Doing business isn’t always easy; couple that with the fact that sometimes you have to do business in a cultural context you don’t know anything about. You may wonder how to navigate cultural taboos and ensure that your business etiquette is on par depending on where you are. Should you give two kisses, or maybe three, or a handshake? Should you avoid eye contact? Is it better to be early or right on time?
The answers to all these questions vary from country to country, which is why learning about business etiquette is so important. Read this guide to better get a hand on business relationships, how to address people, punctuality, greetings, dress, negotiations and communication styles in EMEA. Europe, the Middle East and Africa are culturally totally different so it’s important to know what to do and what not to do when traveling there for business.*
Business etiquette across EMEA
So you’re about to get going on a business trip to the UK, Germany, France, Morocco or Israel? What must you know to avoid commiting a cultural faux-pas? Well, for starters get ready to have a caffeine rush in Morocco because serving mint tea demonstrates hospitality. In the UK, did you know resting your elbows on the meeting room table or desk is a taboo? In Germany you’ll want to plan ahead because appointments are generally a must and should be made with 1-2 weeks’ advance notice. In France, pack your patience because in most cases business is conducted slowly, and in Israel, plan on arriving on time even if “Israel time” may run 10-15 minutes late.
So it’s time to do business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, how do you ensure you forge lasting business relationships without stepping on anyone’s toes? Knowing what a business relationship looks like in every country you do business in will help ensure that you don’t commit any no-nos.
Business relationships in Germany
Unlike other Mediterranean countries,Germans don’t require a relationship to do business. However, they will be curious about how long you have been in business and your credentials. They are more formal in their relationships, and knocking before entering is highly recommended, as is following established protocol in order to maintain business relationships. Be careful about making open-ended promises and displays of emotion, which can make Germans suspicious of you or the company you are representing. When you finalize a deal or a decision be sure to get it down on paper as they will want a record of both decisions and discussions as a backup.
How to handle business relationships in France
The French may be slightly more laid back when it comes to business than their German counterparts, but nonetheless you should definitely plan on making appointments 2 weeks in advance whether by telephone or by email, depending on the position the person you are meeting has. Normally the French meet to discuss issues and make decisions after the fact, not on the spot. Don’t try to schedule a meeting in July or August as many French go on holidays during this period. Avoid being overly friendly as the French will be skeptical of this behavior. They also tend to compartmentalize their business and personal lives.
The pillars of business relationships in the UK
Business relationships in the UK are founded on respect, politeness, discipline and punctuality. That being said, personal relationships are not as important as in Mediterranean countries, but they do prefer working with a friend of a friend to initiate a business relationship, which makes networking key to doing business in the UK. While business culture tends to be less hierarchical than in the rest of Europe, it still has an impact on decision-making as decisions tend to be made from the top down. That being said the process doesn’t happen overnight and a careful analysis of the budget must be carried out before signing a big deal. When making a presentation be sure to back up your presentation with facts and figures as British people tend to make decisions based on facts rather than emotions.
Moroccan business relationships are forged by personal relationships first
In Morocco business etiquette is such that first comes a personal relationship, then comes a professional one. They may be weary of you at first but once you establish trust, you will go a long way like in other Mediterranean cultures. Decision-making is mostly top-down with employee participation being limited if not close to nil, and can be lengthy with several rounds of negotiations necessary to close a deal. As a former French protectorate, they still have many business practices as a remnant of French domination.
Keep it cool in Israel
Israelis are direct and assertive in their negotiations, there’s no beating around the bush so to say. Because of the mix of cultures and religions, doing business in Israel is a mixed bag. The directness makes negotiations fast-paced, but being a Mediterranean culture, they can also be very laid back and informal at the same time. It is common to mix business with pleasure in Israel, socializing after work meetings and outside office hours. There is a very much “get things done” attitude rather than sitting around getting lost in formalities. So keep it cool.
Greetings & how to address people
A handshake? A kiss? Two kisses or maybe three? What to do when you meet someone for a business meeting and how should you address your new potential client? Get a handle on greetings and how to address people in EMEA.
