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Doing business across cultures

By CNN's Tammy Oaks

Are you using the culturally appropriate form of greeting?
Are you using the culturally appropriate form of greeting?

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LONDON, England -- Business-etiquette savvy is not just good sense, it can also prove to be a deal maker or breaker in today's global marketplace as more cultures interact than ever before.

Though it is impossible to fully understand all the intricacies of other societies, it is worth learning at least the basics -- how to greet and address others, how to dress, how to handle business cards, personal space, eye contact, and punctuality to name a few.

First impressions are always important so showing cultural respect when greeting others is essential. In many western countries a handshake is the preferred greeting, but even differences exist there.

In Germany a firm, brief handshake with good eye contact is expected at introductions and departures while in Italy handshakes can be warm and spirited in business meetings. And in both countries it is customary to shake hands with everyone in the group upon entering and leaving, avoiding general group salutations.

Some cultures, such as the French, may kiss one another when greeting at work, but it is best to refrain from the behaviour unless they initialise it, extending your hand instead.

The Japanese often shake hands with westerners as a sign of respect and appreciate when westerners bow out of respect to their culture. Chinese may bow or shake hands.

In Saudi Arabia always shake hands with the right hand as left hands are considered unclean. Never extend your hand to a Saudi woman. And in Taiwan, western males should not initiate a hand shake with Chinese females.

Eye contact is essential in Australia, England, Germany, Italy, and the United States, for example, but it should be used with caution in Taiwan where prolonged eye contact is considered a hostile gesture.

Although time is treated differently amongst cultures, it is always in your best interest to be punctual. In Germany and Japan, arriving late is rude and unacceptable.

Don't be surprised, however, if you are kept waiting for a business meeting in Saudi Arabia, where punctuality is not of high importance.

In the U.S. and in Taiwan people are uncomfortable when their personal space is invaded, so it is recommended to stay about two arm's lengths away.

In Australia and England, an arm's length distance should be observed, while in France and Italy people may stand closer while talking.

Handle business cards in China with respect by reading it and then carefully placing it in a card case. Never place it in a shirt pocket or wallet immediately without examining it first. When distributing cards there, do so with two hands.

The safest guideline to follow for business attire is a dark suit and tie for men and a business suit or skirt and blouse for women. Avoid heavy perfumes or colognes and excessive jewelry. But it is always worth researching the attire of the country you are visiting.

Remember to wear good socks in Japan as you may be asked to remove your shoes during some business meetings.

When possible, learn a few words in the language of the country you are visiting as a sign of respect. And before you travel, contact your embassy to request briefing on business etiquette and cultural background.

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