PART 3: From Argentina to Zimbabwe: International Etiquette and Protocol Tips to Master the First Business Meeting

May 14, 2012  |     |   0 Comment

Today’s blog is the final piece to a three-part series that 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.

So far, our journey has taken us from Canada to Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, India, and Italy. Today we will visit Japan, Mexico, Russia, United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe.


Greetings are formal and ritualistic in the Japanese workplace. While bowing is an integral part of Japanese culture, and it is used when meeting, showing gratitude, getting attention, expressing sympathy, and apologizing, foreigners are not expected to understand the delicate nuances of this display of respect. When meeting your Japanese counterparts for the first time, the senior person on your team should wait for someone to formally introduce him or her to the eldest or most prominent member of the Japanese team first. S/he should be addressed with his or her honorific title, such as “Doctor,” along with his or her surname. Offer a handshake and slightly bow or nod your head to the other person.

Bring an ample number of business cards that are translated into Japanese on one side. The visitor’s title should be printed on the business card. Present the business card to the Japanese contact using both hands with the Japanese side facing up. Always accept the Japanese card with both hands, and examine the card before placing it in a card case or on the table. Never write on the card or put it in a back pocket.

It is a show of respect to use indirect eye contact when speaking with Japanese elders or professional superiors. Modesty and fitting in are the keys to success in Japan, so visitors should attempt to mirror the body language of their counterparts. In Japan, there is almost no physical contact in work settings. Japanese colleagues generally stand about 2 1/2 to 3 feet apart from one another. Stand up straight, and keep your body posture formal, yet calm and relaxed, to display a sense of self-control and attentiveness.


Mexicans greet business visitors with firm handshakes and direct eye contact. Handshakes are typically accompanied by a formal, warm greeting and introduction. Friends and close acquaintances will often exchange a kiss on the right cheek or hug each other. Visitors should greet each person individually, upon both arrival and departure. The senior person on the visiting team should always greet the most senior or eldest person on the Mexican team when meeting counterparts for the first time. Titles are important in Mexico, and contacts should be addressed by their professional or honorific titles. For example, an architect would be called Arquitecto, while an attorney would be called Abogado. If someone doesn’t have a title, he or she should be addressed as Señor (Mr.) or Señora (Mrs.), until you are invited to move to a first-name basis.

In Mexico, business cards are usually exchanged during introductions, and visitors’ business cards should be printed in Spanish on one side. Always present the card to your Mexican counterpart with the Spanish side up when exchanging cards, and be sure to include your business title and any professional or honorific degrees on your business cards. You may notice that many Mexican business cards, especially those of government officials, will only have the person’s name and title, but not his or her contact information. This is done so that he or she will not be used as an unauthorized business reference.

Physical contact in the Mexican workplace occurs frequently, and the personal space between others is closer than many visitors may be used to. Arriving thirty minutes after the stated time to an appointment is considered on time for locals, but visitors should always be punctual.


When you are first introduced to a Russian businessperson, shake hands firmly and maintain direct eye contact. In Russia, one does not smile while shaking hands. A Russian businessman will wait for a foreign businesswoman to extend her hand before extending his. Russians typically shake hands again at the end of the meeting. Never shake hands over a threshold—many Russians believe this will lead to disagreements later on.

Business cards are very important in Russian business culture, and should include your formal job title and any advanced degrees. Bring enough business cards to give one to every Russian contact you meet. Your Russian counterparts will be very pleased if, as a courtesy, you print your business cards in Russian on one side and in the language of your home country on the other. Hand your card to your Russian counterpart with the Russian side facing him or her.

In terms of personal space, Russians tend to stand two or three feet apart. In business meetings, very little physical contact is made apart from handshakes at the beginning and end of a meeting. In a business setting, many Russians tend to remain poker-faced. Their facial expressions become more animated in social settings, however. Likewise, physical contact (back slapping, hugs, etc.) is more common at social gatherings.

United Arab Emirates:

When exchanging greetings in the United Arab Emirates, it is appropriate when men greet other men to shake hands. Be aware that handshakes can be prolonged, and etiquette dictates that you wait for the other person to withdraw his hand first. If a man is greeting a woman, he should wait for her to extend her hand first; if she does not, a polite bow or nod of the head will suffice. For foreign businesswomen, it is also advisable to wait for a man to extend his hand first before shaking hands. Foreign businessmen should not be taken aback if their male Emirati counterparts holds their hands while walking to a meeting, as holding hands among men is quite common, and does not have the same connotation as it does in Western countries. But whatever your gender or the gender of the person holding or shaking your hand, make sure to only use your right hand for greetings, as they will, because in the Emirates the left hand is considered unclean. Of course, if your counterpart is a non-Muslim foreign national, etiquette will differ, so it is best to follow your counterpart’s lead in the greeting process.

It is also important for men to maintain direct eye contact with other men, because in the Arab world, this shows openness and trustworthiness. However, men should only maintain minimum eye contact with women. Business cards, which should have one side printed in Arabic, should be presented with the right hand only, and with the translated side up. And although it is expected that you will inquire about someone’s health and family, foreign businessmen should never ask about a Muslim man’s wife or daughter(s), as this would cause great offense. On the other hand, as a foreign visitor, you may be asked personal questions about your personal wealth, marital status, children, and religious affiliation. If you feel uncomfortable answering any of these types of questions, it is acceptable not to go into detail, but you should still respond, even if only with a vague answer.


Business greetings will vary depending on your contact. Some Zimbabweans will offer formal greetings, while others will offer hugs. However, the customary greeting is a right-handed handshake. When Zimbabweans want to show additional respect for another person, they place their left hands on their right forearms during handshakes.Elders and superiors are revered in Zimbabwe. Most Zimbabweans try to avoid direct eye contact with superiors or respected individuals.

Zimbabweans place great importance on professional and educational titles. Address your counterpart with his or her formal title at the beginning of the relationship, and always wait to be invited to move to a first-name basis.

Business cards are exchanged during initial introductions, and you can display respect for your counterpart by accepting his or her card with both hands. Keep your contacts’ business cards in view throughout the meeting.



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