Business greetings in Germany
Germans tend to lean to being more formal, meaning that greetings are formal too. Unlike Southern Europe, Germans prefer a quick, firm handshake as the traditional way of greeting business associates. Be aware of titles as they are very important and help you show respect, and use them with the person’s last name until they tell you otherwise, i.e, use Herr or Frau + the person’s title and their last name. When faced with a group make sure the person in charge introduces you before you introduce yourself, and then proceed to shake hands with everyone in the room.
While friends normally greet each other with two kisses starting from left to right, in terms of business etiquette, it is more customary to shake hands. You should plan on addressing people you are meeting with by saying ‘bonjour’ or ‘bonsoir’ (good morning or good evening) with the title Monsieur or Madame followed by their last name. Don’t use first names until you have been asked to.
How to greet in the UK
Like France and Germany, business people in the UK greet each other with a handshake whereas friends may greet each other with one kiss on the right. Make sure your handshake is not overly strong, just a light friendly touch. Address people you are meeting with by their title and last name, i.e., Vice President McCarthy or Mr. Jones. Upon leaving make sure to shake hands again. As a general rule, British people are reserved at first but are quite friendly once they get to know you and start doing business.
Greetings in Morocco
In Morocco business etiquette among business partners and colleagues of the same sex, it is most common to give a light handshake, but then after your business relationship has grown, you might exchange two kisses starting with the left and followed by the right while shaking hands. Men customarily only do this with men and women with women. In the case that it is a man with a woman, the woman should extend her hand first, otherwise a man should bow his head to greet her. Start by greeting everyone to your right and then go around the room to greet everyone from right to left. Don’t jump right into business, first take the time to talk about families and general topics before getting down to business. When it’s time to go, be sure to say a special goodbye to each person before leaving as is customary to do so.
How to greet in Israel
Handshakes are customary at business meetings in Israel. Never use your left hand as for Arab Israelis the left hand is considered unclean. Business encounters while seemingly direct and cold at first glance can quickly turn tactile. So don’t be surprised if you all of a sudden get a pat on the shoulder as it’s not a faux pax in business etiquette in Israel. Be polite and use a person’s title and last name until instructed otherwise.
Punctuality varies from country to country. Did you know that in Japan it is considered just as rude to arrive too early as late? This is why it’s important to know the rules of the country you are conducting business meetings in so you avoid any mishaps.
Be punctual in Germany
Germans are known for their punctuality. Arrive on the dot for your business meeting as even arriving just a few minutes late can be considered bad form. Ideally you should arrive 5 to 10 minutes early for important appointments. If you must arrive late for any reason, make sure you call to inform.
France has a casual punctuality policy
French people tend to be relaxed about punctuality and it is not a huge deal if you are a few minutes late. If you arrive more than 10 minutes late, be sure to call ahead of time. Punctuality can differ from North to South and you will find that people in Southern France may be even more casual about punctuality.
Don’t be late in the UK
The Brits are all about good manners and being on time is about showing good manners and respect towards your colleagues or potential business partners. Being late is considered rude in business so do your best to respect the clock, and inform in due time should you need to arrive late for any reason. While some Londoners might run late for meetings, don’t let that affect your own timeliness.
Israelis have a flexible definition of punctuality
Israelis tend to be quite flexible about punctuality and you may find that higher executives might arrive even up to 15 minutes late for meetings. Ideally you should be on time and inform if you are arriving late. Try not to be any later than 30 minutes.
Punctuality is relative in Morocco
When it comes to being punctual in Morocco business etiquette says that punctuality is not all that important. The important thing is to attend and participate in the meetings, if you arrive a little late, no one is going to hold it against you. Although, ideally arrive on time, but be prepared to start late and for meetings to go over because meetings rarely start and end on time.
How to dress
Dress may not be a big deal in some cultures, but generally speaking dressing to impress is important both psychologically speaking and to generate a good first impression. Degrees of formality will vary from country to country, so let’s take a look below.
