Tips for cross cultural business entertaining etiquette

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, as the saying goes. Wherever you are on business, there’s always an agenda behind business entertaining.

Some lunches and dinners are for relationship building. Others are for clinching the deal. Sometimes it’s appropriate to plunge straight into business talk and other times, doing so would cause great offence.  In high-context cultures like China, Japan and Latin American countries, value is placed on interpersonal relationships. The point of dining out together will be to build the relationship. During a meal, your counterpart will continue to assess you as a potential business partner, although business is unlikely to be discussed until much later in the meal. Lower-context cultures like Britain, Germany, Scandinavian countries, Canada and the USA value the task more than the relationship and are more likely to expect lunch or dinner to be working events, at which business is discussed after a limited amount of small talk.  So here are a few tips for cross cultural business entertaining etiquette:

Japanese drinking etiquette

Some cultures have special situations. In Japan, the masks drop after work in the bar and personalities emerge that may have been hidden in the very formal and regulated workplace. Drinking is seen as a way to relieve stress and visitors are expected to join in. The bosses, ‘joshi’, and their senior team members, ‘senpai’, invite their team, ‘buka’, for drinks and informal discussion. Although there is less rigidity in the Japanese workplace nowadays, these drinking sessions are still common, with the understanding that what goes on in the bar, stays in the bar. The following day, the masks are back in place.

Chinese etiquette of banquets

If business takes you to China, lavish banquets will most likely be thrown. Dining here is a cultural minefield but in a nutshell, don’t drink alone (wait for a toast); don’t jab at communal dishes with your chopsticks; and above all, leave a little on your plate or your host will feel obliged to keep filling it.

Russian vodka fueled business entertainment

Russians also enjoy extravagant entertainment, with plenty of alcohol and multiple toasts. Always wait until the host has made the first toast, after which the guests reply. While the long, drink-fuelled lunches and dinners of the past are seen as a cliché by many now, there will nonetheless usually be some vodka shots with each toast, and Russians are still, generally speaking, enthusiastic drinkers, so pace yourself.

The Finish sauna relaxation

If business takes you to Finland, do not be alarmed to be entertained in a sauna. To the Finns, this is perfectly normal. The purifying heat and the social nature of a sauna are believed to have a relaxing effect and as such, promote useful discussion, which is why a lot of meetings take place there. Wrap a towel around yourself if you feel self-conscious but try to avoid wearing a swimming costume. A session in the sauna will most likely be followed by dinner and drinks.

The etiquette of Saudi Arabian dining

Finally, in Arab countries, hospitality is absolutely fundamental to the culture. Most business entertaining in the Middle East takes place in hotels and prestigious restaurants. Alcohol is not served in Muslim cultures and you cannot ask for it unless your host does; nor should you expect to eat pork. Women may eat separately, which is not conducive to doing business. Eat only with the right hand and do not raise the subject of business; if this is going to happen at all, let it be led by the host once the meal is over.

About the Author

Sue Bryant

Sue Bryant is an award-winning writer and editor specialising in global business culture and travel.

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