Asian Culture 101: Tips For Your Next Business Trip To Asia

Asian Culture 101: Tips for Your Next Business Trip to Asia

When talking about cultures or business etiquette, Asian countries are often grouped together. However, it is not necessarily true that cultures or ethnicities in the same region of the world share the same traditions or values. While there are some similarities in history and culture across Asian countries, each country and the way its people conduct business is unique.

The most important thing to remember is to respect everyone you meet. If you don’t know the right thing to say or do in a business or casual setting, ask rather than make an inaccurate assumption and insult your hosts.

Showing that you are interested in learning and adhering to their standards is one way to show respect. However, even if you can’t learn or adapt all of the traditions of these many countries, here are some key things to remember when traveling for business.

Japan

In Japan it is common to bow when meeting someone new. However, your hosts may be familiar with Western traditions and offer to shake your hand. Be prepared for either or both forms of salutation and follow your host’s lead. To properly bend, keep your back straight and hands at your sides. Refrain from putting your hands in your pockets or crossing your arms. As in American culture, this is a sign of boredom or disinterest.

Business cards are a bigger deal in Japan than in the United States. When you are presented with a card, accept it with both hands and read the card. This shows respect and care for the card and the person who handed it to you. If you are seated, leave the card on the counter or on your card tray. Do not push the card into your pocket or bag. It’s best to keep your own cards in a nice case so they won’t be bent or dirty when you hand them over.

Avoid:

  • Point with your fingers or any objects, such as chopsticks or pens.

  • This is not familiar and could be considered rude.

  • Pointing out someone’s mistake. Always respect your hosts and business partners.

  • being late. In fact, you should be 15 minutes early.

China

Just as you would in America, give a firm handshake when meeting someone for work. Similar to Japanese culture, business cards are a big deal. Give and receive cards with both hands. If possible, print your information in Chinese on one side and in English on the other.

Patience and proper follow-up are very important in Chinese business culture. Important decisions are not made quickly and you should prepare for longer meetings and speeches. You may also be asked to speak but keep your remarks short and avoid “taking over” the conversation. Follow up after the meeting with an email highlighting positive points and decisions, but don’t be overly obtrusive with your feedback.

Business is frequently conducted over meals. Learn how to use chopsticks and where to put them when eating. It is best to put it back on the stand rather than in or on top of the bowl or plate. If a second meal or meet-up is required, offer to host.

Avoid:

  • being late. Be on time, early if possible.

  • Talking loudly or fast. Match your host’s tone.

  • Boycott holidays or ignorance of superstitions. Respect for tradition is important.

  • Pointing with your shapes or other things.

India

Lucky for Americans, English is the most common business language in India, although Hinduism is widely spoken in other regions of the country. Greet your host by saying “Namaste” with your palms in front of your chest. Offer a slight bow or nod of the head.

Nodding is often a sign of understanding rather than agreement. Be careful not to confuse the two when speaking in business meetings.

Just like in China, be mindful and respectful of the holidays. In the Hindu religion, holidays can last more than a day or two, so plan your trip accordingly.

Avoid:

  • Shaking hands, especially with women, unless the host extends his or her hand first.

  • Refuse food or drink at the meeting. Accept what is offered so as not to cause offense.