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Business Meetings – Asian Etiquette

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Asian cultures are based on more ceremony and token displays of respect compared to those from other parts of the world. The Western approach is comparatively much more casual and involves rather more direct interaction.

Seniority, whether from age or from rank or even social standing is deferred to in a much more overt manner. While the shift today even in places like China is towards the Western way of conducting business, nations like Korea and Japan firmly retain their tradition of interaction. Other Asian countries like India and Sri Lanka have largely adopted the Western system of interaction.

Exact requirements and expectations differ between countries, between organizations and between individuals – the best approach is to contact someone from the other side who can advise you of the intricacies that are typical in particular situations.

Handshakes are becoming increasingly commonplace but a certain segment Japanese, Chinese and Korean organizations still include a nod or bow. It is polite to nod or bow back.

Introductions are rarely done with first names only. In conversation, stick with Mister, Missus, Madam, Miss or title (like Mayor) unless specifically invited to use another form.

The formality of business interactions largely eschews physical contact, even if a handshake is used at the beginning. Keep your hands to yourself.

Business should not be directly spoken of while dining, although indirect references are permissible.

There are frequent, occasionally boisterous toasts during some dinners. Partake in every toast. The first toast is usually made during or after the first course by the host. Sip your drink in acknowledgement. The guest should reciprocate the toast after the next course. It is considered impolite to refuse a drink. If you feel intoxicated, a small sip will suffice.

Do not finish all the food on your plate – it is customary for the host to keep refilling guests’ plates and so is considered rude. Leaving food is a gesture of appreciation for your host’s generosity.

Burping and slurping are acceptable during the meal. Bones and seeds should be placed on the table, never the rice bowl. If you are using chopsticks, never tap them on the table. Place them neatly on the table when finished.

If you are hosting the dinner, order one dish per person at the table and one additional one. The host pays for everyone.

Gifts are a customary part of the asian business dinner experience – give them in the order of seniority, which is the order in which they are introduced to you. A large gift from your company to theirs is also recommended.


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