Global Business or How To Use The Silverware

by Markus Brinsa


You are planning your first business trip to Southeast Asia? You scheduled meetings in Japan and Korea? You know that this will be challenging because of the cultural differences. Therefore, you attend a seminar to learn about bowing to someone correctly and and the Asian way of exchanging business cards. You also hear about local dress codes and you learn a few Japanese or Korean words to show respect to your business partners. You might learn how to use chop sticks correctly, too.

No doubt about it, being prepared for the cultural and business differences in Asia is absolutely mandatory.

With this in mind, what’s about your first business trip to Europe? Are you preparing yourself in the same way, looking into the differences in business mentality and culture before leaving?

I guess, you won’t … but you definitively should.

Are their similar difference in business culture in Europe as in Asia? Indeed! The differences might not be that obvious but they exist and it is highly recommended to be aware of it.

A simple example. The way of using silverware is different in America and Europe. Let’s assume that you ordered a steak. In America, you cut off pieces of the beef, put down the knife and use the fork to eat it. In Europe, you never put down your knife. You keep it in your right hand (or left, if you are left-handed). You use it to cut the beef but also to push side dishes on the fork.

Little difference in using silverware, huge impact on the mark you leave.

While the European way of using cutlery might be understood as discourteous in the US, the American way cause irritation in Europe. Using fork and knife simultaneously during the entire course, is a 101 of cultivated manners in Europe.

Going overseas is the beginning of doing international business. Going international, many American companies start their European activities in Great Britain.

“Doing business in the UK is easy, they speak the same language.”, is a common argument. Is this really true?

Separated by a common language

Of course, you will understand each other if you talk or exchange emails. The problems start if you try to sell a software product with US-English user interface and manuals in the UK. “Color” instead of “Colour” will cause confusion as well as “sizable” instead of “sizable”.

But it is not only the spelling that makes the difference.

Before an adjective, American “quite” means “very”, while British “quite” means “somewhat”. If your are “quite tired”, British will direct you to your bed. On the other hand, if a Brit refers to a restaurant as “quite good”, you should look for something better.

Be careful with meeting schedules.British time-telling differs from American in several ways. Not only because of the 24-hour clock that causes confusion to Americans who haven’t served the military.“Half-eight” to mean 8:30 provides a pitfall, not only for Americans but also to other Europeans where it would mean “half way to eight”, which is 7:30.

And there is another interesting difference. If you talk about “toilet”, you are referring to a piece of porcelain.For the British, it is a room that also contains that particular piece of porcelain. So, if your British counterpart tells you that she stuck in the ladies‘ toilet, don’t offer her a towel and a hairdryer.

When in Rome, dress like a Roman

Business dress codes in Europe slightly differ from country to country but there is one general rule: You must be well-groomed and neatly dressed.The jeans or khaki and short-sleeve polos that rule Silicon Valley’s conference rooms will not cut it in Europe.

A well-cut, dark suite is a safe bet in every country. Tie is a must in the UK, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany but it’s not very common in Scandinavia and Finland.

You always wear knee socks in a color corresponding with your suit. Regular socks that allow a view at your calves when you sit down or cross your legs are frown upon.

Sneakers are a no-go in business, even it they are black. In Europe, shoes are a very important part of people’s attire and they spend a lot of money on business shoes. A couple of hundred bucks for a pair of shoes is very common. And I am not taking about women’s Manolo Blahniks or Christian Louboutins only.And forget about rubber soles; men and women are wearing leather sole shoes.

October Fest - German logic

It is nice to combine a trip to Europe with a stop at world’s largest beer fest, the October Fest in Munich.Before you schedule your trip, be aware that the October Fest starts in September and it traditionally ends first Sunday in October.

Finally - and going back to the United Kingdom again - if you are ordering a steak in a British restaurant, don’t be surprised to receive a butterfly-cut, 0.3in thin piece of beef on the plate.

Learning the nitty-gritty helps to be successful in a foreign country.




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