By Ilona Kauremszky

Q: How can I be certain I am doing the right thing? My boss is finally letting me go on a business trip after being with the company for five years. I really don’t wish to disappoint. He’s got me ready to visit China and Italy in the next couple of months. Any tips are highly appreciated. Many thanks for all your suggestions.

A: Learning the mores of different cultures is always important so much so that overlooking these finer details when it comes to conducting business could often lead to losing the deal. Both countries you will be visiting have unique aspects about them. I recall attending a business conference in China.

Chinese business persons are very big on handing out business cards at first glance so be sure to stock up on them. They also like to have you the VIP sit at the banquet table beside the host. Observe where the host sits as the middle chair is normally reserved for them and wait to be seated. Often times there will be live music and entertainment at high decibel levels so you need to be prepared for loud discussions. Be mindful on using chopsticks correctly too. Never stab food with it and don’t leave them crisscrossed on your plate or bowl. Rest them on the chopstick rest or on the table.

In Italy, depending on the region business could be handled differently. In northern Italy like Florence, Florentines enjoy a long lunch first then get down to the matter at hand. Never discuss business during a meal! Breakfast meetings are almost unheard of. Dress is important too and a finely cut dark suit with appropriate shoes can go a long way. If you’re not sure on what to do, follow your host’s cue and should you have others present also closely watch their behavior.

Two web sites worth checking out on business etiquette in foreign countries include and Executive Planet provides tips from corporate experts from a variety of countries. For China, it’s Peter P.W. Chen, a senior business management consultant based in Shanghai. For Italy, Helen Burgess, senior director of a management training consultancy offers business tips. reports that conducting business in China is formal. “Relationships in China are very formal. Remember, when doing business you are representing your company so always keep dealings at a professional level. Never become too informal and avoid humour,” it states. For conducting business in Italy, the business travel etiquette web site states, “Good manners and courtesy are prized qualities in Italy.”


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