Working abroad can expand your cultural horizons and grow your business contacts. However, learning that you’ll visit Tunisia on business might invoke panic and nervousness. This is more likely to occur if you’re unfamiliar with the local business culture. Rather than let anxiety take over and ruin your experience in a foreign land, here are several tips to master business etiquette in Tunisia.
- Trust is important in Tunisia; therefore, business people spend a lot of time building a personal relationship before conducting business. Lengthy small talk is customary at the beginning of meetings.
- Appointments are customary and should be made in advance. Confirm meetings one or two days before the scheduled date.
- Due to the extreme heat in July and August, many Tunisians do not like to schedule meetings during this time.
- During Ramadan, the workdays are typically shorter, and since many Muslims do not consume food or beverages during the day, do not expect your host to offer a drink, such as tea.
- Tunisian businesses typically close between 12:30 PM and 2:30 PM Monday through Friday for lunch. Some businesses also close for prayer.
- Anticipate a relaxed meeting agenda. Meetings are often interrupted by outsiders, and the conversation may go off track several times. Rather than get agitated, go with the flow. It is acceptable to join these random conversations. However, you should not bring up the original topic until the new person leaves the room.
- French is the official language in Tunisia. Bring an interpreter if necessary.
- Business decisions are made from the top. Since decisions are reached after a lot of deliberation, do not expect an immediate response. Also, do not rush the negotiating process. Tunisian business people prefer soft sale tactics. Being impatient is considered rude. And since Tunisians are non-confrontational, they don’t like to overtly say ’no.’ Sometimes, they’ll agree with your position simply because they don’t want you to lose face.
- Arrive on time for initial meetings, although you may be kept waiting.
- It is acceptable to address business people as Monsieur or Madame, followed by their family name.
- If you have an advanced university degree from a prestigious school, or if you have major business accomplishments, casually mention these in conversation. Tunisian business professionals are impressed by credentials.
- Some Tunisians avoid direct eye contact when speaking with a superior out of respect.
There is no ritual surrounding the giving of business cards. However, it’s appropriate to bring two cards. One card translated in English and Arabic, and the other card translated in English and French -- depending on your host. When presenting your card, the side that has your host’s language should face up. Also, give business cards to higher-ranking Tunisians first.
Appropriate business attire in Tunisia is formal and conservative. Men usually wear business suits (dark colored suits to an initial meeting). Women typically wear business suits or dresses. Dresses and skirts should fall below the knee, and shirt sleeves should cover the majority of the arm. Some Tunisian business people do not wear a suit jacket during the summer.
- Business meetings can take place in cafés and restaurants.
- If invited to a home for a business meal, be prepared to remove your shoes. Also, it’s important to dress well out of respect for your host. Since some Tunisians do not entertain mixed-sex groups, it may not be appropriate to bring your spouse to this meeting.
- Do not start eating until your host begins to eat; and don’t be surprised if your host places a communal bowel on the table. Only eat from the section that’s in front of you. Do not reach across the bowl.
- Some Tunisians eat with their hands, whereas others use knives and forks. Follow your host’s lead. If you eat with your hands, only use the first two fingers on your right hand.
If you’re invited to attend a business function at a home, bring the host a small gift, such as flowers or fruit. Only bring alcohol if the host drinks.
It’s possible to survive a business meeting or conference in another country. In most cases, it all boils down to educating yourself on the local business culture before leaving your home country. Good luck.