After taking a trip to Europe where I spent a month studying Business-Marketing, it quickly jumped out how different their style of doing business is. Across the big pond, you find it easy to pinpoint the differences between the European and American business culture. You never realize there is more than your way of doing things until you are fully emerged into a different culture.
Before engaging in business transactions with a country other than your own, you need to do your homework. You can quickly find yourself in an awkward situation because so many different culture norms exist. Not only is the European culture as a whole different than American culture, but there are many subcultures that exist as well. Each European country has individual differences from one another, which is pretty crazy to wrap your head around, and even harder to remember what’s acceptable in one country and not in another. If you don’t research the Do’s and Don’ts of different cultures, you can easily shake hands with someone which directly leads to offending them. (The acceptable greeting might be a bow or nod) OR, what if you show up at a business meeting empty handed? In some cultures it is unacceptable to show up without a gift or token of appreciation. If you don’t know the basics, it can really tarnish your reputation as a person, and more importantly as a company.
After returning home, I wanted to share some of the basic cultural differences that should be used when conducting business in another country.
i. In most European countries it is very important to be on time.Due to increased traffic on the roads, it is common for people to be delayed. Arriving late at a meeting can be regarded as an insult especially to the Chinese and Germans. In France, it is recommended to confirm appointments to be sure that the French business partners will be present.
ii. When European business people meet for the first time, they shake hands firmly. Titles, first names and last names are mentioned. In most European countries such as Germany, France and Belgium, using courtesy titles and last names during meetings is a norm; for example, Monsieur Miguel; Mdm Ute etc. In the UK and in the Netherlands, it is not unusual to act on a first-name basis after the first introduction.
iii. The Chinese will sometimes nod as an initial greeting. Bowing is seldom used. Handshakes are also popular; but you should wait for your Chinese counterpart to initiate the gesture.
iv. Exchanging business cards is one of the most internationally common ways of providing contact details.
Learning the culture of the company you want to do business with can make or break the deal. Before traveling, always learn greetings, gestures, and understand the culture and etiquettes of delivering meetings in different countries. Otherwise, it could cost you that deal you’ve been working on for months.