

Italy is the fifth most populated country in Europe with 60.6 million inhabitants and the eighth largest economy in the world.  The high standard of living and public education level make it a desirable country among Italians and ex-pats alike. Their strong political, social, economic, and military influence makes them a leader in the world.  

In general, Italians value food, wine, art, dance, family, and celebrations. 

Religion

Roughly 75 percent of Italians are Catholic with the remaining population being Muslim, Christian, or other denominations.

Appearance

Italians value fashion and well tailored clothing which represent a person’s overall success. Italians typically assess a person within the first few minutes, so the way you dress is very important.

Businessmen should wear a dark well tailored suit, Italian brand tie, and colored or pattered shirt. 

Businesswomen should dress elegantly in a dark pant or skirt suit, neutral blouse, and heels. 

For non-business attire, casual fashionable clothing is appropriate. High quality leather and fashionable accessories will get you far.

Behavior

  • Take your time in Italy. There is no notion that “time is money.”
  • Respect elders.  
  • Show up on time for non-business engagement. Being 15 minutes late for a dinner or 30 minutes late for a party is appropriate. 
  • Don’t sit until invited to.
  • Keep your elbows off the table and hands out of your lap when dining.
  • Bring chocolates, flowers, high-quality wine, or sweets to any home gathering. 
  • Don’t give anything with the number 17 or in the quantity of 17 as it is bad luck. Also don’t give chrysanthemums, or anything in red, yellow, black, or purple. 
  • Expect gifts to be open immediately.

Communication

In general, Italians are very expressive communicators and use hands and body language to express information. Expect wordy, eloquent, emotional, and friendly conversations with regular interruptions and people talking at the same time.

  • Italian is the primary language; however, English is widely spoken in the course of business.
  • Shake hands and make eye contact when greeting or leaving. With your free hand, you can also gently grasp the arm they are shaking with as an additional gesture. 
  • Women greet with a light cheek press and kiss into the air (left, then right).
  • Use formal titles when addressing individuals (Mr. + Surname, Ms. + Surname), unless invited to use first names. 
  • Expect to hear many people talking all at once for gatherings about culture, art, films, food and wine, sports, home and family.
  • Don’t talk about religion, politics, or historical conflicts (e.g. World War II).
  • Don’t discuss professions after you’ve just met someone.

Business

  • Make appointments at least two weeks in advance and confirm it in writing. Avoid scheduling in August.
  • Be punctual for business meetings, but don’t expect the other party to arrive on time.
  • Ask a lot of questions to get to know the potential business partners.   
  • Let them initiate negotiations.
  • Bring a high-level executive as Italians like to deal with decision makers.
  • Expect business to progress slowly.
  • Expect intense negotiation on price and contracts. 
  • Be aware many Italian companies have a severe corporate hierarchy, with large gaps between tiers.
  • Exchange business cards in the office only but not during social occasions.

Japan

Japan is the tenth most populated country with 127 million people and has the third largest economy in the world in terms of gross domestic product. A majority of Japan’s business is in imports and exports.

In general, Japanese value education, art, literature, music, food, celebrations, sports and family.

Religion

Roughly 75 percent of Japanese are Buddhist with the remaining population being Christian or denomination.

Appearance

In Japan your attire reflects your status. 

Businessmen should wear a dark suit, tie, and easy to remove shoes. 

Businesswomen should dress professionally in a dark pant or skirt suit, blouse, and fashionably but minimally accessorized. Avoid wearing tall heels.

If you’re meeting business acquaintances for other activities, dress as if you are going to the office, unless told otherwise.  

For non-business attire, casual fashionable clothing is appropriate. Try to blend in as much as possible.

If you wear a kimono, wrap it left over right.

Behavior

  • Arrive on time, always. 
  • Use the "OK" signal to represent money.
  • Don’t point or blow your nose in public.
  • Avoid touching the opposite sex in public. 
  • Give the Japanese personal space. Don’t stand too close. 
  • Respect elders. They are always served first.
  • Recognize the importance of “face” which translates to honor, reputation, and respect. Don’t turn down a request, expose a person’s actions or deeds (good or bad) in public, disapprove of someone, or put anyone on the spot. 
  • Remove your shoes when entering a house and wear slippers in the house. Place them so they are pointed away from the door you walk through.
  • Wear toilet slippers if you have to use the bathroom. They will be located near the bathroom.
  • Don’t pour your own drink. Wait for the host or another guest to pour for you. When toasting, say “kampai.”
  • Don’t mix your food. 
  • Don’t place chopsticks straight up in a bowl. It’s a sign of death. 
  • Don’t drop chopsticks. It’s a sign of bad luck.
  • Place chopsticks down before speaking or drinking.  
  • Slurp your noodles and/or burp to show your appreciation of the food.
  • Pass money in an envelope, instead of displaying it in public. 
  • Give a gift for personal and business gatherings, but inform the recipient you want to give a gift ahead of time. Quality beef, fruit, alcohol, wine, or gifts from high-end department stores are acceptable. Don’t give gifts in odd numbers or the number four. Have the gift wrapped by a hotel or department store to ensure it is wrapped properly.
  • Give and/or accept gifts with both hands to show your appreciation and only at the end of a visit. Wait to open the gift until after you have left. 

Communication

In general, Japanese are group-focused, harmonious, polite, understanding and responsible. Japanese are non-confrontational by nature. Present information that might be confrontational or debatable in a polite and roundabout way. Always word your question, where they can respond in “yes.”

  • Japanese is the primary language.
  • Bow to everyone when greeting. Keep your hands at your sides and bow to the same level as the person bowed to you. The lower the bow, the more respect they display. If you’re offered a hand, shake hands gently. Only give business cards after the bow has taken place.
  • Don’t introduce yourself. Wait for someone to introduce you. 
  • Accept a pause in a conversation. Silence is acceptable and often a nice break for a host.
  • Keep your hand gestures and facial expressions minimal when talking. Keep your hands at your sides.
  • Be aware of non-verbal communication such as facial expressions, tone, and body language. Many Japanese will communicate with an emotionless expression in order to avoid communicating disagreement or agreement.
  • Don’t maintain eye contact for too long as it’s thought to be disrespectful.
  • Use formal titles and surnames when addressing individuals and use san meaning Mr. or Ms after (Surname + San).

Business

  • Make appointments several weeks in advance by phone and confirm them in writing.
  • Send greeting or seasonal cards to Japanese business partners.
  • Use both hands to hold business cards (“meishi”) when giving or receiving. The business card should be printed in your language on one side and Japanese on the other. Pass the card with the Japanese writing facing up. When you accept a business card, take a moment to appreciate the actual card and person who gave it as a sign of respect.
  • Don’t write or put a business card in anything (e.g. wallet or pocket) but a card case.
  • Exchange business cards before conducting business.
  • Build trust and relationships among Japanese partners before getting down to business.
  • Don’t refuse requests. Your attempt to work with them will build a long-term relationship.
  • Expect business engagements to carry on after hours in restaurants, bars or karaoke bars. If the majority of men are conducting business, women should excuse themselves from the bar scene.
  • Don’t offer to pay. It’s a sign of appreciation for the host to pay. Express your appreciation by saying "itadakimasu" at the start of the meal and "gochisou sama deshita" at the end.
  • Understand when you hear “yes” it might mean “no” especially during negotiations. Generally, the Japanese don’t like to use the word “no” and are open to saying “yes” just for pleasure. Be clear on your negotiations. 

Panama

Panama has the third largest economy in Central America which has been consistently strong since the development of the Panama Canal. Tourism is a large part of the economy due to tax and price discounts to visitors and retirees alike.    

In general, Panama values cultural heritage, music, art, literature, dance, and sports.

Religion

85 percent of the population is Roman Catholic with the remaining population being Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, and other denominations.

Appearance

Businessmen should wear a suit, tie, and clean shoes. Some Panamanian businessmen wear camisillas instead of suits.

Businesswomen should dress conservatively in a pant or skirt suit and non-revealing blouse or dress.

For non-business attire, casual but conservative clothing is appropriate. Generally tank tops and shorts are not acceptable.

Communication

  • Spanish is the primary language, however many people speak English.
  • Shake hands when greeting.
  • Use formal titles when addressing individuals (e.g. Doctor, Professor, Senor + Surname, Senora + Surname).
  • Expect lengthy conversations about hobbies, sports (basketball or baseball), culture, home and family.
  • Don’t talk about race, religion, politics, or historical conflicts (e.g. canal zones).

Business

  • Make appointments in advance and confirm in writing.
  • Arrive on time. 
  • Expect a little confusion if you’re a business woman attending a meeting. Be clear you’re representing your company. 
  • Be prepared with business cards and meeting documentation printed in both English and Spanish.
  • Engage in small talk before discussing business to build rapport.
  • Expect lengthy negotiations before reaching business agreements. A few trips might need to be required.

South Africa

South Africa is an ethnic blend of international cultures from around the world with communities of European, Asian, and African descent. South Africa has a respectable economy ranking 28th in the world, which is also the largest economy out of all African countries.  However, high unemployment and poverty indicate there’s room for improvement. 

In general, South Africans value art, literature, cinema, sports, dance, family and music.

Religion

Over 60 percent of South Africans are Christian with the remaining being Muslim, Hindu, or other denominations.

Appearance

Businessmen should wear a suit, tie, and clean shoes. 

Businesswomen should dress conservatively in a pant or skirt suit and non-revealing blouse or dress.

For non-business attire, casual but conservative western clothing is appropriate. Avoid wearing tank tops and shorts. 

Behavior
  • Arrive on time.
  • Ask a host if you can bring a gift or meal or can help with the preparation.
  • Bring flowers, wine or sweets to any home gathering.
  • Use both hands when giving a gift. Never use the left hand. Open gifts upon receiving them. 
  • Avoid confrontations.

Communication

  • English and Afrikaans are the primary languages. 
  • Shake hands when greeting, though be prepared to encounter a variety of handshakes. Don’t shake a woman’s hand unless she extends first.
  • Use formal titles when addressing individuals (e.g. Doctor, Professor, Mr. Surname, Ms. Surname).
  • Expect to hear a lot of a metaphors or analogies. 
  • Don’t interrupt during conversations.

Business

  • Make appointments far in advance. Avoid December to January or the Easter holiday.
  • Businesswomen should expect a challenge.
  • Expect business meetings to be held during the day, at lunch or dinner. 
  • Take your time with the meeting and build rapport. South Africans don’t like to be rushed, but generally don’t require a strong relationships before doing business.
  • Aim to find an agreement and win-win situation for both parties.
  • Share your intent for a long term relationship. 

Conclusion

Overwhelmed yet? Don’t be.

In addition to these guidelines, another helpful way to learn business etiquette is by example. Watch others around you and mirror their behavior. 

If you’re unsure of how you should act, politely ask someone around you.

Be respectful and aware of your surroundings always. 

Simply, appreciate the country, culture and people you encounter to build relationship that will last a lifetime.  

If you have personal business etiquette tips, please leave a comment below.   

Reference: The economic data in this report is from www.Wikipedia.org (2012). 

Darcie Connell is the co-founder of Trekity.com, a travel website that provides custom travel ideas just for you, and provides feedback for TravelBloggerAcademy.com.