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Class, Good Manners & Different Traditions

Our grateful thanks to the following for the examples shown:

Steve Botts * Rachel Claus * Malcolm Green * Frank Holas * Heidi Hynden-Niediegh
Gary Johnson * Ellen Lekatz * Larry Mond * Scott Perry * Ray Robinson * Perry Taylor

Be respectful of business cards, both yours and the person you are exchanging cards with. This is particularly important with Japanese folks.  It is best to have your cards in a holder and in a shirt pocket rather than in a briefcase. You then want to present it with both hands holding the top corners. You can watch what others do here also to help you. Then, make sure you do not just put a card you receive in a pocket or briefcase. You will notice that the Japanese actually will spend some time studying your card.

In the United States, Britain and most Western countries, men should remove their hats (including baseball caps) when attending church services, at funerals and during the singing of the national anthem.  Unfortunately this simple act of courtesy is often ignored, especially by younger people, and it does cause offense to many.

A gentleman never wears a hat inside a building, and a guest who walks into someone's home wearing a hat is considered a buffoon whose parents did a bad job of educating their offspring - for it rarely rains inside a house!

I heard this one on National Public Radio years ago.   The French are not rude.  They just believe that anyone who smiles a lot is an idiot.  If you want to relate to the French, smile with your eyes, do not grin with your mouth.

In England the day after Christmas Day is called Boxing Day (December 26th).  In Victorian times this was the day when every child was expected to put one of their Christmas presents into a box to be given to the local Church to be distributed anonymously to the poor children of the Parish.

In Germany a gentleman stands behind a lady on an escalator going up, and in front of her on an escalator going down - just in case she stumbles.  (It is also a lot more fun for the gentleman!)

The gesture that many Americans think to be universal to indicate "OK" or "I agree", or "Great" which is a hand sign that employs the fingers spread with the tips of thumb and index finger forming a circle, is an obscene gesture in many countries, notably Brazil and Southern Europe.   

When doing business in London, it is OK to drink yourself silly at lunch (as long as your business partners are doing the same thing), but if you fall down and black out afterwards, you are of course less likely to accomplish your goals than if you had managed to stay upright.

Some interesting things to consider if travelling to Africa. I spent some time in rural Zambia and noted that: Women can walk around  with their breasts exposed but do not expose their legs in public. Men typically wear shirts even in the hottest weather, for it is perceived that you are very poor (can't afford a shirt) if you go shirtless.

Do NOT bring wine to dinner at the home of a French person; such an act is thought to evidence a lack of confidence in the host's wine choice.  Flowers are more appreciated.  

I think the most important thing when honoring guests from foreign countries is to accept and understand the differences.  Do not simply react to something just because it is different to what YOU would do.  

In most Muslim Countries and India, you should not eat with your left hand or shake hands with someone with it. That hand is typically used for potentially unsanitary reasons. It is embarrassing to find this out the hard way.

When in Scotland please remember "Scotch" is the drink and "Scots" are the people.

Here are some of the differences I have personally experienced between Norwegian and American cultures:  

  • Norwegians are for the most part dressed in business casual at work, and dress up more formal when going out for dinner.


  • In Scandinavia, if served Aquavit, do not drink it as a shot - even if it is served in small shot-glasses - just take small sips.  

  • In Scandinavia, cheeses like Mozzarella and Monterey Jack are sliced with a cheese slicer; do not cut it with a knife.  


  • In Scandinavia, unless someone else gets up; be seated until dinner is over. Only "Mingle" AFTER dinner.


  • Norwegians never ask for a "doggy bag" at a restaurant.

The Dutch find the English and American telephone manners to be very rude.  It is not only polite, but standard in Holland (and most of Northern Europe) for a caller to begin by stating who they are.

"This is (my name).  I would like to speak to..."  And not just "Hello, can I speak to . . ."

I hear comments about the rudeness of my friends calling from England or the USA all the time. Even those I deem to be educated and polite people, seem to always manage to offend the Dutch, simply by not mentioning their own name at the beginning of the conversation.  It simply isn't done!

Never take white lilies to an English Lady or white chrysanthemums to a Japanese Lady - they are the flowers of death and will not be seen as a compliment.

In Western Europe Peacock feathers inside a house, or opening an umbrella inside a home, is believed to guarantee bad luck for the owner of the home.

Shooting off firecrackers on New Year's Eve is the Chinese way of sending out the old year and welcoming in the New Year.  On the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, every door in the house, and even windows, have to be open to allow the old year to go out.

Letting an Arab see the soles of your shoes is an unforgivable insult.

Making the sign of Peace (forefinger and middle finger open in the shape of a "V") is fine in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, as long as your palm is facing outwards - if you put the back of your hand towards the person or people you are communicating to,  - then you are achieving the same result of an American giving someone "the finger".

In the Philippines when you are introduced to your host's children offer your hand back upwards, should the child touch your hand to their forehead, you are expected to say "Bless You".  Not to do so is considered rude.

You might also be interested in an article on the subject of Etiquette
for Business & Formal Dining we published.  Click below to access it.

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