Controversial kisses: Some important rules of international etiquette
When in Rome, do as the Romans, right? It’s important to understand, particularly when it comes to greetings, the appropriate course of action. Last year the ‘kiss on the cheek’ was met with some heavy scrutiny in Germany when one etiquette group reported receiving complaints that foreign workers were not abiding by workplace etiquette guidelines.
Apparently kissing on the cheek, let alone kissing on both cheeks, is too much for the Germans. A number of news outlets reported that, after receiving complaints a German etiquette society, the Knigge Society, requested a ban on kissing on the cheek when greeting a colleague.
I have to admit, I agree with the Germans on this one. I may greet friends with a kiss on the cheek, but I have never greeted a colleague with a good morning kiss. In France, the double kiss seems acceptable, but elsewhere abroad and in Canada (outside of Quebec where the double kiss is standard) it may be wise to stick with a handshake, or a simple hello.
While it’s not entirely clear if the Knigge Society actually suggested a ban (I don’t read German, so it’s hard to fact check), it does raise a point about understanding appropriate greetings when working abroad, or even in Canada.
Different cultures subscribe to different formal greetings. It is necessary to understand the variations of appropriate behaviour if or when you are working outside your country of origin. In Canada, offering to shake hands is the polite action when either introducing yourself or meeting with clients. However, some cultures refrain from shaking hands–to offer your hand is considered rude.
Here are a few greeting etiquettes that may be particularly different from a North American greeting:
Business cards are very important and should be handled with respect. When presenting a card do so with two hands. Never put someone’s card in your pocket or wallet. Try to hold cards in order of importance of the people you are meeting. It may be wise to invest in a small business card carrying case.
Make sure to shake hands using your right hand. The left hand is considered unclean, as it is used for hygiene. If you are a woman working in Saudi Arabia you may wish to wait until a male counterpart offers his hand.
Handshakes are the usual form of greeting. Make sure you have business cards with English on one side and Spanish on the other. Remember: don’t serve wine with your left hand. At dinner - don't eat anything with your hands - even traditional finger foods should be eaten with a knife and fork.
(In Mexico, on the other hand, it is considered silly or even pretentious to eat a taco with cutlery. Pick it up and dig in.)
Again, make sure your business cards are printed in English and Spanish. Hand a business card with the Spanish side facing up. Business may go at a different pace than in North America. This may be a welcome change for some. Go with it and remember relationship building is of great importance. Business dinners will start later in the evening than North Americans are used to 9:00 or 10:00 pm and may last into the wee hours.
Refrain from blowing your nose in public or at the table–it is considered rude. When dining, always accept a drink even if you’re a non-drinker. Toasts are very important, and you’ll need to have something in your hand when you’re host raises their glass.
Expect to drink alcohol at business meals - it is seen as way to establish a bond of trust.Vodka is not to be mixed with any other beverage, but must be drank neat.
Every country and culture has different expectations in regard to behaviour and etiquette. If working abroad be sure to brush up on appropriate dress and behaviour. Do your research before you go to avoid offending clients or causing an international incident. Just remember: when in Rome…
Have you ever experienced different cultural rules leading to an uncomfortable situation? Share your stories with us.
Category: Human Resources