Unusual business culture around the world - what you should know

From conducting business in a sauna to having two separate business cards, the world’s most interesting and unusual work-based customs have been revealed.

By Sue Wilkinson
Wednesday, 05 June, 2019, 14:52
What you should know

The travel experts behind MyBaggage.com have researched business customs across 11 popular destinations, revealing the most striking and peculiar.

In Hong Kong, the most senior member of staff should be offered a seat at the head of the table during any meeting or business dinner, and because Japanese businesspeople regard the business card very seriously, you must always accept them with both hands and take time to study the information before putting it away.

A lot of European countries have a much more relaxed approach to business comparatively, but even the Italians have two business cards – one for business and another for personal information and social gatherings.

A spokesperson for My Baggage commented: “It’s useful to draw attention to worldwide business customs, as more and more people are travelling for work nowadays.

“Brits take work quite seriously compared to some of the countries listed, but even we pale in comparison to certain nations that have strict business protocols – which should always be adhered to out of respect.”

Here is the MyBaggage.com guide to unusual international business culture:

1. Finland

Hot-bath negotiations are the norm in Finland, where an affinity for saunas is deeply rooted in the culture. These sweltering sessions are thought to enhance creativity and encourage more open dialogue. In fact, the practice is so widespread that many large companies have saunas in the office!

2. Germany

Germans often respect direct communication – the more straightforward, the better. So, it’s wise to remain serious and devoid of humour, as jokes may not be appreciated in a business context.

3. France

French workers pride themselves on maintaining a clear distinction between work life and personal life, which led to an initiative that was passed a couple of years ago allowing employees the right to ignore work-related emails sent after working hours. The “right to disconnect” applied to companies with more than 50 employees.

You should also be prepared for lengthy business meals in France, as lunch can last up to two hours.

4. Italy

Italian people often have two business cards – one for business and another for personal information and social gatherings.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

5. Japan

If you are offered a business card in Japan, you should take it with both hands and pause for a moment to study the information before putting it away, as Japanese business people view the business card as a particular item of importance. In addition, the business card should never be written on or played with during a meeting, as both are signs of disrespect.

Napping in the office is also common in this country and is seen as a sign of employee diligence. The word for the practice is “inemuri” or “sleeping on duty” and is most prevalent among senior employees.

6. Hong Kong

It’s rude to start eating before the host in Hong Kong, and seating placements are also tied to seniority; the most senior member of staff should be offered a seat at the head of the table during any meeting or business dinner.

7. South Korea

If you join Korean colleagues for dinner, you might find yourself at a karaoke establishment – and you will be expected to sing.

8. Egypt

Business meetings are never scheduled for Fridays in Egypt, as it’s considered a day of rest.

9. China

In China, the customary tradition is that gifts are presented when you show up for a business meeting. However, gifts can be refused up to three times before being accepted, so it’s important to continue offering your present until it is taken.

10. United Arab Emirates

Left-handers may have some trouble doing business in the United Arab Emirates, as in a lot of Middle Eastern countries, the left hand is considered unclean and used strictly for bodily hygiene. As a result, it’s important to eat, shake hands and pass documents with the right hand only. Using the left hand is a serious insult.

11. Argentina

Argentinian business lunches are few and far between – most business-related meals are arranged for dinner, which starts around 9pm.