Food is an integral part of a country’s culture – this is even more applicable in Taiwan where it is common to have four to six meals per day.
- “Have you eaten?” is a common way to greet someone. You’re not expected to reply truthfully. A simple yes is sufficient, no matter the reality.
- The exchange of gifts is very popular in a business context (just like everywhere in Asia). Food is a gift that is greatly appreciated, except if you are invited for a meal at your host’s house. In that case, don’t forget to remove your shoes at the doorway (just like in Japan).
- It is very important to excessively compliment the food when one is invited, and try to serve yourself at least a little bit of everything.
- You are permitted to raise your bowl to your mouth. You must refrain however, from taking something out of your mouth (for example a bone) and placing it on your plate. It whether needs to be put on a plate that is assigned for that or directly on the table.
- Never refuse when you are offered tea, and always participate when there is a toast.
- Conversations are important for your partner to get to know you personally so that he can trust you. Food is a subject that you can discuss, as well as sport, art and culture. Taiwan is particularly renowned for being rich in artwork and cinema productions. Political topics are to be avoided.
Here are five things to look out for if you are doing business with a Vietnamese partner:
- Whether on business cards or in a signature, the surname is always placed before the given name. When one addresses a Vietnamese person however, the given name must be used, preceded by Mr or Mrs or their title of preference. For example, Nguyen Van Tuan, the director of a company should be called Director Tuan or Mr. Director but never Director Nguyen (as in many other Asian countries). The same rule applies when speaking of someone.
- It is advisable to engage in written correspondence prior to meeting a partner. Correspondence should be written in a very formal style. Moreover, the younger the relationship, the bigger the emphasis must be on the format instead of the content. They should always end with an exchange of civilities and formal greetings.
- Your Vietnamese partners will expect to receive gifts during the first meeting. There should be enough so that each of the participants can have one. They can be small and not very expensive, something with a company logo for example. If the gifts are of different values, then the most expensive should be given to the most senior participant.
- The society has a collectivist nature and thus a Vietnamese could be embarrassed if he receives public praise because it alienates him from his colleagues. It is thus preferable to do it in private, in a diplomatic way and in the presence of an intermediary.
- The personal and social distance at which Vietnamese feel comfortable is much larger than in North America. In addition, they don’t appreciate physical contact.
Here is a five-point list of things to look out for if you do business with a partner from India:
- As in most Asian countries, India is a collectivist country. Maintaining harmony is essential in all negotiations and all kinds of confrontation should be avoided. Categorical and direct refusals are not well perceived.
- Indian society is also very hierarchical, higher ranking officials, in particular those who are older, are very well respected. Final decisions are made at this level.
- Permitted physical contact is limited and is condemned with someone of the opposite sex. Although the use of a handshake is widespread in a business context, a man meeting a woman should wait for her to initiate the gesture. In case she does not, it is recommended to abstain and to opt for a Namaste, the traditional local greeting.
- Gift exchange is very common in India. Giving alcohol is not very widespread, it is preferable to opt for sweets or corporate gifts. The gift should not be too expensive and the packaging should never be black or white.
- It is imperative to use your right hand when engaging in a handshake or to serve yourself food.
As in other Asian countries, business relationships are often based on trust and personal relationships. You will certainly be invited to eat with your partners a few times during negotiations. Here are some tips and advice on table etiquette.
- It is preferable to wait for someone to assign you a seat because there is a strict protocol for deciding who should sit where.
- As elsewhere in Asia, chopsticks are the utensils used for eating. It is essential to avoid pointing at someone or something with your chopsticks, stabbing your food with them or placing them in a parallel or crossed fashion on your rice bowl.
- Wait until the older people start to eat before you do.
- It is customary to finish ones plate. If you are offered a second serving, refuse it at first before accepting it afterwards if you wish.
- If an older person gives you a drink, you should accept it with both hands and drink it with your head turned to the side so that you aren’t facing him while drinking.
To help you maximise your meetings with Japanese partners and avoid offending them, here are five points to look out for:
- Never arrive at a business meeting looking casual. The Japanese place a lot of importance on appearance and it is imperative to always be well dressed (suit and tie), even when the weather is hot and humid.
- The exchange of business cards is much more formal and respectful (as in many Asian countries) than in the West. When you offer your card, it is important to do it holding the card with both hands, and to position it in a way so that the recipient can read it. The same etiquette applies when you receive a card. You must read it attentively, avoid putting it in your pockets and never write on it.
- The handshake is generally accepted and widespread during business meetings. If however, you wish to use the traditional greeting, remember that seniority is very important and that the gradient of the bow must be more pronounced and more repetitive the higher the rank of the recipients.
- Avoid saying “no”, which is considered too direct and could be badly perceived by some people. Instead, get into the habit of using phrases such as “this would be difficult” and “we will look into the possibility”.
- As personal relationships are a prerequisite, it is likely that they will want to get to know you outside of a business context, and thus you will be invited to go drinking or to do some karaoke with them. Go for it, participate! But remember, avoid drinking before the first toast “kanpai” is made, and above all, don’t refill your own glass.
Asian markets offer an unprecedented potential for Canadian products and services, but one cultural blunder could end any business relationship. The golden rule is to never assume that the norm here applies in Asia. Also differences exist within a continent. As we are entering holiday season, here are a few tips concerning the exchange of gifts:
- The value of the gift shouldn’t be too high as the recipient would feel obliged to give a gift of similar value, or would feel embarrassed for giving you a gift of lower value. If you receive a gift, don’t forget to reciprocate with a gift of similar value.
- Pay particular attention to the packaging, which is just as important as the gift itself and thus must be impeccable. In general, avoid black and white which are colours that signify bereavement. Remember that red packaging, which is highly thought of in China, should not be used in Korea.
- The number “4” has a similar significance to the number “13” in the West. It is thus essential to avoid packets of four.
- Certain objects should definitely be excluded. This is the case for all pointy items (knives, letter-openers). Also, one should abstain from offering gifts that tell the time such as clocks or calendars.
- If the person to whom you are giving the gift refuses to accept, you must insist. It is common practice and is a sign of politeness. In addition, don’t be surprised if the recipient doesn’t open it immediately in front of you.