There’s no denying it, when it comes to business, the world is shrinking. International markets are now firmly within the grasp of UK businesses, but don’t be tempted to give in to the allure of global growth without first researching your target country or countries.
Being successful in foreign markets is about more than just translating your marketing materials. In fact, in order to win over markets outside of Britain’s business bubble marketers and export managers need to think outside the box, which can mean going back to basics with a localised lesson in business etiquette.
To help you find your way in boardrooms and meetings around the world, Bubbles have created a guide to the most important aspects of business etiquette in some of the most popular target markets around the world, highlighting the subtle differences that could help smooth your path to global growth.
As an international translation service Bubbles is certainly familiar with the dramatic cultural differences associated with food and drink. This is as much the case in the boardroom as it is in the home, and many UK businesses can make or break a deal based on their familiarity and respect for foreign customs in cuisine.
Renowned for their excellence in gastronomy, it’s unsurprising that European countries often put significant emphasis on the consumption of food and drink during business exchanges. However, in Ireland the expectation that visitors will honour their ‘round’ during business drinks far outweighs the importance of table manners.
When you’re feeling full it’s tempting to reject the offer of food or drink, regardless of the circumstances. However, implying that you’ve had enough can be considered extremely rude across China and Japan, and doing so could risk offending your business hosts.
In both Australia and New Zealand it’s common for business meetings to take place over drinks. Beer in particular is a common icebreaker, and visitors are expected to become involved in ‘rounds’ when discussing their expansion overseas.
The boardroom is an international symbol of business, and here at Bubbles we’re often asked to translate business materials ahead of meetings. However, translation in business should extend far beyond words, and it’s also important that you take the time to appreciate long-standing business customs in your target country before scheduling a gathering.
Across Europe time is considered valuable so hosts are likely to look upon you more favourably if you arrive on time, or even a little early. In many countries the dress code is equally important, and it’s expected that visitors will keep their suit jacket on throughout the meeting regardless of temperature. In some cases, the removal of a jacket may even be considered rude.
While India takes a relaxed approach to punctuality, in China and Japan it’s important that you arrive promptly for every meeting, preferably wearing formal attire that reflects the significance of the event. Chinese hosts put particular emphasis on the significance of meetings and it’s often the case that gatherings will take place around a large circular table, with the highest-ranking host facing the room’s main door and the highest-ranking guest sitting on their right side.
For many Latin American countries it is common for visitors to arrive late for meetings, although hosts should always be informed in advance. Once present however, visitors are expected to stay for the duration of the meeting, which will rarely have a set finishing time.
Both verbal and body language are equally important when it comes to communicating with businesses abroad. Translating your brand means adapting both aspects of your communication to ensure you respect the customs of your new associates while remaining true to your brand values.
In Pakistan and India, the art of securing a business deal comes down to the small talk. Rather than addressing the main topic of a meeting immediately, Indian hosts in particular will often encourage socialisation between hosts and visitors. Communication is equally relaxed in China and Japan, and it’s considered inappropriate for visitors to push for a verdict in the first meeting. In fact, most decisions are made once the group has had a chance to consider their views away from the boardroom environment.
In the majority of Latin American countries women will often greet both men and women with a kiss on the cheek. Initial meetings in Latin America are also relatively informal, and it’s expected that associates will spend much of their time building up a rapport through eye contact and conversation rather than focusing on business.
Europe, Oceania and North America
Across the rest of the world it’s almost universally traditional for business meetings to begin and end with a firm handshake. Conversation is steered towards the topic at hand, and discussion about family life takes place outside the meeting room.
Business Cards and Gifts
The exchange of business cards is commonly considered the first step to sealing a new business deal. However, some countries view them as a means to an end, while others consider them a business ‘badge of honour’. Here at Bubbles we can translate business cards into any language, while taking into account the cultural values attached by some to what is considered no more than a token by others.
A crucial part of any business deal in Japan is the ritual of meishi – the exchanging of business cards. Cards are to be presented facing upwards, with two hands and the slight bowing of the head. Cards are often presented according to rank, with the highest ranking individual presenting their card last.
Once delivered, the business cards should be examined and kept on display for the duration of the meeting, but not referenced to remember the giver’s name. When the meeting is over, the cards should be carefully stored in a dedicated card holder.
This emphasis on showing respect for business associates extends even further in Japan, where visitors are expected to bring small gifts for their hosts on their first meeting. The gifts can be of little value, but it’s important that you bring enough to give one to each person. Once the meeting has begun it’ll be the host who initiates this custom, and you should receive yours with both hands as you deliver a bow.
Europe, Oceania and North America
Away from Asia, the majority of countries consider business cards as nothing more than a convenient method of transferring business details to a new acquaintance. However, by taking etiquette into account during foreign meetings, you can take advantage of the universal popularity of business cards and transform them from a ‘tool of the trade’ into a bridge between countries.
The variation in business etiquette around the world is clearly significant. So too is the variation in all areas of business, including sales, marketing and development. In person it’s important to consider the cultures and attitudes of the people you’re working with, but in written material and communications, translation becomes the focus.
Bubbles’ translations are carried out by people who have first-hand experience of the culture and countries associated with your target language, so you can be assured that not only will your words be accurately translated, but your message will remain relevant and respectful too.