When in Rome, do as the Romans do. If the Romans come to you, figure out what offends the Romans and avoid doing it.
You’re in business. Business – first and foremost – is now and always has been about people connecting with other people. As the age of information shrinks the world smaller and smaller with every tweet and Facebook update from Boliva to Sudan, it is more important to know the etiquette, protocol, and sensitivities of your potential business partners.
Here are a few examples of mistakes to avoid when doing business with people from different cultures.
Talk to the Hand
In January 2005, a Norwegian newspaper ran the bold headline “Sjokkhilsen fra Bush Datter” – translated to mean “Shock Greeting from Bush Daughter.” As part of the second inauguration of her father, President George W. Bush, Jenna Bush traveled to Norway and – while on stage in front of a group – flashed the symbol of pride for her alma mater, the University of Texas and their mascot, the Longhorns – a closed fist with the pinky and index fingers sticking up.
This perfectly innocent gesture – seen not just at UT football games, but at every rock concert since forever – meant something very different to the northern Europeans she was addressing, as well as to most of the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and part of South America. She unwittingly either accused much of the world of cheating on their spouses and/or associated herself with devil worship.
Jenna Bush obviously didn’t mean to offend, but that’s not the point. The point is, every culture on the planet uses hand gestures, and none of them mean the same thing. Find out what to avoid and, if possible, avoid hand gestures altogether.