Cultural differences in business communication – Europe

DBH Group at January 04, 2016

In the business world, communication is imperative for the successful execution of daily operations. Understanding cultural differences and overcoming language barriers are some of the considerations people should have when dealing with business with people of various cultures.

Often business deals are lost because the parties involved did not take the time to learn about their each other’s cultures prior to interacting. We help you avoid cultural conflicts at work and leave a good impression.


  • Punctuality is treated very casually in France.
  • The French handshake is brief, and is accompanied by a short span of eye contact. Always shake hands when meeting someone, as well as when leaving.
  • The French have a great respect for privacy. Knock and wait before entering into a room.  Additionally, do not “drop in” unannounced. Always give notice before your arrival.
  • Business can be conducted during any meal, but lunch is best. Avoid drinking hard liquor before meals or smoking cigars between courses. The French believe this permeates the taste buds, compromising the taste of the meal.
  • If you do not speak French, it is very important that you apologize for your lack of knowledge.
  • The French frequently interrupt each other, as the argument is a form of entertainment.
  • You should always dress well. It is better to be formal than too casual.


  • Punctuality is necessity in Germany. Arrive on time for every appointment, whether for business or social. Being late, even if it is only by a few minutes, is very insulting to a German executive.
  • In business situations, shake hands at both the beginning and the end of a meeting.   Additionally, a handshake may be accompanied with a slight bow. Reciprocating the nod is a good way to make a good impression, as failure to respond with this nod/bow (especially a superior) may get you off to a bad start. Be sure to look directly into the person’s eyes while shaking hands.
  • Business is viewed as being very serious, and Germans do not appreciate humor in a business context.
  • Titles are very important to Germans. Do your best to address people by their full, correct title, no matter how extraordinarily long that title may seem to foreigners. This is also true when addressing a letter.

Great Britain

  • Always be punctual in England.  Arriving a few minutes early for safety is acceptable.
  • Privacy is very important to the English. Therefore asking personal questions or intensely staring at another person should be avoided.
  • To signal that something is to be kept confidential or secret, tap your nose.
  • Personal space is important in England, and one should maintain a wide physical space when conversing.  Furthermore, it is considered inappropriate to touch others in public.


  • “Time is money” is not a common phrase in Italy.
  • Do not expect quick decisions or actions to take place, as the Italian bureaucracy and legal systems are rather slow.
  • It is common for everyone to speak simultaneously at Italian gatherings. This applies to business meetings as well as social events.
  • Italians often have two different business cards, one with business credentials for formal relationships, and another with personal information for less formal relationships.
  • When entering a business function, the most senior or eldest person present should always be given special treatment.


  • As a foreigner, you are expected to be on time to all business appointments. However, your Russian counterpart may be late, as this may be a test of your patience. Do not expect an apology from a late Russian, and do not demonstrate any kind of attitude if your business appointments begin one or two hours late.  This may also be a test of your patience.
  • As a foreigner, you should realize that “Final Offers” are often not actually the end of the negotiations, and that often times the outcome will be more beneficial and attractive if you can hold out.
  • There is a Russian term meaning “connections” or “influences”. It is extremely difficult to do business in Russia without help from a local. To help with this, gifts, money or other items are often a good idea when doing business in Russia.
  • Be sure to have plenty of business cards with double sides of information. One side should be printed in English, the other side in Russian.
  • Even though unexpected silence can be awkward, Russians like to take their time before answering a question. Don’t feel embarrassed and give them sufficient time to think and respond before breaking the silence.


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