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The etiquette of working abroad

I have been aware for some time, that behavior, or let us to be more precise say “the way you greet and interact with someone from another country, particularly an Asian country, can leave a lasting impression”. A lasting impression be that a good one or a bad one, certainly a lasting one.

Indeed on a recent visit to Singapore it was very apparent that if a Japanese concierge handed you a document, they very diligently gripped it between two thumbs and fore fingers (thumbnails up) and passed it with a slight bow. Faced with such courtesy my (very limited) knowledge of such formalities came flooding back and I took the (in this case) business card in the same way and studied it for a moment before putting it in my top pocket – the momentary study being an important part of the respectfully formality.

I’ve also got familiar with the fact that English is thought generally, to be the language of the World Wide Web, but after doing some business with a Portuguese colleague, I got to wondering what other languages are commonly used?

After a bit of research –and being English, English seemed a pretty good place to start. I turned up some pretty interesting stuff – Of course it will come as no surprise to anyone that in business there is no sort of “ritual” regarding the giving or receiving of a business card in British business etiquette.

Having said that though, language is a different thing as just over 5% of the Worlds population speaks English (I thought it would be more) compared with just over 6% who speak Spanish and according to the British Museum over 20% of the Worlds population speaks some form of Chinese.

Conscious that I’m not drawing any conclusions here (though I enjoyed the research) its interesting to read that the German auto maker Audi has successfully plied its slogan “Vorsprung durch technik” right across the World – except that is for the States, where the term “truth in engineering” is used. Interesting? Well yes, especially given that German Americans form a significant ethnic group in the USA.

But back to China, I read that there are many personal traits that are valued above more everything else when approaching business with Chinese business people, during which one should…

  • In meetings, address the most senior person first and ensure you use their title
  • Don’t be surprised at a prolonged handshake, your Chinese colleague will enjoy the warmth of a long handshake and it is more a question of who will let go first!
  • Ensure your card is translated into Chinese and includes your title.
  • You adopt a Chinese name – yes, just like that Chinese friend called Geoffrey – it’s a sign of respect that you have gone to such trouble, not just a translation of your name, more a meaningful Chinese name that has been created for you – there are companies that specialize in such things.

I could go on but make sure you do your research before any business meeting or pitch.

avatar Name: Alexandra Eager
About: Alex has worked as a Financial Controller and Finance Director for many years for a variety of companies across a range of industries but more recently she has moved away from accounting working for an internet marketing agency as Finance and Operations director, primarily overseeing the finance functions and search engine optimisation (SEO) for clients. Follow Alex on G+ and on Twitter @Alex_BusDirUK
Alex runs her own company with two fellow owners developing a suite of e-commerce web sites and promoting them directly. “I found that SEO and finance were quite compatible both needing an eye for detail, research and analysis as well keeping up with new developments and changes.”

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