When travelling for business, it’s vital to avoid faux-pas that can show you and your company in a bad light. The wrong hand gesture, or inappropriate eye contact could risk disruption to a potential deal, or even just cause bad feeling between your employee and their host or colleague. To keep awkwardness to a minimum, we’ve compiled 25 of the most common cultural differences business travellers come across, along with how to avoid them.
25 essential cultural differences for the business traveller
25 ESSENTIAL CULTURAL DIFFERENCES FOR THE
When travelling for business, it’s vital to avoid faux-
pas that can show you and your company in a bad
Here are 25 of the most common cultural differences
business travellers come across, and how to avoid them.
#1 Avoid making eye contact with people on
London tubes, but smile if you do so
accidentally. Also, when walking between
trains, stand on the right hand side of
escalators to allow people to walk by on the left.
#2 In southern Europe it’s not
considered rude to stare at
people, and in Italy it is
customary to stare back.
#3 Avoiding direct eye contact is
considered rude, or a sign of
weakness in the United States.
#4 In some parts of Asia, prolonged eye
contact can make people
uncomfortable, even in business
#5 In Germany, breaking eye contact
during a toast is considered to be
BODY LANGUAGE AND PHYSICAL
#6 In Thailand, touching another
person’s head is incredibly
offensive, even if they are a
#7 Avoid backslapping in Asian
countries such as Korea, as it can
#8 Physical contact during conversations in Spain and in
some parts of the Mediterranean is incredibly common
and not considered an intrusion, but in Asia and the Middle
East, it can be. If you’re unsure, observe the behaviours of
others and respond in kind.
#9 Open palms are an insult in Greek
culture. Be careful to avoid waving,
high fives and making open-handed
gestures when presenting.
#10Greeks can be very loud and intense in
conversation, so don’t assume you’ve given
offense during a business discussion, even
if offensive language is used.
#11The ‘thumbs up’ gesture is considered
extremely offensive in large parts of
the Middle East, but is a sign of
approval in the
US and Western Europe.
#12Pointing with your forefinger is
considered rude in Indonesia. Also,
if you want to pass someone
something, avoid using your left
#13People from the Middle East
or other Arab nations such as Egypt
prefer to talk with little ‘personal
space’ between them and the
#14In India, nodding your head does
not mean ‘yes’, a ‘yes’ is a head
wobble moving your head from
side to side.
#15When sitting in Thailand or Japan,
do not cross your legs or point
your feet towards the other
person, as this is considered
#16In Mediterranean and Middle Eastern
countries including Bulgaria and
Albania, a single upwards nod of the
head indicates refusal.
#17In most of Southeast Europe, a
shake of the head means ‘yes’.
#18In China, Russia and many
parts of Africa it is uncommon
for people to speak during a
meal, as the food is the focus.
#19For German and many UK
restaurants, a bill on the table
signifies the end of the meal. Staff
will not bring it unless it is
#20Pouring soy sauce on your white rice is
considered rude in Japan. In China, you
are more likely to find vinegar and chilli
oil on the side of your table than soy.
#21Do not leave your chopsticks crossed when
you put them down, always rest them side by
side. Also, prepare to use them properly and
do not use them to spear your food as you
would with a fork.
#22In cultures where food is commonly still eaten with
hands, such as India, Morocco, Africa and the Middle
East, touching food with your left hand is considered
highly offensive – always use your right hand even if
you are left handed. Always eat from the part of the
dish nearest to you.
#23In Scandinavia, wearing clothing to a sauna or steam
room is considered offensive, as nudity is much more
accepted as part of daily life. The same is true of a Turkish
bath or hammam. In both cases, it is also best to avoid
talking unless someone else starts a conversation.
#24Yellow is a colour reserved for
royalty in Malaysia, avoid
#25In China, a red tie or
dress will make a good
impression as it is considered
a lucky colour.
Cultural differences aren’t the only risks your business travellers face when they’re
abroad. Itinerary management can help you plan, avoid and minimise risk for your
To find out more, click here to download
our ebook on itinerary management for corporate
travel risk and duty of care.