Don’t get too close

Packing for your next business trip overseas? Don’t even think of wearing a black suit. “It screams security,” says Hilka Klinkenberg, founder and managing director of Etiquette International, a consultancy that coaches executives on the dos and don’ts of business etiquette. She says dressing appropriately when traveling abroad is important, because it indicates respect.

Klinkenberg offers some other tips that will help you avoid offending your overseas colleagues:

Be aware of touch and space: For example, in Asian cultures, it is taboo to touch anybody on the head, even a child. “The concept of the soul resides in the head,” says Klinkenberg. And be careful about touching across gender lines. For example, if you’re a man, don’t touch a woman unless she extends her hand first.

The concept of personal space also varies across cultures. The Japanese stand a good deal farther apart than North Americans, which allows room for bowing. In Latin or Arabic cultures, on the other hand, people stand much closer together, which can make North Americans feel uncomfortable — think of the close-talker episode of Seinfeld.

Lose the 30-second handshake: In Europe, handshakes are more curt than in the United States. “One, possibly two shakes from the elbow, don’t shake, shake, shake,” she says. In India or Thailand, the preferred greeting is not the handshake, but the namaste — hands with palms together under chin area (as if in prayer) with a slight bow of the head.

Use formal titles until told otherwise: Don’t call people by their first names unless they give you the green light. In China and Japan, the first name follows the family name; in Germany, address a person by all their titles, even if it’s a mouthful — Herr Doktor Direktor Schmidt (Mr. Doctor Director Schmidt).

Bone up on the entertaining customs of the country you’re visiting: In China and Japan, it’s disrespectful to not reciprocate a toast. In Germany and Nordic countries, it’s rude to touch your food or drink until the host has given the welcome toast.

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