From Argentina to Zimbabwe: International Etiquette and Protocol Tips to Master the First Business Meeting

April 30, 2012  |     |   0 Comment

Did you know that people form 90% of their opinion of you in the first few seconds of meeting you?  It is important to be aware of this fact as you never get a second chance to make a first impression.  Style and form play a major role in successfully conducting business worldwide.  Introductions and greetings are an important element of the style and form so important in your interactions, no matter where your business takes you.

This blog is a three-part series that will take you on a global journey.  This journey will help prepare anyone doing business abroad master introductions and greetings at their first meeting.

Today’s blog will start in Canada and then take us to Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt and finally, France.


In order to master a business meeting abroad, it is important that we first understand the business customs, etiquette and protocol within our own country.

Canadians usually shake hands upon meeting and departing. Handshakes should be firm and accompanied with strong eye contact. In Quebec, kissing on the cheeks is also a common form of greeting. Older French Canadian men may kiss a woman’s hand in greeting; foreigners should not repeat this gesture with French Canadian women. Men should rise when a woman enters or leaves the room.

Canadians tend to be more formal than Americans when it comes to titles and modes of address. Always use last names and professional titles unless invited to address a colleague by his or her given name. Western Canadians may be less formal about this, while those in Ontario will be more so.

Canadians prefer to keep a good deal of personal space between themselves and others, and will not touch frequently while in conversation. In Francophone Canada, people tend to be more animated in conversation than in Anglophone Canada; interruptions are common and should not be taken as a sign of rudeness. In Quebec, it’s considered rude to talk with your hands in your pockets or sit with your legs apart.


A handshake and a nod are polite when meeting someone; friends and acquaintances sometimes embrace and kiss on the cheek. Upon first meeting your counterparts, greet the eldest or most prominent member of their team first. Say goodbye to each person individually upon departure. When business cards are exchanged, no particular ritual is required, though printing business cards with one side in Spanish is a polite gesture, as is taking a moment to examine a counterpart’s card upon receiving it.

Argentines include a great deal of body language in their communication, and they will notice a visitor’s nonverbal cues as well. Visitors will wish to note, for example, that standing with hands on hips, arms akimbo, looks to an Argentine like anger or a challenge. Similarly, foreign visitors will wish to monitor their levels of eye contact, with some advised to make more eye contact, and some less. The right amount of eye contact for Argentina depends on the context: eye contact on the street could be interpreted as a pick-up attempt, whereas eye contact in a meeting conveys confidence and trustworthiness.


A firm handshake is the most common form of greeting in business. Australians are not physically effusive; touching is usually minimal except among very close friends. However, after reaching a certain level of familiarity, some Australians will exchange kisses on the cheek when greeting, especially in the more relaxed setting of a social occasion. Visitors are not advised to initiate this practice, but don’t be surprised if you find your colleague kissing you on the cheek. When conversing with colleagues, direct eye contact is received as a sign that you are fully engaged in the conversation.

While lead executives are the final decision-makers, they often consult with subordinates before making a decision—and everyone is given a say. Because Australians value egalitarianism so highly, it’s best to treat everyone you meet, even lower-level employees, with equal respect.


Brazilians stand closer to each other than North Americans and Western Europeans are used to—one to two feet apart is normal. Westerners often unconsciously try to widen that distance, but be aware that this is seen as unfriendly by Brazilians, and should be avoided. Light touching is frequent during conversations, and is seen as a sign of friendship—not romantic interest.

During conversation, direct and sustained eye contact is preferred—it communicates sincerity in Brazilian culture. Brazilians make eye contact even in public places, such as on crowded buses and streets. Unlike in many North American cities, eye contact between strangers in public places is not considered intrusive.

Businesspeople in Brazil shake hands in business situations. Once they have met once or twice, women will kiss both other women and men on the cheek—usually once on each cheek. Men may embrace briefly. When meeting someone for the first time, it’s considered polite to offer a muito prazer (my pleasure).


Egyptian men will usually greet each other with a kiss on both cheeks, but foreign businessmen will only be expected to shake hands with their male Egyptian counterparts. However, they should only shake with the right hand, because the left hand is considered unclean. If greeting an Egyptian woman, the foreign businessman should wait for her to extend her hand first, and if she does not, a polite nod of the head will suffice. It is also of the utmost importance for men to maintain direct eye contact with other men, because this is seen as a sign of openness and trustworthiness; however, men should only maintain minimal eye contact with women. It is also common in Egypt to greet someone with the customary “As-salaam aleikum” (“Peace be upon you”), to which the appropriate reply is “Wa aleikum es-salaam” (“And upon you be peace”).

After greetings and introductions, it is common to exchange business cards, which should have one side printed in Egyptian Arabic. Present your card with your right hand, Arabic side up. It is courteous to study any business card that you receive before putting it away. In order to not commit any breach of etiquette, it is important to understand Egyptian body language. Men in Egypt have a tendency to stand quite close to other men when conversing, which might seem like an invasion of personal space to some visitors from cultures that value more personal distance. However, do not back away, as this will be seen as unfriendly and a sign of rejection. Also, be prepared to be touched a lot by people of your same gender while conversing; once again, even if this makes you uncomfortable, it is important to accept it in order not to be rude.


Business greetings are formal in nature. A medium-firm handshake and brief eye contact are most appropriate. Greet everyone in the room when arriving and leaving. Address your business associates by their family names and honorific titles (Monsieur or Madame) until invited to do otherwise. French contains formal and informal modes of address: address your counterparts politely as “vous” (“you”). Colleagues who have worked together for a long time use the less formal “tu” (“you”) once they are invited to use given names. However, even once invited to use a business associate’s given name in private, revert to the more formal address in public.

Present business cards to the receptionist upon arrival to an office and to each person you are meeting with. The cards can be in English or French or both, and should include formal academic degrees or titles.

Sit up straight in your chair with legs crossed at the knee, or knees together. Do not yawn, stretch, chew gum, or place your hands in your pockets in public. Slapping your open palm over a closed fist is considered a vulgar gesture, as is pointing, and the “OK” sign made with the index finger and thumb means “zero” in France—the French use a thumbs- up gesture to convey that all is well.

Stay tuned for part-two of this blog series where we will visit Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands and Russia.


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