Take, for example, a simple greeting. In France, when entering a room, even if someone is late and the meeting is in full flow, they will greet everyone in turn. The British are more likely to ‘just slip in’ and try to not interrupt the flow.
They may then apologize at a convenient moment, typically a pause or the first time they would like to contribute to the discussion. Many countries use the basic handshake where people will clasp each other’s right hand.
However, there are many variations on even this simple gesture. It is customary for Muslim men to shake hands and hence touch their chest in front of their heart.
People in some countries bow to each other; in others they embrace. Other nationalities not only embrace, but kiss each other on the cheek (in Britain once, France twice, Spain three kisses, Russia six!) although regional differences also apply in the same country. Convention dictates which cheek to start the sequence with” In Russia, shaking hands through a doorway, or giving someone even number of flowers (this practice is reserved for the dead, as is kissing on one’s forehead), or whistling indoors, is considered inauspicious.
Chinese are the masters of multi-course dinner and will keep refilling your dish. To stop the flow, leave some food in your dish to indicate that your host was so generous, you could not possibly finish when invited for dinner by a Saudi businessman, a number of dishes are served.
The guest is supposed to taste every dish. If he does not taste any dish, it is inferred that the guest did not like the food. Koreans meal table overflow with a large number of dishes and so much of food is left over that millions of tons of food have to be thrown out each year.
Japanese drink soup mainly for breakfast, whereas in the US orange juice is taken for breakfast. In France it is positioned as refreshment. Indians take milk in breakfast, but Australians can drink milk any time.
In Japan, Johnson & Johnson discovered that their sale of baby powder was not enough and the reason identified was that Japanese mothers felt that powder will fly around and get their small homes dirty. The company started offering in flat boxes with powder puffs so that the mothers can apply it sparingly. Americans use talcum powder after bath, but Japanese adults do not use it at all, as it will make them dirty again.
All these refer to distinctive habits. Myths and legends must also not be ignored. A candy company launched peanut-packed new chocolates for teenagers but realised very soon about the Japanese elderly ladies’ saying that eating chocolates with peanut can cause a nosebleed. While designing houses in India VAASTU (like Fang Shui of China) cannot be ignored. Apart from myths and legends, various populations have created wishful stereotypes of themselves that must be considered when creating imagery.
For this reason, advertisements in the US typically depict individuals who are somewhat younger and thinner than the majority of people toward whom the product is aimed at. In Germany, there has been an idealisation of tall Nordic type, who is actually no taller than the average Pole, Frenchman or Dutchman.
While initiating negotiations, Asians and Arabs put emphasis on past events using words like ‘food’, ‘clothes’, ‘art’, and ‘religion’. Whereas Westerners focus more on present with an eye on future mentioning ‘values’, ‘beliefs’, and ‘behaviors’. It is an insult to ask the host about the health of his spouse or face your host with the soles of your shoes in Saudi Arabia. In Korea, both hands are to be used while passing any object. North Americans and Europeans, most often present a business card informally, between two fingers.
They may turn the card over and take notes on the back. In Japan, a business card is an extension of the person to be handed over carefully and respectfully, with both hands. It is laid on the table and only put in one’s pocket or written on, after the meeting is over and the guest is gone. In China, it will be great embarrassment if one party to a business relationship failed to bring a gift for the other. Gifts need to be small, locally not available. But large gifts will just prove embarrassing to the host.
Chinese consider opening the gift in front of the giver as rude but not French. ‘Russians traditionally negotiate by moving the discussion upward through the organisational hierarchy. Sellers who offer major concessions early in the process are likely to lose a lot of money, or may not make the sale at all. ‘Box 4.2 lists protocol ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ for some European countries seen from European perspective.
After successful negotiations, in the US, it is acceptable for a boss to present his secretary roses to express appreciation; in Germany, and India, such an action would be taken as a sign of romantic attachment between the two and thus inappropriate.