When speaking about cultures or business etiquette, Asian countries are often grouped together. However, it is not necessarily true that cultures or ethnicities in the same area of the world share the same traditions or values. While there are some similarities in history and culture across Asian countries, each country and the way its people conduct business is unique.

The most important thing to remember is to be respectful of everyone you meet. If you don’t know the right thing to say or do in a business or causal setting, ask rather than make an inaccurate assumption and offend your hosts.

Demonstrating that you are interested in learning and abiding by their norms is one way to show respect. However, even if you cannot learn or adapt to all the traditions of these many countries, here are a few key things to remember when traveling for business.

Japan

In Japan, it is common to bow when meeting someone new. However, your hosts may be familiar with Western traditions and offer to shake your hand. Be prepared for either or both forms of greeting and follow the lead of your host. To bow properly, keep your back straight and hands down at your sides. Refrain from putting your hands in your pockets or crossing your arms. As is true in American culture, this is a sign of boredom or disinterest.

Business cards are a bigger deal in Japan than in the United States. When presented with a card, accept it with both hands and read the card. This shows respect and care for the card and person who handed it to you. If you are seated, leave the card out on the table or on your card case. Do not shove the card into you pocket or bag. It’s best to keep your own cards in a nice case so they are not bent or dirty when you hand them out.

Avoid:

  • pointing with your fingers or any objects, such as chopsticks or pens.
  • It’s not customary and can be considered rude.
  • pointing out someone’s mistake. Always be respectful of your hosts and business partners.
  • being late. In fact, be 15 minutes early.

China

Just as you would in America, offer a firm handshake when meeting someone for business. Similar to Japanese culture, business cards are a big deal. Offer and receive cards with both hands. If possible, print your information in Chinese on one side and English on the other.

Patience and appropriately following up are very important in Chinese business culture. No big decisions are made quickly and you should prepare for longer meetings and speeches. You may be asked to speak as well but keep your remarks short and avoid “taking over” the conversation. Follow up after a meeting with an email highlighting the positive points and decisions, but don’t be too extensive with your remarks.

Business is frequently conducted over meals. Learn how to use chopsticks and where to put them when eating. It’s best to put them back onto the holder rather than placing them in or on the bowl or plate. If a second meal or meeting is requested, offer to host.

Avoid:

  • being late. Be on time, early if possible.
  • speaking too loudly or quickly. Match the tone of your host.
  • interrupting holidays or being ignorant of superstitions. Respect for tradition is important.
  • pointing with your figures or other objects.

India

Lucky for Americans, the most common business language in India is English, though Hindu is widely spoken in other areas of the country. Greet your host by saying “Namaste” with your palms together in front of your chest. Offer a slight bow or nod of the head.

Nodding is often a sign of understanding rather than agreement. Be careful not to confuse the two when speaking in business meetings.

Just as is true in China, be aware and respectful of holidays. In the Hindu religion, holidays can last longer than a day or two, so plan your trip accordingly.

Avoid:

  • shaking hands, especially with women, unless the host offers his or her hand first.
  • declining food or drink in a meeting. Accept what is offered so you don’t cause offense.