PART 2: From Argentina to Zimbabwe: International Etiquette and Protocol Tips to Master the First Business Meeting

May 04, 2012  |     |   0 Comment

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

As noted in part-one, 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.

Part-one of this series brought us on a journey from Canada to Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt and  France. Today we will visit Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, India, and Italy.


Greet your German counterparts with a firm, brief handshake beginning with the eldest or highest ranked person in the room, and extending to everyone present, even children. Repeat the same gesture upon leaving. Address a colleague using “Herr” (“Mr.”) or Frau (“Mrs./Ms.”) followed by his/her surname, and wait to be invited to a first-name basis.

Because Germans are careful planners, punctuality is important. It demonstrates as much disrespect to be early as to be late—right on time is the way to go. Be sure to plan meetings, including lengthy telephone conversations, at least three weeks in advance. Meetings are generally held between 11am and 1pm or between 3pm and 5pm. Do not try to schedule anything on a Friday afternoon or during July, August, or December. If using a written letter to request a business interaction, be sure to compose the letter in German.

Business cards are exchanged without ritual, but it is a nice gesture to have your card translated into German on one side. Be sure to include your full position and title, and any academic or professional titles you hold. Think of the business card exchange as an opportune time to share as much information about your credentials as possible. At the end of a meeting or a presentation, it is common for Germans to signal approval or gratitude by rapping their knuckles on the tabletop, rather than applauding.


When meeting a Greek businessperson, a firm handshake will be expected of men; shake the hand of a woman less firmly. Shake everyone’s hand again at the end of a meeting. As for business cards, make sure one side is printed in Greek, and present the card with the Greek side up and facing the recipient. Give a card to everyone you meet, including the receptionist.

As previously mentioned, eye contact with the Greeks is quite strong, as they consider it a sign of honesty and openness, so it is imperative that the foreign businessperson maintain eye contact when conversing with their Greek counterpart. And although a handshake will suffice when meeting a Greek businessperson, the foreign visitor will occasionally see people hugging when entering or leaving a meeting. Visitors will not be expected to do the same, especially during the first meeting. At the beginning of a meeting it is common to offer the visitor a cup of coffee; asking for tea is not considered impolite.

Hong Kong:

Many people say that it’s impossible to be “too polite” in Hong Kong, as social etiquette is followed very strictly. While bowing is a sign of respect, most Hong Kong Chinese use rather light handshakes to greet Westerners. Visitors’ arrival may also be greeted by a round of applause, which should be returned to display mutual respect. When meeting your Hong Kong counterparts for the first time, the senior person on your team should formally greet the eldest or most prominent member of the Hong Kong team first. He or she should be addressed with his or her honorific title, such as “Doctor,” along with his or her surname.

Bring an ample number of business cards that are translated into Chinese on one side in an auspicious color, such as gold. The visitor’s title should be printed on the business card. Present the business card with both hands, Chinese side up, and always accept your counterpart’s card with both hands. When receiving someone else’s card, examine the card before placing it in a card case or the table. Never write on the card or put it in a back pocket.

Direct eye contact in the business setting is generally favored, but it is a show of respect to lower one’s head before an elder. In Hong Kong, physical contact in the business setting does not occur. The Hong Kong Chinese generally stand around an arm’s length from the other person. Never pat, slap, or put your arms around your counterparts. Body posture should remain formal, yet calm and relaxed to display a sense of self-control and attentiveness.


The most common greeting in India involves pressing two hands together at chest level—similar to a Christian prayer position—along with a slight bow of the head and the word namaste, which roughly translates as “I bow to you”. Since the word describes the action, some Indians will simply bow and will not say the word aloud. Sometimes Indians will greet you with a namaste­—the word, the deed, or both— followed by a light handshake, although the namaste greeting alone will suffice. Bear in mind that conservative Indian women will sometimes avoid physical contact with men in public; when greeting a woman, let her initiate the greeting.

Norms regarding personal space between Indians depend on their region and subculture. Hindus, for example, typically leave plenty of space—about three to three and a half feet—when conversing. Others are accustomed to less personal space.

You’ll find as a foreign traveler that locals frequently stare at you. However, in business situations, sustained eye contact isn’t common—particularly between men and women. During business conversations, eye contact should be held intermittently; look away or down every so often to break the gaze.

When addressing Indian counterparts, start by using the person’s academic or professional title—such as “Professor” or “Doctor”—followed by the surname. If the person you are speaking to does not have a title, saying “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” or “Miss” will suffice.


The concept of bella figura doesn’t just refer to dress in Italy—it encompasses your entire impression, of which manners are a big part. Italians take great pride in their manners, and will expect you to follow their social protocols. While it’s impossible to be aware of everything, it’s crucial to at least make an effort to display the elegant manners Italians appreciate.

Italian men and women commonly shake hands in business situations. The handshake should be firm and accompanied by direct eye contact and a friendly buon giorno (good morning) or buona sera (good afternoon or good evening). Women, and in certain regions men as well, will kiss each other lightly on the cheeks when greeting a friend or family member, and men may embrace lightly. When a man is shaking hands with a woman, the woman will often extend her hand first.

Italian is the language of business in Italy. Although many Italians are multilingual and may speak and understand French, Spanish, and English, it’s still a good idea to hire an interpreter if nobody on your team speaks Italian. This is a courteous move as well as a practical one.

Italians leave an arm’s length or sometimes less space between themselves and people they are conversing with. If you are from a culture that allows more personal space, try to avoid backing up; this may make you look cold and aloof. Expect a fair amount of touching during conversation, especially on the hands, arms, and shoulders. Maintain direct eye contact during conversation.

Stay tuned for part-three of this blog series where we will visit Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Russia and Spain.




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