Air on the conservative side in Germany
When dressing for a business meeting in Germany go understated, staying away from ostentatious jewelry or accessories. Less is more, and when in doubt lean on the conservative side. Men should prefer dark conservative business suits and women should wear business suits or a business appropriate dress.
Go understated in France
The French are known for style and for that reason when going for a business meeting, be sure to dress stylishly but understated at the same time. Favor high quality accessories over fashion jewels, and women should wear a classic business suit or elegant dress. Men should go for a dark-colored suit for the initial meeting and keep in mind the company you are meeting with whether they are casual or air on the formal side.
UK business attire
Business attire in the UK depends and can be less formal in some business areas and more formal in others. If you have a meeting with a more conservative or traditional company, be sure to wear a suit and tie and women should be well-dressed as well using a nice dress, or a blouse and slacks.
Be culturally appropriate with dress in Morocco
In Morocco be sure to dress culturally appropriately. That means for women not wearing a short dress or skirt and staying away from flashy accessories. The general rule is to cover your knees and weather-permitting wear long sleeves to cover arms. Men should also air on the conservative side for business attire with a nice suit and tie.
Israeli business attire is informal
Doing business in the desert has its perks. It’s ok to go casual when it comes to dress code. Business etiquette is all about being casual yet being well-dressed. Linen suits are a good choice for men, a formal blouse for women and dressing modestly is advisable to be culturally aware. For first meetings, favor dressing up over dressing down to make a good first impression.
Business is not conducted equally in all countries and for that reason it’s important to know the do’s and don’ts of the countries you are conducting business in. For example, some countries will require several meetings before signing a deal whereas others get right down to business.
In Germany stick to protocol
Germans are rigid in negotiations which means it is very important to follow the protocol. Stick to a strict agenda in any meeting held in Germany and make sure you respect the starting and ending times. Try to stay away from small talk and get right down to business. When contracts are signed they are strictly followed and being very detail-oriented, Germans will want to understand each point in the contract, point by point.
The good news is usually when a decision is made, they will not change their minds. Be sure when you’re negotiating to avoid being confrontational or pressure your counterparts, this will work against your potential to win the client over. Be formal and respect the bureaucracy, and most likely the decision makers will be higher management so give them time to make decisions.
Be ready to debate and support your opinions in France
In France, it’s important to be quite formal when it comes to negotiations, ensuring that you make direct eye contact when you are speaking. Instead of using high-pressure sales tactics, use a logical presentation style that clearly explains the advantages. The French will appreciate your ability to debate and demonstrate your knowledge. Nonetheless, they are likely to carefully analyze all the details of a proposal and make informed decisions in a thoughtful manner. So be sure to formalize agreements in a precise, comprehensive contract.
In the UK don’t underestimate the power of listening.
A fair deal in the UK is generally made by reaching common ground, which is why it’s important when you’re negotiating a deal in the UK to understand what is most important for them. Be sure to weigh out all the possible options and questions beforehand so you go prepared to negotiate. Most decisions will be made from the top down so it’s important executives understand what the benefits of your proposal are and why you are better than the competition. Don’t underestimate the power of listening. This is why you may want to take notes and practice active listening so that you are sure not to miss anything and you can better catch the bottom line.
In Morocco decisions don’t come around easily
It’s important to keep in mind that in Morocco, decisions are carefully thought out, which means decisions won’t be made from day to night, and don’t try to rush them. This also speaks to the fact that Morrocans favor long-term business relationships, so it’s more about a marathon than a race. That being said in Morocco bargaining is a way of life so be prepared for a little haggling. Don’t expect to close a deal on the first visit as negotiations can take a while with Morrocans being strong negotiators.
In Israel persistence is key
Israelis tend to value long-term relationships and win-win solutions, which focus on long-term benefits. Be persistent and be prepared for a tough and competitive negotiation style. Be sure to be logical if a dispute arises but also be willing to compromise as compromise will go a long way. Be patient and offer creative solutions, which will win you brownie points when negotiating in Israel.
Learn more about how to get more out of your job and conduct business meetings more effectively
*Sources: All content was reviewed by natives from the respective countries, with some information coming from the following additional sources:
Morocco business etiquette: