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WORKING ABROAD / OCT. 31, 2014
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How to Master Business Etiquette in Lebanon

Lebanon is a Middle Eastern country that lies at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, close to Israel and Syria. It’s an ancient nation whose cities were prominent in both Phoenician and Roman times. Today the different geographic regions and cultures combine to produce a fascinating place to visit and do business. If you’re planning a business trip to Lebanon, here’s what you need to know:

 Religion and culture

  • Over half of the population in Lebanon is Muslim, and Muslim customs influence business practices. While women have much more freedom than in some other Middle Eastern countries, it’s still rare to see women in powerful positions in business. Female executives visiting Lebanon may benefit from traveling with an older, experienced male who can help vouch for her expertise.
  • All eating, drinking, exchanging of items, etc., should be done with the right hand only. The left hand is considered unclean. If you’re left-handed, you may want to practice doing things with your right hand so as to avoid offending your host.
  • People of the same sex general sit and stand closer together than Westerners do. Although it may be uncomfortable, resist the urge to step back, as your host may find it offensive.
  • Exchanging favors is common practice and a time-tested way of building relationships. If your host offers a favor and asks for one in return, say yes even if you’re not sure you’ll be able to follow through. Your host will understand that circumstances may have changed and will appreciate your willingness to help.
  • If you’re invited to your host’s home, take a small gift like flowers or pastries. Avoid alcohol and other items that are forbidden in Muslim culture, and stay away from large gifts that may be seen as bribes. Also, avoid complimenting your host on a possession, because he is likely to insist on giving it to you and will then be offended if you refuse.

Dress

  • Men most often wear business suits.
  • Women wear regular business clothes but are expected to dress modestly – no tight clothes, short skirts, or low-cut necklines.

Establishing contacts

  • Lebanese law requires that all foreign business contacts work through a local agent. Do your homework to find an agent who has contacts with the people with whom you want to do business. Expect to pay an experienced agent between five and eight percent.
  • While most businesspeople speak English, it’s always a good idea to hire a translator, especially if you’ll be conducting extensive business negotiations.

Greetings

  • Business greetings consist of a gentle handshake and direct eye contact.
  • Some women exchange three kisses, alternating cheeks.
  • Some devout Muslim men won’t shake hands with a woman. If a male colleague is standing back or holding his arms crossed over his chest, simply nod instead of insisting on shaking hands.

Meetings

  • Lebanese tend to have a more relaxed approach to time than Westerners, so don’t be offended if the meeting is running late. That’s standard business practice and is to be expected.
  • Plan to hand out business cards. Treat any cards you receive with respect – don’t fold them or write notes on them.

Negotiating

  • Negotiations in Lebanon can be extensive, and your hosts will expect substantial concessions. It’s a good idea to set your starting price at a point that gives you room to come down.

Lebanon is a beautiful nation with a rich culture and history. The Lebanese are open to doing business with foreigners, so you should be successful if you keep these tips in mind.

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