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Learning international etiquette can win you new business abroad

Learning international etiquette can win you new business abroad

1 Apr 2016

You’re polite, courteous and have good social skills; so the only communication challenge posed by working internationally is the language barrier. Right? Wrong.

Yes, having a grasp of basic manners will stand you in good stead wherever you are in the world. But are you au fait with the cultural norms and business etiquette of the country you’ve set your sights on?

Language skills and professional translation are of course essential in order to maintain your reputation and generate business. But professional translation alone won’t suffice; you need to know the customs, etiquette and cultural norms of the country you’re doing business in or the people you’re working with.

Being ill informed or getting international etiquette incorrect could cost you relationships – and future business – so do your research and be prepared. Here’s what you could encounter:


– greetings are formal and the oldest person is always greeted first

– rank is important in business relationships; bear this in mind when communicating

– before making key decisions the Chinese are known to wait for a lucky day or consult the stars before hand.

– never write on a business card or put it in your wallet; use a small business card case instead

– allow the Chinese to leave a meeting first.

South Africa:

– metaphors and sporting analogies are often used to make a point

– deadlines are often considered fluid rather than firm commitments, so include delivery dates in contracts

– South Africans are friendly and affectionate, so don’t be surprised if you are slapped on the back or your hand is held in a sign of friendship.


– Hungarians are emotive speakers who say what they think and expect you to do the same

– expect small talk and getting-to-know-you conversations in meetings before business is discussed

– much eating, drinking and entertaining takes place before deals are finalised

– men should wear dark business suits with a white shirt and tie

– your business card should list your surname before your first name on the Hungarian side.

It may seem like a minefield but help is available. UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) is a government department that works with UK businesses helping to ensure their success in international markets. It has Language and Culture Advisers who will provide guidance and advice on communication, business etiquette and cultural understanding.

And if you’re looking for support when it comes to professional translation, Intonation can help. Whatever the country or culture you’re working in, our mother tongue translators ensure a word perfect translation service every time. Find out how Intonation can help by calling 01329 828438 or email