Avoid Foreign Faux Pas: 14 Office Customs around the World

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: May 22, 2013

If you're an American working in an office in the United States, "casual Friday," efficient office lunches that allow you to chomp away while simultaneously negotiating deals, and canvassing cubicles to sell your child's Girl Scout cookies are all par for the course.

Workers from other countries, on the other hand, might find these traditions rude, offbeat, or just plain weird. This article explores unique traditions, habits, and cultures from workplaces around the world.

1. They're no slackers

Tired at the end of a 40-hour workweek?

South Koreans work 45+ hours per week -- on average seven hours longer than workers in other nations -- making South Korea one of the most industrious nations in the world.

2. Shake, shake, shake

In France, personal relationships are seen as significantly more important than business relationships.

In many workplaces people start the day by shaking hands with everyone in their office!

3. Here's to you, Mr. Furniture Assembly Manual Writer

In Japan, when addressing someone older or with a higher position or rank, colleagues and co-workers refer to that person by their official job title rather than by his or her name.

4. Our lips are sealed, Mate

In New Zealand, business is never discussed at dinner, even if everyone present is a work colleague and the dinner is officially a work-related event.

Business is often discussed at lunch, though talking is typically reserved for before a meal is served and after it is cleared.


5. Exceptions to the rules

In Spain, business is approached in the same relaxed manner that most citizens approach life.

During business negotiations, rules and systems are only used as a very last resort, when problems can't be solved in less formal ways.

6. Don't mix business with pleasure

In Italy, it is taboo to exchange business cards in social situations.

Italians often have two sets of cards -- one with business info for business situations, one with personal info for more social situations.

7. Red tie in the morning...

In Hong Kong, the color red is considered lucky.

Businessmen and women often choose a red accessory, such as a red tie or a red scarf, to convey confidence in a positive outcome during negotiations.

8. Save the jokes for the biergarten

In Germany, humor is not appreciated in the workplace.

Business is seen as very serious, and while Germans appreciate a good laugh in other places, they don't accept it in the office.

9. Out to lunch

In Argentina, most business-related meals occur at dinner, which can take place as late as 9 or 10 p.m.

The business lunch is very rare, as most people go home to eat lunch.

10. Empty your pockets

Businessmen in Great Britain avoid shirts with pockets. If the shirts do have pockets, they are kept empty.

In addition, businessmen from Great Britain will wear solid or patterned ties, but do not wear striped ties to work.

11. No offense, Baldy

In China, don't be offended if your co-worker comments on your growing waistline or receding hairline.

Passing comments such as "my, you've gotten fat" aren't seen as impolite, but are regarded as a sign of friendliness.

12. What's wrong with this picture?

In Ecuador, it is customary for the man to pick up the tab at a business lunch if it is with a woman.

If you are a woman who wants to spring for lunch, you’ll have to arrange to do so well ahead of time.

13. Punchclock, shmunchclock

Mexican workers place high value on personal obligations, and so punctuality is not rigid.

Tardy because things on the home front were a bit hectic this morning? No hay problema!

14. The long hello

Football coach Joe Glenn once said, "A person's word and a man's handshake ought to mean something."

In Indonesia, businessmen and women greet each other with a limp handshake that lasts 10 to 15 seconds.

When (working) in Rome, know the customs

In addition to the fun factor, understanding the trends, culture, and habits of international workplaces is more important than ever in a business world that continues to grow smaller due to technology.

Particularly when the success of a meeting or relationship is dependent upon your knowledge, be sure to educate yourself and stick to the adage, "When in Rome (or Vienna or Paris, etc.) do as the Romans (or Viennese or Parisians, etc.) do."