Clare Burnett


Never give a clock as a gift in China - Top 10 tips on global business etiquette

With government trade initiatives and their ongoing mission to promote British export to foreign markets (PM David Cameron is currently in China attempting to encourage trade links, and suggesting that English children learn Mandarin instead of French in schools) global relationships are more important than ever. Being able to translate your intentions and company values to promote your products has become massively important when attempting to forge new links and grow your company. Here we have put together a few of the biggest mistakes and guidelines to follow when doing business with cultures abroad.

1. Never write on business cards in Asia

In many Western countries, business cards can be maltreated, bent, written on or shoved in the pocket.

In other countries, particularly in Asia, business cards are to be treated with the utmost respect, defacing them in any way is an insult. In China (including Hong Kong), Japan and Singapore, you give or receive business cards with both hands, often accompanied by a small bow.

2. Don’t forget to give a gift in South America

Rules for giving and receiving gifts vary. In some South American countries like Chile, presents are opened immediately, whereas in many Asian countries, it is considered very impolite to open a gift in the presence of the gift-giver. In Singapore or China, the recipient may politely decline the gift three times before accepting it. It is also extremely offensive to give a clock as a present in China, where it implies that you are counting down the minutes until the recipient’s death.

Giving someone an even number of flowers in Serbia is also a no-no, as even numbers are used at funerals.

3. Use the colour red in China

Speaking of presents, it’s best to avoid certain colours. In China, for instance, white is associated with death, whereas something red represents good luck. Avoid gifts that bear your company’s logo. A green hat is also unwelcome as it implies a man’s wife is being unfaithful. The Chinese believe the number 4 is bad luck, 14 is even worse. Numerals 3, 8 and 9 are good. It’s no accident that the telephone numbers of Western hotels in Chinese cities contain the numerals 8888.

4. Speak loudly in Germany

Different countries have different ways to convey meaning, for instance in Germany people tend to speak loudly when sharing ideas, whereas in Japan people speak softly.

In Greece, facing the palm of your hand when gesturing ‘stop’ or ‘hi-five’ to your audience is the equivalent of swearing at them.

5. Don’t shake with your left hand in the Middle East

In the Middle East, the left hand is reserved for bodily hygiene and considered unclean. Shaking hands with the left hand is therefore considered an insult. While it is acceptable for men to shake hands in greetings, women are only permitted to nod.

6. Kiss in the Mediterranean

In Spain when greeting, women expect to receive two cheek-kisses (one in each side of their face) and men expect a handshake. Some cultures, including that of Italy and France, are quite ‘hands-on’ when it comes to greetings. Where a handshake would be acceptable in the UK, there would be a double kiss to the cheek (or even triple or quadruple in some places). On the other hand, public displays of affection in the Middle East are frowned upon.

7. Imitation is the least sincere form of flattery

Making a joke is a gamble in any business context. But attempting to imitate the accent of an Australian, Scot or Irishman, whilst not unforgivable, is (understandably) considered pretty rude. In terms of cultural identity, “lumping” is mortally offensive. That is, putting different people into the same group, thinking all Eastern European have the same attributes, confusing Canadians and Americans, Chinese and Japanese, or New Zealanders and Australians. Avoid it.

8. Dressing to impress

Taking off your hat whilst in a church or place of religious worship is a well known protocol. Taking off your shoes before entering an office, normally in foyer, happens in some Scandinavian and Asian countries. In terms of clothing, even though you may find yourself in 40 degree heat, for both sexes, letting too much skin show is a no go in some countries, particularly predominantly Muslim countries.

9. Dinner and drinks can be etiquette minefields

In Ghana, if you have invited someone to an event, a drink or dinner, it implies that you will be paying for everything. In China, sticking your chopsticks into your rice and leaving them standing there is very unlucky. This looks like sticks of incense in a bowl used to honor dead ancestors, and such a symbol of death is extremely offensive at the dinner table. In Cantonese funeral tradition, a pair of chopsticks is used to stick a salt-preserved duck egg into a bowl of rice on the altar as an offering to the deceased.

10. Dont get lost in translation

Even when speaking in your own language, meanings can be misconstrued. Evidently, this will be exacerbated when attempting to speak a different language. What you may be hearing may not be what they are meaning to say. So ask clarifying questions when the meaning seems confusing.

Which part of name and/or title to use to address people can be problematic. Some languages distinguish male and female forms of surnames. Many cultures put surnames first. Most languages use forms of address which don’t directly correspond with the titles such as Mr, Miss, Mrs, and Ms that are familiar to speakers of English. In places like France, addressing people with the familiar “tu” when they should be addressed with “vous” (you) is seen as derogatory, insulting, or even aggressive. Conversely, addressing familiars with “vous” is considered snobby and introduces distance.

Be especially careful when addressing people who have higher social status (such as one’s employer) and people who are older. This applies not only in regard to forms of address but to what slang words and topics might be inappropriate.

When you need a message to be translated, it is important to let the translator know who you are writing for and the message you want to convey.

At TranslatorsVillage, our professional experienced translators adapt your message to the target reader and deliver the highest quality results.

Enjoy the experience of working with our community of translators and benefit from our quality services when sending your holiday season greetings.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Clare Burnett .

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