A World Guide to Good Manners

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  • Published : June 11, 2011
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A World Guide to Good Manners
How not to behave badly abroad
By Norman Ramshaw

Traveling to all corners of the world gets easier and easier. We live in a global village, but how well do we know and understand each other? Here is a sample test. Imagine you have arranged a meeting at four o’clock. What time should you expect your foreign business colleagues to arrive? If they are German, they’ll be bang on time. If they are American, they’ll probably be 15 minutes early. If they are British, they’ll be 15 minutes late, and you should allow up to an hour for the Italians.

When the European community began to increase in size, several guide books appeared giving advice on international etiquette. At first many people thought this was a joke, especially the British, who seemed to assume that the widespread understanding of their language meant a corresponding understanding of English customs. Very soon they had to change their ideas, as they realized that they had a lot to learn about how to behave with their business friends. For example:

o The British are happy to have the business lunch and discuss business matters with a drink during the meal; the Japanese prefer not to work while eating. Lunch is a time to relax and get to know one another, and they rarely drink at lunch time. o The Germans like to talk business before dinner; the French like to eat first and talk afterwards. They have to be well fed and watered before they discuss anything. o Talking off your jacket and rolling up you sleeves is a sign of getting down towork in Britain and Holland, but in Germany people regard it as taking it easy. o American executives sometimes signal their feelings of ease and importance in their offices by putting their feet on the desk whilst on the telephone. In Japan, people would be shocked. Showing the soles of your feet is the height of bad manners. It is a social insult only exceeded by blowing your nose in public.

The Japanese have...