10 of the most cringe-worthy cultural mistakes to avoid overseas

A new study reveals embarrassing cultural mistakes Brits make overseas and top secrets for surviving your next business trip.

If the old stereotype is to be believed, you can spot a Brit a mile away, flashing a proprietary sunburn and sporting their home football team kit. A UK-wide survey set out to find how typical Brits behave overseas. 50 per cent reportedly never try local cuisine, opting for English breakfasts and fish and chips while abroad.

This stereotype might be stale in this day and age, where Brits are doing business overseas more than ever. A separate study from online printer instantprint, however, reveals embarrassing blunders Britons make abroad and top secrets for surviving your next business trip, for those who don’t have a clue about business etiquette.

Did you know that in Russia, it’s seen as insecure to smile during a business meeting? Or in Hong Kong, giving gifts within business is viewed as bribery? According to instaprint’s study on international business etiquette, 78 per cent of business people are not fully educated on what the ‘‘correct’’ business etiquette is internationally and 56 per cent have encountered an awkward situation because of this.

The study takes survey results and anecdotes from senior business people into account, along with advice from experts in the field, for their top tips.

Know your handshakes

Know what type of handshake to give. In China, it may be wise to wait and see if your host offers a handshake.

Gifting etiquette

Discover what gifts are acceptable in each country before purchasing or giving anything. In some countries, such as Hong Kong, it’s viewed as bribery.

Cultural customs matter

Be aware of the different customs for different nationalities. For example, in Middle East and South Asia, the left hand is considered unclean. When dining, use your left hand as little as possible, especially with shared dishes.

Check your sense of humour

What’s funny to you may not be funny to others. While some jokes may be amusing to some, it may be considered as extremely offensive to others. Additionally, sarcasm may not translate well.

Body language

Ensure your body language matches what you’re saying so you’re easy to understand. A sign in one nationality could mean something entirely different in another. Ensure you do your research for each country!


Understand the best way to introduce yourself. In China, it is polite to do a slight bow, while in Japan, introductions are followed with a more pronounced bow as a form of respect.  In the Middle East and South Asia, offering your hand for a handshake when introducing yourself is best done with members of your same gender.

Dress code

Discover the dress code beforehand. In Sweden, business etiquette calls for casual clothes over smart.

Cultural mannerisms

Appreciate the general cultural mannerism for meetings. In Russia, it’s viewed as insecure to smile during a meeting.

Card culture

If you intend to present a business card, a great way to build a rapport discover the culture’s norm for business card-exchanging. In Hong Kong, it’s preferred to present your business cards with both hands, whereas in Brazil there is no ritual or tradition, so give away whenever and as many as you feel.

Keep an open mind

Finally, don’t be offended by anything that doesn’t fit in with your own culture.

For Business Etiquette International consultant, Marla Harr, knowing what’s accepted in the country you’re visiting is only the first step.

‘’It’s imperative for individuals who travel abroad for business to educate themselves and their teams on the proper business etiquette and accepted protocols for that country. Not knowing the idiosyncrasies within the culture can have unintentional misunderstandings that can be embarrassing, costly to a marketing campaign or a contract deal falling apart.”

Check out this infographic from instantprint for anecdotes from wary Brits overseas for business.


Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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