Cultural differences

Cultural differences

Business today is international. Business people have to travel a lot. On a business trip people may meet colleagues and business partners for the first time. It is usual for colleagues from different countries to experience cultural differences. In other words, they may be surprised by foreign social conventions, that is the different ways that other nationalities or different cultures do things.

The Japanese have perhaps the strictest rules of social and business behaviour. Seniority is very important, and younger man should never be sent to complete a business deal with an older Japanese man. The Japanese business card almost needs a rulebook of its own. You must exchange business cards immediately on meeting because it is essential to establish everyone’s status and position. When it is handed to a person in a superior position, it must be given and received with both hands, and you must take time to read it carefully, and not just put it in your pocket! Also the bow is a very important part of greeting someone. You should not expect the Japanese to shake hands. Bowing the head is a mark of respect and the first bow of the day should be lower than when you meet thereafter.

The Americans sometimes find it difficult to accept the more formal Japanese manners. They prefer to be casual and more informal, as illustrated by the universal “Have a nice day!” American waiters have a one-word imperative “Enjoy!” Another example is that American executives sometimes signal their feelings of ease and importance in their offices by putting their feet on desk while on the telephone. In Japan, people would be shocked. In America, the main topic between strangers is the search to find a geographical link.

Britain is an island – a fact not changed in anyone’s mind by the construction of the Channel Tunnel – and it has not been successfully conquered for nearly 1,000 years. For this reason, Britain and the British remain deeply individualistic. The British are cool and reserved. The great topic of conversation between strangers in Britain is the weather – unemotional and impersonal. But British prefer silence to long talks so when you have not opened your mouth for three years, they will think, “This man is quite a nice fellow”.

There are many differences between people from different countries. For example, if you have arranged a meeting at four o’clock, you should expect your business colleagues from Germany to arrive bang on time. If your colleagues are American they’ll probably be 15 minutes early. If they are British, they’ll be 15 minutes late, and you should allow up to an hour for the Italians.

The British are happy to have a business lunch and discuss business matters with a drink during the meal; the Japanese prefer not to work while eating. The Germans like to talk business before dinner; the French like to eat first and talk afterwards. Taking off your jacket and rolling up your sleeves is a sign of getting down to work in Britain and Holland, but in Germany people regard it as taking it easy.


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