When you do business on a global scale or just within a country there are many special cases when dealing with culture. Mailbox Germany enables you to shop and ship stuff almost everywhere and how the goods are presented is as important as the goods themselves.

Western Europe and Northern America

People in Northern America (mainly Canada and the United States) and Western Europe (UK, northern France, the Benelux countries, Germany, and much of Scandinavia) separate business and leisure. They keep their family, spare time, and often even hobbies and likes to themselves. This is not out of disrespect. They consider that business partners aren’t interested in family stories but doing hard business.

Even in informal situations like during Gamescom in Cologne, people often just shake hands to greet each other. (CC BY 2.0)
Even in informal situations like during Gamescom in Cologne, people often just shake hands to greet each other. (CC BY 2.0)

 

Of course, there are distinctive differences between nations. People in the United States are very encouraging and often cheerful when dealing with business partners. On the same page, however, they can turn into fierce negotiators.

People from Northern countries like Skandinavia, Iceland, and also Canada and parts of northern Germany are very polite and distant. Scots, Dutch or Danish on the other hand are often considered very direct and open.

Eastern Europe, parts of Southern Europe, and Russia

Especially in former Soviet countries, many people are a bit shielded when dealing with outsiders. Many countries like Poland, Czech Republic or the former Yugoslawian countries were often invaded. So foreigners are often associated with conquerors. Also many countries developed strong patriotic identities. Although the citizens know better today, foreigner stereotypes survive. So be at your best and be polite. National rivalries and patriotism are often hot topics better to avoid or at least not taken personally. Surprisingly enough, some foreigners like Frenchs and Germans in Southeastern Europe are even somewhat popular. Many former Yugoslawians are kind of fluent in French or German.

Status and rank is considered important in many East-European countries. (CC BY 3.0)
Status and rank is considered important in many East-European countries. (CC BY 3.0)

 

They also respect status. People with academic titles like doctor and professor or aristocratic titles are treated higher. This counts for some other countries like Poland as well.

South America, Southern Europe

Mediterranean countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy, southern France, and many South-American countries as well often mix personal and business-related things. Friends are often business partners as well and the family is incorporated into the company. They regard business as pleasure and dinner meetings often last for hours.

China, Japan, and Eastern Asia

Respect for the elders and higher-ranked people is dominant in these countries as well as the public face. You will not get criticized directly. Politeness and harmony is considered very important. Chinese or Japanese can seem distant at first but if you crack their outer shell they will be loyal and trustworthy business partners.

Formalities and ettiquette are very important in parts on Asia like in the meeting between Barack Obama and Yukio Hatoyama.
Formalities and ettiquette are very important in parts on Asia like in the meeting between Barack Obama and Yukio Hatoyama.

 

India, South-East Asia, and Polynesia

Indians are a very diverse people but their dharmic society revolves around cycles. So no harm is done for very long when you apologize and thus are seeking balance. This, as well as their joyfull and pleasurable business strategies can irritate people not familiar with Indian culture. However, there is a gap between people from tbe north and the south. Southern Indians as well as people from Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and so on are often looking for leisure and want to combine this with business. Why have money when you can have money and fun?

People from Muslim countries like Indonesia or Bangladesh can differ a bit and can be more serious (esp. regarding alcohol) but generally are as inviting and friendly as everyone else in this region.

Australia, New Zealand, and former colonies with indigenous people

When dealing with Australians (please don’t use the term Aussie) there are some specialties regarding the Aboriginies. Australia had a troubled past and up to the 1970s Aboriginies children were put into white families or foster homes so they could grow into the mainstream society. Even now the federal administration struggles with accepting refugees and migrants. Best avoid these topics and look for neutral ground like the beautiful landscape, magnificient cities, and amazing cultural accomplishments. Doing business with Australians is a mix of Western Europe (esp. UK) and Northern America (esp. US).

Haka - a traditional Maori dance presented to US dignitaries. New Zealanders are proud of their Maori people and heritage. (CC BY 2.0)
Haka – a traditional Maori dance presented to US dignitaries. New Zealanders are proud of their Maori people and heritage. (CC BY 2.0)

New Zealanders on the other hand are on very good terms with their indigenious people, the Maori. They are proud of the many Maori customs, even have the Maori language as a second administrative language besides English. However, they don’t treat this as a big deal so when dealing with them don’t make a big deal out of it. Also, while New Zealanders call themselves Kiwis it is seen as an informal nickname, so better refrain from calling them such.

Muslim women can attend business. In many countries with Muslim populations they even can be elected heads of state, as in the case of Benazir Bhutto in India. Still, many have to dress according to their country’s customs.
Muslim women can attend business. In many countries with Muslim populations they even can be elected heads of state, as in the case of Benazir Bhutto in India. Still, many have to dress according to their country’s customs.

 

Many other countries with a colonial past often have very delicate topics you better avoid. So while Mahatma Gandhi’s peaceful revolution in India or Nelson Mandela’s presidency in South Africa are often regarded as great accomplishments topics like the time of Apartheid in South Africa or slavery in the United States, are still kind of taboo.

Be prepared

In general, many countries treat visitors with great warmth and friendship. So get prepared for big meals, long talks, or visits from friends and family. Many cultures are very inclusive but often also respectful of the business friends of their fathers, sons, or uncles. Also, often enough you will face strong patriarchal ties when regarding business but on the same page strong positions of women when regarding the household. Especially mothers or wives are often to be treated with respect and dignity.

Still, the above descriptions are broad summaries and there are many exceptions. This advice is just a guideline not a manual.

Sources: image #1 CC BY 2.0 via Official GDC/flickr.com; image #2 CC BY 3.0 via Bruno Toič/Wikimedia Commons; image #3 is public domain; image #4 CC BY 2.0 via Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo/Wikimedia Commons; image #5 is public domain

Christian Allner
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Christian Allner

Freelancer at Schrift-Architekt.de
Your guy with a bachelor's degree, a passion for cooking, freelancing social media consultant, organizer of workshops and seminars for social media, Facebook marketing, and so on.

I have a neverending curiosity how things work. I'm involved with Mailbox Germany since 2014. Let us explore this world and its logistics!

Since 2011, I work as Schrift-Architekt, a freelance consultant for social media and for some time now I am an avid German podcaster with #Onlinegeister, radio about internet culture, social media, and PR.
Christian Allner
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