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Top Tips: International Protocol Awareness

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Top Tips: International Protocol Awareness
Tel: 508-888-7800   E-mail: Judith Bowman

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For example, although handshaking is the standard form of greeting around the world today, different countries are known for different types of handshakes.  

In France- one to two pumps; 
In Latin and Arab countries - a limp, slow handshake.  
In Germany- one brisk pump,  
In Japan, a handshake and a bow.  

There are three levels of bows:  
15 degree,
35 degree and 
50 degree angled bow.  

The more senior the executive, the lower your bow.  

It is gracious to defer to another’s culture and tradition upon meeting.  We may recall President Bush respectfully holding hands in the Rose Garden with visiting dignitaries which surely facilitated good will.  

Or, more recently, President Obama’s faux pas when first meeting the President of Japan.  Someone no doubt told President Obama to shake hands AND bow however, clearly omitted the directive, “not at the same time.”  President Obama was seen in the press and on the airwaves shaking hands and curtseying to Japan’s President.  The Protocol people at the White House must have been asleep!  

Meeting protocol has its own set of considerations.  For example, if you are serious about conducting business in your target country, consider business cards with the same information printed in their native language, presented readable side up.  

Further, the only way you will get the overseas meeting is by enlisting the help of the mutually respected third party.  And, one should meet “level to level.”  Never send a junior executive to meet with a senior officer.  

  • Expect to visit two or even three visits before conducting business as you are being evaluated and trust is the issue.
  • Have an agenda.  You have prepared for an anticipated reactions and objections and are equipped to counter.
  • Stand in their reception area and resist the urge to open your briefcase, read, etc., suggesting that something else is more important.
  • Never bring anyone unexpected with you to your meeting.  

Top Tips on International Awareness
1. Sitting - do not expose the soles of the shoe; soles should face the ground. 

2. Hands- belong on the boardroom table, not in your lap.
3. Attire - Conservative is the word governing business attire the world over, regardless of gender. 

4. Tipping and Gifting: know who, what, how much, when and when not to tip and gift, and where. .. be careful not to over-tip or, out-gift!

5. Gestures all mean different things in various countries. Do be aware of gestures and their significance. 

6. Personal space- varies from country to country.  Please know that personal space, one’s “comfort zone” varies from country to country.  We may recall the unpleasant reaction when Mrs. Obama was seen touching the Queen of England!

7. Eye Contact: direct eye contact also varies from country to 

8. Eating unfamiliar foods considered delicacies in 
various countries is important.  Refusal can be 
highly insulting; eat it, but swallow quickly!
Finally, if you make a faux pas and we all do, it’s how you recover that is important. Your honest efforts and sincerity will prevail.
We are immersed in the most competitive business global climate in history which has created significant pressures on managers and executives at all levels.  It is imperative that professionals know and understand that other countries possess their own culture and traditions which differ from our own.   Awareness of and respect for other’s traditions can make or break a potential business alliance and getting it right the first time cannot be overstated.

If you are serious about conducting business, research your target country, and know cultures, customs and traditions. The business of international protocol is full of important nuances. Taking the extra step to educate yourself demonstrates respect and goes a long way in terms of being positively received.