Deal or meal?
Your meeting is scheduled. You are under pressure to build the relationship that will make or break your deal. The venue chosen by your prospect is a restaurant / coffee shop / hotel dining room. “You don’t eat in meetings. You don’t drink in meetings – not even coffee…ask for water!” The words of your sales trainer, mentor or coach ring loud…
In reality, most cultures believe it is well-mannered, generous and even ‘essential for bonding’ to invite a stakeholder to ‘break bread’ whilst discussing business. Every culture has its distinct customs and traditions. But in order to succeed as a global entrepreneur, we have to know more about the cultures of our stakeholders. There is nothing that can impress more than knowing and demonstrating the local etiquette.
People genuinely take an interest in someone who takes an interest in their culture and beliefs. So finding out all you can, will show that you embrace your differences. Take time to explore the language, the history, and ensure you are dressed in a culturally respectful way. These fundamentals are important, but nothing blows a deal like not knowing the table etiquette of your prospect’s culture.
In Japan, you are advised not to stick chopsticks upright in rice. During funerals in Japan, the rice bowl of the deceased is placed before their coffin … with their chopsticks upright in the rice. In Chile, don’t eat with your hands—even finger foods like French fries eaten using your hands will offend your client. In the Middle East, India and parts of Africa, don’t eat with your left hand – don’t even let it touch your plate – it is considered dirty for reasons not detailed here. In China, don’t flip the fish. You may be used to flipping over a whole fish once you’ve finished one side, don’t —especially not in southern China. That’s because flipping the fish is dao yue in Chinese, a phrase similar to “bad luck.” Either leave the bottom part untouched, or pull off the bone itself to get to the bottom. One “rule” that seems easy to follow: never turn down vodka in Russia!
Best advice if you are not prepared – try to schedule the meeting in an office.
What cultural faux pas have you made and learned from?
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