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International Business Etiquette

It is undeniable that the key to booming success in business is to tap into and retain as many resources as possible. These resources are all over the globe, embedded in an endless variety of cultures. That is why it is essential to be well-informed about international business etiquette. Respect and understanding build strong, lasting networks. On the other hand, a cultural faux pas, no matter how innocent, can be an utter deal-breaker. While it is a savvy business practice to understand the customs of any country on the agenda, there are three trading powerhouses to note that the US conducts the most business with: China, Canada and Mexico.

Within the last year, China may have surpassed the United States in international trade volume. They have a deeply family-oriented culture that is rooted in loyalty and respect. Therefore, it is crucial to acknowledge the host by their family name and title until invited otherwise. The family name comes before their individual name. If they hold a political or professional position, they will often be referred to by that title – a mayor named Li Wei would be Mayor Li. Stay focused on courtesy, modesty, and patience in dress, speech, and gestures. Punctuality is vital as tardiness is considered a grave insult. A handshake, nod, or slight bow are acceptable ways to greet a host. If they offer a business card, accept with a small bow and read the contents to show respect. Sharing a meal before conducting business is a Chinese custom, so be prepared to observe proper meal decorum. Chinese law mandates that a family can have no more than one child due to the swelling population, so steer clear from discussion that might venture into this sensitive topic.

Promptness, modesty, and sincerity are highly regarded when conducting business in Canada. A firm handshake and confident eye contact both before and after a meeting is customary: it lends to the trust building that is valued in this country. While English is the primary dialect of Canada, French is predominant in the province of Quebec. A socially conscious gesture would be to offer business cards that include a translation of both languages. Upon receiving a business card, make sure to visually acknowledge it before tucking it away. Canadians are reputed to conduct business in a succinct and organized manner, so it is best to be thoroughly prepared ahead of time. Focus on being forthcoming and honest in communication as deception is deeply frowned upon in Canadian culture.

In Mexico, there is generally a strong awareness of hierarchy in all spheres of life: respect given escalates with rank and seniority. This is true for personal, familial and business relationships. Therefore, a high-level executive should accompany the initial business meeting and be introduced first. Greetings can occur with a handshake. However, Mexicans tend to stand closer than Americans are accustomed to, so it is essential not to express physical discomfort as that would appear rude. Although American culture favors getting straight to business, Mexican businesspeople may find such an approach rude and forceful. Often, the first meeting will not be business-oriented, focusing instead on establishing trusting and amiable relationships. Questions may be personal, revolving around personal history, family, and interests. Try to be open and honest. In-person interaction is vastly preferred to emails or phone calls. Mexican culture does not hold firm to rigorous scheduling and punctuality as Americans do, so expect an open-ended business timeframe. Paper documents, including business cards, should be distributed in English and Spanish. Basic Spanish pleasantries such as por favor (please), gracias (thank you) and hola (a formal hello) are sure to impress beyond just communicating through a translator.

The global economy is abundant with opportunity for those willing to discover and respect the cultures within. Below are international business etiquette resources to explore:

Top Ten Countries with which the U.S. Trades

Business Etiquette Tips for International Travel

International Business Etiquette 101

China Becomes the World's Leading Trader

Competing Across Borders: How Cultural and Communication Barriers Affect Business

How Does Culture and Language Influence Business Etiquette in China and the US (PDF)

Expert Etiquette Tips for Doing Business in China

Chinese Etiquette and Protocol

Cultural Insights on Doing Business in China

Canada (A PDF Except from "Negotiating International Business - The Negotiator's Reference Guide to 50 Countries Around the World")

Professional Travel in Mexico (PDF)

Mexico Accepted Public Behavior

Doing Business in Mexico

International Etiquette 101

Master the Art of Global Email Etiquette

Conference Etiquette

Business Etiquette Guide

The Dos and Don't of Foreign Business Etiquette