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Cultural Etiquette

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Cultural etiquette and communication have become critical elements required for all business people. It is important to understand the uniqueness of cultures around the world and how to apply the skills of proper business etiquette and manners to become more successful.


English is the universal business language. It is helpful if people master it. Knowing other languages would be an advantage.

Non-verbal Communication

Body language can make or break a deal. Building successful business relations across cultures is not only a matter of knowing what to say or when to arrive for a meeting. It involves an understanding on the different body languages and gestures among cultures. It is important to know basic differences in cultures to avoid embarrassment and awkwardness. Every day, we respond to thousands on nonverbal cues and behaviors including postures, facial expression, eye gaze, gestures, and tone of voice. From our handshakes to our hairstyles, nonverbal details reveal who we are and impact how we relate to other people.

Understanding body language of the destination country and interpreting body language correctly will not only assist you to avoid unpleasant situation but will grant you respect from the locals.

There are different forms of greeting acceptable in certain countries.

• Handshake is a common form of greeting on various countries. A vital component you need to bring to any interpersonal encounter is a firm handshake.

` Ingredients of a Good Handshake • Hold the person's hand firmly. • Shake at a maximum of three times. • Maintain constant eye contact. • Radiate positive aura. • An embrace and kiss are also accepted in other countries. Ex: In Saudi Arabia, males kiss each other’s right and left cheeks. • Bowing- common form of greeting in many Asian countries like Japan, China, and Korea. This is a sign of respect.

• Eye contact- In mainstream Western culture, eye contact is interpreted as attentiveness and honesty; We are taught that we should “look people in the eye” when talking. In many cultures, however, including Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, and Native American, eye contact is thought to be disrespectful or rude, and lack of eye contact does not mean that a person is not paying attention. Women may especially avoid eye contact with men because it can be taken as a sign of sexual interest.

• Touching- While patting a child’s head is considered to be a friendly or affectionate gesture in our culture, it is considered inappropriate by many Asians to touch someone on the head, which is believed to be a sacred part of the body. In the Middle East, the left hand is reserved for bodily hygiene and should not be used to touch another or transfer objects. In Muslim cultures, touch between opposite gendered individuals is generally inappropriate. Examples: Hugging, kissing and touching is usually reserved for family members and very close friends in Great Britain. In UAE (United Arab Emirates), A refusal to touch may suggest that you are believed to be untrustworthy or unclean. It is very common to see two man holding hands or arm in arm at walking on the street in Turkey. This means that they are just good friends. But this is an uncomfortable gesture in USA.

• Gestures- There are a number of gestures commonly used in the United States that may have a different meaning and/or be offensive to those from other cultures. One common example is the use of a finger or hand to indicate “come here please”. This is the gesture used to beckon dogs in some cultures and is very offensive. Pointing with one finger is also considered to be rude in some cultures and Asians typically use their entire hand to point to something.

Business Cards One aspect of etiquette that is of great importance internationally is the exchanging of business cards. Unlike in North America or Europe where the business card has little meaning other than a convenient form of capturing essential personal details, in other parts of the world the business card has very different meanings.

