10 Business Customs You Didn’t Know Were Different Around the World

It’s easy to get stuck in the same old work routine and assume that there’s only one correct way of doing things.

But what if there was not only an alternative way of looking at business, but a way to connect internationally with your industry without even leaving the country?

For instance, Canada’s MBA programs are becoming increasingly global, and the University of British Columbia’s UBC Sauder School of Business in Vancouver is launching students on new trajectories that span the globe.

Thanks to its Pacific Rim location, the UBC Sauder MBA, has one of the most diverse student bodies in North America – ranked 3rd in 2015 by the Financial Times. The school also has an extensive range of global partners, 71 exchange programs in 29 countries, and 37,000 alumni in 75 countries.

Enrolling in a program or executive education course, like those at UBC Sauder, can really open your eyes to the wider world (in the truest sense) of work.

And as the world gets smaller – thanks to growing technology and connections – it’s necessary to learn new customs as we work with other global companies.

Here are 10 ways you can avoid making basic business blunders and first-time foreign faux pas:

1. Respect Business Cards
Those rectangular cards with your name on them may seem like a bit of fun when you first start a new job at work, but beyond flashing them to your friends and collecting dust in the drawer, they can quickly lose all purpose. Unless you’re in Japan, where the business card is held in very high regard and should be passed out using both hands. Pro tip: Do not fold these and shove them in your pocket.

2. Young’uns, Wait Your Turn
It doesn’t matter how good the point you’re about to raise is, or how much you’re itching to speak – zip it. In Japan, often the most senior person will lead the discussion in meetings and other members of the group may even reduce their input, by speaking less out of respect. Yes, you. Put your hand down.

3. Don’t Pick Up the Tab Out of Turn in Australia
You might think you’re making a good impression by swooping in to pay for the latest round of beers when you’re doing business at the bar. But there are no prizes for benevolence in Australia, where you will be breaking custom if you try to pick up the tab out of turn. So wait it out – even if you’re tenth in line and it’s a Tuesday night

 4. Set Your Watch an Hour Behind
You may be used to arriving to a meeting with several minutes to spare, but don’t expect a 9am meeting in Latin America or the Middle East to actually kick off before 10am. Equally, in Russia businessmen are free to arrive late without having to apologise – it’s designed to test the patience and commitment of their business counterparts.

 5. Apologize For Your Lack of Fluency
Don’t speak French? Not a problem. Don’t apologize for it? Well now you might be in trouble. Make sure you acknowledge your lack of fluency if you’re doing business in France, by expressing your regret at not having mastered the language. And make sure that at the very least you know how to say that in French (Je ne parle pas français).

6. Everyone’s a Comedian – Unless You’re in Germany
If you’ve ever asked for advice on how to give a speech or presentation and been told to start with a joke, chances are you weren’t in Germany. For years, Germans have been unfairly accused of not having much of a sense of humour, but business is a serious, um business, and it’s no laughing matter. Save that ice-breaking zinger for another meeting and pull yourself together.

 7. Disagree Tactfully
Even if a colleague has come up with a real stinker in an ideas meeting, Japanese and Indian business men and women will refrain from dropping the no-bomb. In India it’s considered rude to use it in business, and prefer to opt for ‘possibly’ or ‘I will try’. Meanwhile, the Japanese will typically respond with ‘yes’ to signal they understand – even if they really don’t like the idea.

 8. Get Up Close and Personal
If you want to close a deal in Brazil, you’d better get over your obsession with personal space. Because it’s customary for Brazilians to stand extremely close to one another and be rather tactile while doing business. So loosen up, get touchy, and make sure you don’t overdo it on the cologne.

 9. Think Outside the Boardroom
In Finland it’s a time-honoured tradition and common practice to enjoy a relaxing sauna – and unfortunately for those of us unable to shake our post-Christmas belly bulge, this extends to meetings. Try to suck it up since declining the offer will only seem like you’re insulting their hospitality, and the invitation is actually an indicator that business is moving in a positive direction.

 10. Pucker Up
If you’ve established a working relationship with your Belgian business associates, prepare your pout. You’ll be expected to greet one another with three air kisses – one on the right cheek, then the left cheek, and back to the right cheek. There’s no use being coy – failure to observe it is considered a sign of disrespect.