I get the dilemma just about every cultural awareness training: Can you give me a few Do’s & Dont’s on this particular nation?

It's actually a really logical question as well as apparent one from a person doing work in a worldwide environment. We want easy and quick answers and solutions to the difficulties we encounter.

However… Do’s and Dont’s concerns are really the most complex one’s to answer.

And here is Why

Do’s and Dont’s are highly contextual. Which means a particular Do will be very effective and acceptable in one scenario (with the exact same “cultural players” present), though it can turn into an absolute Don’t and un-acceptable in an other situation (with the same “cultural players” present). The same holds true for any Don’t becoming a Do once context changes. So it works or does not work both ways.

A Case In Point

Consider the next situation: A European learns ” ways to have business dealings with Japanese ” on a particular cultural awareness training. One of the details he/she learns is how to greet his/her Japanese counter part within the classic Japanese approach and how to accept his business card. He/she learns that a deep well-mannered bow will be the “Do” to do and accepting the Japanese business card the conventional Japanese way. He/she also learns how to present a business card “Japanese style”: presenting it in a manner that it could be read instantly without flipping it around (yet an other Do).

On the other side, “our” Japanese counter part goes to a cultural awareness training on how to work with Europeans. He learns that bowing isn't the way to greet an individual, but shaking hands is (in this case the European Do). Moreover he is told that handling business cards is not a big thing in Europe, and therefore business cards function more like a piece of information and facts for future reference and they do not carry the same weight as they do in Japan.

They Meet

As soon as our Japanese and European eventually meet, at the same time the Japanese sticks out his hand whilest the European bows forward. The end result: the European receives a hand in his/her face while bowing. Nice… (producing one more cultural problem: how to appologize!)


Keep in mind this is an exaggerated example, but hopefully you are aware what I mean with Do’s and Dont’s changing in various contexts and situations back and forth.

Inside of a Japanese framework bowing is usually a Do. In a European perspective shaking hands is a Do. But since the situation is different (a blend of European and Japanese Do’s and Dont’s) it's not at all always evident what to Do or to Don’t.

My advice is to not constantly choose the Do’s and Dont’s that you might have learned from an other culture, but to adopt a more adaptive method. And in case there are things you’re uncertain about or do not understand, it rarely ever hurts to ask the other party if he/she can make clear precisely what is going on or what ought to be done within the given circumstance.


An outstanding publication about this topic, that I can fully suggest is Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands (The Best Selling Guide to Doing Business in More than 60 Countries) 2nd (second) edition. There are numerous specific “versions" of this book available. I suggest you browse around Amazon and take your pick! In addition to this there is a Resource list of books that you might want to have a look at.

Do you have any Universal Do’s and Dont’s that you'd like to mention?