For example, in Japan the business card is viewed as a representation of the owner. Therefore proper business etiquette demands one treats the business card with respect and honor. Receive your Japanese counterpart's business card with two hands, carefully examine it for a few moments, and then comment about it. Accepting a business card and thrusting it immediately in your pocket is considered discourteous. Writing on a business card is also seen as impolite. • When travelling abroad for business it is advisable to have one side of your business card translated into the appropriate language. It means to print your card on both sides: one in English and the other on the language of the country you are doing business with. • Hold the card in both hands when offering it. • Never write on someone's card unless so directed. • If you have a university degree or any honor, put it on your business card. Make sure your business card includes your title. Other countries place emphasis on status and hierarchy. • Business cards should be kept clean and presentable.
Name Tags
Put the name tag at the right shoulder area to make it more visible.
Table Napkins
A napkin is your best aid; this doesn’t mean you have to use it to wipe your mouth vigorously. The rule is to simply unfold it to dab your face and place it back on your knees. It is never acceptable to tuck your napkin in to the front of your shirt or dress no matter how much you want to protect it from spills.
Neatly spread your napkin on your lap the moment you are comfortably seated. Note that the large dinner napkins are half folded while the small ones are opened to its full-size. Once the meal has come to an end, leave your napkin semi-folded at the left side of the place.
There may be a time when you need to leave the table to visit the washroom. In times like these, place the unfolded napkin on the empty chair to give an impression that you would be back. Then excuse yourself to the hostess and the servers. When you are back, replace the napkin on your knees.
On a business dinner, wait until your order comes before putting the napkin on your lap. Do not shake it open.
At a private dinner party, the meal begins when the host or hostess unfolds his or her napkin. This is your signal to do the same. Place your napkin on your lap, completely unfolded if it is a small luncheon napkin or in half, lengthwise, if it is a large dinner napkin. Do not shake it open.
The napkin rests on the lap till the end of the meal. Don't clean the cutlery or wipe your face with the napkin. NEVER use it to wipe your nose!
The host will signal the end of the meal by placing his or her napkin on the table. Once the meal is over, you too should place your loosely folded napkin neatly on the table to the left of your dinner plate.
When the napkin falls on the floor, do not get it back. Ask for a new one.

Improper use of dishes, glasses, and utensils can potentially damage a business relationship, which a meal is supposed to build. Many people get alarmed by the number of forks, spoons or fancifully folded napkins in a fine dining restaurant. This is one of the most common problems for people that are used to flatware (knives and forks) being brought to the table with each course. Knowing the proper use of the different utensils could save us from embarrassment. At business functions where the menu is pre-set, your place will be set with all the utensils you'll need. In an upscale restaurant, the table will be pre-set with most of the utensils that you will need regardless of what you order. To know which ones belong to you, just remember: Liquids on the right, solids on the left.

General Rule: Always work from the outside in.

Starting with the knife, fork, or spoon that is farthest from the plate, work your way in, using one utensil for each course. The salad fork is on the outermost left, followed by the dinner fork. The soup spoon is on your outermost right, followed by the beverage spoon, salad knife and dinner knife. The dessert spoon and fork are above the plate or brought out with dessert. Also as the meal progresses, the used silverware for each will be removed as that course is finished, making the identification of utensils easier. Always hold your knife and fork at the same time- you should not cut your food up at the start and then use your fork only (this is American tradition and generally fine in America but not in Europe) and always point the tines of your fork down toward the plate. For difficult foods like peas, use a knife to squash them onto the tip of the fork. Never use your fork like a scoop!

Cut small pieces of food and place your knife down after each mouthful and do not pick up anything that has fallen on the ground. Almost everywhere it is understood that if your knife and fork cross each other then you aren’t done eating yet.

When you are finished, place your fork and spoon vertically or horizontally in the centre of the plate, with the edge of the knife pointing inwards.

Once used, your utensils, including the handles, must not touch the table again. Always rest forks, knives, and spoons on the side of your plate or in the bowl.


Normally two or more glasses are placed at the table. Your glasses are on the upper side of the plate. They are usually arranged in a diagonal or square pattern.
The water goblet is smaller than the wine glasses. The wine glasses start with the small sherry glass for the soup course. The white wine glass goes with the fish dish, and the red wine glass goes with the entrée. The champagne flute for champagne, will be served at the beginning of the dessert course. Each will be filled appropriately with each course and then removed when the course is finished.
When toasting, never touch glasses with other guests- it is enough to raise the glasses in their direction. If you wish to raise a toast, never tap the side of the glass with a utensil, it is rude and you could damage expensive glassware. It is enough to clear your throat.
Drinking loudly and gulping is unacceptable as you are looking to get drunk. Sip quietly and occasionally. Never turn a wine glass upside down to decline wine. It is more polite to let the wine be poured and not draw attention or you can simply tell the server prior to pouring that you do not wish to have any more.
Hold your wine glass by the stem, not the rim.
Where a different wine is served with each course, it is quite acceptable to not finish each glass.

