It can be easy to assume that English speaking environments have the same cultures and customs as the United Kingdom. But as many people quickly realise, this is not the case. 

The further afield, customs can seem even more distant to what we are used to. Below, we give some advice on what to take into consideration when meeting others from different countries.  

Initial Greeting  

In many parts of Europe, one, two or even three kisses – depending on where you are – is a polite way of greeting someone.  Of course, if a man and a woman did this an Arab country such as the UAE, it would be regarded as culturally insensitive.  

In Japan, a bow is an acceptable way of making someone’s acquaintance, and you should dip slightly lower for someone of high social status.  In India, you should join your hands together as if praying, bow your head and say the traditional greeting:  Namaste.  It is similar in Singapore, where a handshake accompanied by a modest bow is expected.  

Business Cards 

After experiencing your initial greeting, the exchange of business cards can cause offence if you are not careful.  Unlike in the UK, in many other countries, it is considered disrespectful if you immediately put the card you are offered straight into your pocket. You should study it for several seconds and comment on it or clarify any information on it before putting it away.  In the Middle East you should always give your card with your right hand, never your left. In China, you should present your card with both hands yet in Japan, whilst it is perfectly acceptable to give your card with one hand, make sure you accept one with both hands. 

Timekeeping 

Timekeeping is another topic that varies across the world.  In Singapore for example, it is important to be on time – if not early – for meetings. Being late rarely makes a good impression anywhere, but it is especially unpopular on this highly efficient island.  Similarly, Switzerland is the location where punctuality is particularly prized. However, our friends from Spain and Latin America would think nothing of keeping you waiting all day, then ask you to come back tomorrow! 

If you are travelling abroad on business or welcoming a visitor from overseas, do some research beforehand – even before you make a phone call, as that may also have its own set of ‘rules’.  If you make an effort to follow local customs, you should find that things run much more smoothly.  They will appreciate that you have taken the time to understand their culture and this will help to provide a strong base to build your relationship.  As the world grows ever smaller due to the advancement of technology and travel, we will find ourselves working with people from all over the globe ever more often and by being aware of these small but important differences, we can help everyone to feel more at home, wherever they are. 

Original content written by SmartPA Partner, Tracy Sawyerr.