As technology and communications develop it is becoming easier to develop businesses globally as well as nationally. With this comes the necessity to communicate with businesses and customers from different cultures.

We’ve compiled a list of 10 tips to avoid blunders and succeed in international etiquette.

1.  Ambassadors

Although some members of the royal family do an exquisite job at representing Britain there are those who are less astute at knowing what is politically correct.

Don’t follow Prince Philip’s actions and put down the country you visit. Although his stomach curdling one liners are good for a laugh, they should be learned from too, it is unlikely you’ll get off scotch free if you make the same remarks in a business transaction.

2. Gestures

When the ‘OK’ gesture used in the UK and US and by underwater divers was used on packaging by a company it had to recall its products when it emerged the sign was very offensive in South American countries.

Other tips, don’t show your palm when waving in Greece; it’s considered incredibly rude.

Don’t point at objects or people with you feet in Asia; it’s considered bad luck.

 3. Rudeness

Rudeness is judged differently in different countries, refusing a  drink or small gift can be very insulting in certain cultures.

Telephone rudeness on the bus might annoy you but many Brazilians answer phones in mid conversation. You might find this rude, but it’s not thought of as rude in Brazil.


4. Gift Giving

In China gifts are given in business meetings as well as holidays, birthdays and dinners. Shia La Boueff’s character in Wall Street Money Never Sleeps shows off his international business etiquette by offering Chinese business clients gifts at the end of the meeting.

Just remember, the most senior person should receive the most expensive gift and never give the same gifts to people of different positions.


Gift giving

5. Colours

The infamous brown UPS  trucks had to be repainted for use in Spain due to the resemblance of the country’s hearses.

Just because it works for one country doesn’t mean it will work for all. Check customs and if your brand colours mean anything negative in that culture then be sure to contemplate a colour swap.

6. Language

When ‘Tiz’ razors were exported to Qatar from Iran the product was not doing well, it was discovered that tiz in arabic is slang for buttocks. The razors were quickly rebranded and received a far better reception.

Be sure to translate brand names and check meanings with local groups before exporting.

7. Flags

A flag is imbued with a nation’s pride and history, an easy way to rile up a country is to show its rival’s flag.

This blunder happened at the London 2012 Olympics when North Korea’s women’s football team were introduced with their neighbouring and bitter enemy South Korea’s flag  shown. A country with such tense relations was of course deeply hurt by the mix up and terribly offended, resulting in the game being delayed by over an hour.

Hint; with flags always check which way up the flag should go.


North Koreans shocked at South Korean's flag

 8. Literacy

Most Bushisms come under this heading, for example-

“Well, I think if you say you’re going to do something and don’t do it, that’s trustworthiness.” Wrong again George Bush!

The chances are you won’t make slip ups like this, but If you have to give a speech make sure someone reads it  through, just in case!


9. Using revolutions to aid your marketing campaign

Kenneth Cole used the Arab Spring to further exposure for his fashion line. His tweet making light of the events in the Middle East was condemned on Twitter and didn’t earn him any good publicity. Don’t use other’s misfortune to your benefit!

10. Religious Customs

Different cultures and religions have different rules about physical interactions between men and women. A handshake might be typical in your business, whilst a bow might be more appropriate abroad. If you are conducting business in a religious country it would be wise to check their customs with respect to men and women so as no one gets offended or surprised by a rejected handshake.



Can you think of any great international business blunders? Or, how to over come them? We’d love to hear from you @clothes2order


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One Response

  1. Heather

    _10 tips for Excellent International Business Etiquette | Clothes2Order Printing and Embroidery Blog_ was a wonderful article and
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