Eating Soup
Ensure that the soup bowl remains on the table while you sip. While consuming the soup, push your spoon away from you starting point at the center of the bowl to the farthest edge (outward motion). Do not insert the whole spoon into your mouth and sip from the edge. Never ever slurp! When eating thick soup, it is appropriate to eat the solid portion —such as vegetables—from the end of the spoon. It is perfectly fine to tilt the bowl slightly (again, away from the body) to get the last spoonful or two of soup. When resting, place the spoon in the bowl. This sends a message to the server that you are still eating. When finished, place the spoon on the right side of the underplate where the soup bowl sits, never on the tablecloth.

Using Chopsticks
When dining in some Asian restaurants, it is helpful to remember some dining etiquette. This may include the proper use of chopsticks. 1. Pick up the chopsticks with your right hand. Use your left hand to hold the chopsticks. If they are disposable wood, split them at this stage. Many people rub the chopsticks together at this time to remove hard edges and loose wooden fibers, but it isn't polite, as it implies the chopsticks aren't smooth enough for you. 2. With the support of your left hand, hold the chopsticks by placing them between your right thumb and forefinger. 3. Fix the lower chopstick between the tip of your middle and ring fingers. Place the upper chopstick between your index and middle fingers. Press both chopsticks in place with your thumb 4. By moving the upper chopstick with your thumb, forefinger and middle finger, pick up a morsel of food between the pointed ends of your chopsticks and carry it to your mouth. Remember, only the upper chopstick should move. The lower one stays put. It's customary to keep your left hand under the food as you bring it to your mouth, in order to catch any juices or in case the food drops. 5. If a piece of food is too large to eat in one bite, don't cut it with your chopsticks. Simply bring the whole piece to your mouth and take a bite, returning the remainder of the food to your plate.

There are several things to avoid when using chopsticks. • Stabbing food with your chopsticks • Pointing at someone with your chopsticks • Waving your chopsticks over the choice of dishes spread out in front of you in an indecisive manner • Digging out a piece of food from the bottom of a dish, instead of from the top • Drumming the table or plates with your chopsticks. • Moving dishes or plates with your chopsticks

Talking on the table is acceptable in fine dining since it is a social occasion. However, one must not talk boisterously. Keep voice on a modulated tone.
Steer clear of topics that include politics, religion, or sex at the table, especially when you don’t know the guest very well. Show a genuine interest in getting to know your client and/or your guests better by asking thoughtful questions about safe topics such as sports teams, hobbies, movies and other general interests. Avoid personal questions that may make your client feel uncomfortable. Although, it may be difficult to incite effortless conversations with strangers, it is necessary that everybody can join in on the conversation.
Do not yell to the ends of the table. Stick to speaking in low tones. However, do not treat the dinner venue as a church hall or a library room. Be a good listener and allow the person sitting next to you to share his or her opinions. If you think you are a bad conversationalist then atleast be a good listener.
If the purpose of your meeting is business, it is not appropriate to leap into the topic as soon as you are seated. Take your time and allow your guest to relax. Begin with small talk. It is important to establish or to reinforce rapport with your guest. Be sensitive to when your guest is ready to talk business. Most people prefer to wait and talk business only over dessert and coffee. Others may want to plunge right in; therefore, begin discussing business when the client appears ready.
Try to remember and call people with their names.

Dress according to the occasion. If you are in a fine dining, it is expected that you have to conform and follow the set norms. Follow whatever dress code is requested on the invitation or suggested by the host/hostess. Abide by the dress code to avoid embarrassment.

Don’t make a fuss. If you don’t like something, leave it.
Don’t blow on hot food to cool it down. Wait for it to cool itself.
Don’t smoke at the table unless invited by the hostess.
Don’t move your plate after your meal has been served.
Don’t treat the servers badly.
Don’t eat chicken or meat chops with your fingers.
Don’t point using the utensils.
Do NOT talk with food in your mouth! This is very rude and distasteful to watch! Wait until you have swallowed the food in your mouth.
Don’t hold the fork while drinking wine.
Turn off your cell phone or switch it to silent or vibrate mode before sitting down to eat, and leave it in your pocket or purse. It is impolite to answer a phone during dinner. If you must make or take a call, excuse yourself from the table and step outside of the restaurant.
Do not use a toothpick or apply makeup at the table.
Say "Excuse me," or "I'll be right back," before leaving the table. Do not say that you are going to the restroom.

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