Oh How Rude! International Business Social Faux Pas

If you wanted to you could get on a plane and be on a different continent in few hours. Of course, you would have to deal with screaming toddlers, sneezing and wheezing passengers and just enough leg room for a 4th grader. You could also open up Skype and communicate with people in real time all over the world considering you had anyone to talk to, but I won’t judge you for that. The world has shrunk, and just like a sweater that was washed too hot; it squishes us together like your love handles. You will have to deal with a diverse set of people in today’s business world and there are a few things that are deal breakers. Some of these deal breakers include the small selection of International business faux pas listed below.

Watch where you’re pointing that thing!

I’m not talking about what you think I’m talking about (get your mind out of the gutter). In many cultures around the world pointing a certain part of your body towards another person is considered extremely rude (still not talking about that, what’s wrong with you?).

In Indonesia pointing with your forefinger is about as appropriate as taking off your shirt during a business meeting. And in Thailand crossing your legs and pointing your toes at someone is as offensive as showing them your lower back tattoo of a mermaid riding a naked dolphin (aren’t all dolphins naked?).

In Arabic countries showing the sole of your shoe or touching someone with your shoe is also a no-no, so you can assume they’re not fans of playing footsie.

Finally don’t get too happy about closing a deal in Bangladesh and give the thumbs up because you will have inadvertently flipped off your business partner. You know what? Just keep your hands in your pockets, unless you’re in Moscow because doing that anywhere in Russia could be considered extremely rude.

Look me in the eyes and say that

In most Western cultures eye contact is an indication of honesty and respect. Don’t get into a staring game with a Japanese businessman though as it will most definitely sour the deal. Uninterrupted eye contact is considered aggressive and inappropriate in Japan. The same holds true in Russia, with the added disadvantage of eye contact being a sexual invitation.

Eating for two, because your partner was so offended he left

Many business meetings take place over a meal, but there are some things you should consider before digging in. In China it is highly offensive to wave around chopsticks, tap them on the bowl or stick them vertically in your food. Never eat with your left hand when in the Middle East, North Africa or other Islamic countries as the left hand is considered unclean. Stick to white or red wine in France and don’t get drunk on it, Frenchies take their wine seriously, also don’t call them Frenchies.


In Uganda due to travel being challenging, you might have to wait an hour for the person you’re meeting. On the other hand if you are in the Middle East you can expect delays but if you’re a foreigner, you will be expected to be on time. In almost any place in Western Europe punctuality is crucial but in Southern or Mediterranean Europe a slight delay is appropriate nothing beyond 20 minutes.


Have you had a business meeting go catastrophically wrong due to cultural ignorance? Let us know about your experiences in the comment section below!