International Trade

Saunas and karaoke: Business customs from across the globe

5 min read

17 September 2018

Deputy Editor, Real Business

Each country has a different, yet remarkable way of conducting business – and if you get them wrong, your meeting could be over before it has even begun.

“Brits are renowned for taking work very seriously,” LondonOffices.com CEO Chris Meredith has said. “We have one of the longest working weeks and spend on average around 81,000 hours or the equivalent of a full nine years of our lives at work.

“But this almost pales in comparison to some other countries, who have strict business protocols that should always be adhered to out of respect.”

It was in reference to the company’s most recent research, which highlighted the remarkable customs businesspeople tend to follow across the world.

You’ll never have seen some of these customs coming. Business in a sauna? The expectation of doing karaoke? What about napping in the office?

Let’s take a trip and see how the rest of the globe behaves in the office.

Ingrained in culture – from hot tubs to time off

Hot-bath negotiations are the norm in Finland. According to LondonOffices, “an affinity for saunas is deeply rooted in the culture”. In fact, it is said that the practice is so widespread that many large companies have them in the office!

“French workers pride themselves on maintaining a clear distinction between work life and personal life,” Meredith explained. This led to the advent of an initiative allowing staff the right to ignore work-related emails sent after working hours.

The “right to disconnect”, is what it’s called, and it applies to companies with over 50 employees.

Napping, on the other hand, is a common occurrence in Japan. It’s even seen as a sign of employee diligence. And in Egypt, meetings are never scheduled for Fridays.

Restaurant etiquette – be prepared to drink

When you’re meeting someone for a meal in another country, there are various aspects to keep in mind. Brazilian business lunches, for example, take place past 14:00. It may not seem different at first, but they tend to last for three to four hours.

If you ever do business in South Korea, be prepared to sing! Dinner is often followed by karaoke. And in Hong Kong, the most senior member of staff should be offered a seat at the head of the table during any meeting or business dinner.

Never handle food with your left hand in India as its considered unclean, and prepare to drink thoroughly in France.

This was suggested by Glassdoor’s head of international product, Tico Andrea, who claimed your wine glass will never be empty. It will also be “a long and formal experience, through which you need to keep your hands on the table, not on your lap.”

Don’t forget those business cards!

Because Japanese businesspeople regard the business card very seriously, you must always accept a card with both hands and take time to study the information before putting it away. 

A lot of European countries have a much more relaxed approach, but even the Italians have two business cards – one for business and another for personal information.

Watch the way you talk

Germans believe that the more straightforward you are, the better. So, it’s wise to remain serious. Meanwhile, in the US, you’re expected to introduce yourself, explaining who you are, what you do and what you hope to achieve by meeting them. You’ll make a better impression by being factual and using simple words.

Canadians also prefer a direct style of communication. Stay clear of a “hard-sell” approach though, Glassdoor said, as it could be mistaken as aggression.

Russians aren’t fans of small talk and Australians swear in the workplace.

“Ba**ard is frequently used as a term of endearment,” Glassdoor’s Andrea explained. “Similarly, the Dutch sometimes come across as over-confident or rude. That’s because they are very honest and open, having been taught to share their opinions from an early age.”