Unaccustomed to customs

China Red Envenlopes

If you are lucky enough to travel, and for expats in Saigon reading this, I will assume this applies to you, a little local knowledge can save a lot of embarrassment. Some countries have their own take on business etiquette, dining and table manners and what is and is not considered appropriate gifts. Here’s a few to get you started, I’m sure there are many more.

In Japan, chopstick etiquette is important. It is considered simply rude to point using your chopsticks. Stabbing food is not good either. Also when taking your piece of sushi or sashimi of a shared plate, use the blunt end of your chopsticks to pick up the food. In Egypt always resist the temptation to add salt to your meal. It is an insult to your host, your are basically saying ‘this food is so bad I have to smothered the taste’. In Norway they are an extremely polite bunch. They always use cutlery no matter what they are eating. Even a sandwiched will be cut into small pieces and picked up with a fork.

In Venezuela you can cause insult before you even get to the dinner table. It is considered polite to always arrive 15 minutes late. Arriving on time or God forbid early, makes you look too keen or greedy. This is probably why no Thai has ever upset a Venezuelan. Anyone who has spent time in Thailand knows how late they can be. Strangely, they think that it is 7 o’clock right up until it becomes 8 o’clock. Thus arriving at 7.55 for a 7 o’clock date is acceptable.

Then there are the dos and don’ts of gift giving around thfe world. In Russia flowers are normally just associated with death, turning up with a nice bouquet for your host, might not get the reaction you were looking for. In China too, don’t give flowers. Mind you in addition don’t give don’t give clocks, handkerchiefs and straw sandals. These too, all point to death. It is considered unlucky to give any sharp item as a present in Holland.

The rules are confusing and it is always worth doing a bit of local research before visiting another country. Finally if you get invited to a business dinner at an associates home in Finland, it is quite normal for them to invite valued guests, friends and family to join them in a sauna. This is an indication that the dinner has gone well and your business plan is likely to be accepted. Mind you an invitation to get naked with your host’s wife anywhere in the world, normally means that things are going your way.