No matter how smart you are, you’ll need to know:

  • Local business practices
  • Local negotiation techniques
  • Social customs

Saudi Arabia

Do's and Don'ts

General DOs AND DON'Ts when doing business in other cultures.

Learn as much of the local language as possible. The absolute minimum should be a greeting or exchange, goodbye and an inquiry as to someone’s health (or as in China, “have you eaten?”). However, the most important word you can learn is “THANK YOU”.

  • Be open-minded. Don’t close your mind to something new.
  • They are all pretty smart; the sooner you figure this out, the better.
  • Feelings more often get the job done. In other words, the best price may not win you the contract.
  • Figure out who is advising the decision-maker.
  • Determine when negotiations actually open and when they close.
  • Be sensitive to gender issues.
  • Be sensitive to common but impolite local customs. Always be a good observer. It is best to sit back, watch and observe people closely in restaurants and other social situations while in the better restaurants and hotels. This will let you know what is deemed as acceptable behavior. Remember, all societies have individuals who conduct themselves with proper etiquette as well as those who do not. Just because you have observed people doing something one way or just like it is done in the U.S., keep in mind that they may not be the people you would want to imitate.
  • Remember, in most countries throughout the world, the date is presented as: day/month/year.
  • While corresponding, work in the buyer’s language.
  • Avoid obvious company logo promotion items. They are generally not viewed well overseas: they are viewed as just what they are – your desire to get your company’s name out. Most people around the world do not share the same enthusiasm as the Americans do. Better to give good quality gifts such as pens or something produced from your home. Note: If you are going to give someone in Taiwan a gift, be certain it wasn’t produced in Taiwan.
  • It is always best to have a secretary recommend a local restaurant. Note: if you suggest going out to dine, you are also expected to pay. Be sensitive to the fact it should not be more lavish than the manner in which your host has entertained.
  • When traveling to most countries for business, avoid the bargain hotels and stay in the best first class hotel you can justify. It will reflect well upon not only you, but also your host. On the other hand, if your host is paying for the hotel, you should allow them to make the decision.
  • Always be sensitive to what clothing you are wearing. Your clothing should be of the best quality you can afford. It should be tasteful and conservative.
  • Always avoid incorporating the colors of the country’s flag into your clothing as this is generally not viewed well.
  • Whenever possible, bring your own interpreter.
  • Always have your business cards printed in two languages, if possible, with the host country’s language on one side of the card. Be sure they are printed correctly. When presenting your card, present it formally to the recipient who will generally receive it in two hands. By the same token, receive their business card in both your hands and carefully review it before you place it in your jacket or shirt pocket. Under no circumstances should you ever place a business card in your wallet or treat it casually.
  • If you have been given a gift, do not open it in public unless you observed it being done locally.
  • When doing introductions, the younger person should always be introduced to the older person or the person with the most respect.
  • Whenever possible, you should always insist on having a third party do the introduction.
  • You should never offer a woman your hand unless she has offered her hand to you first. This applies to both men and women.
  • The following gestures should be avoided at all times: thumbs up, pointing, okay sign, victory sign, standing akimbo.
  • You should always keep your hands out of your pockets.
  • Always determine local etiquette for meals, i.e., what the placement of the chopsticks or utensils should be at the end of the meal.

Remember, when in Rome….

Featured Do's and Don'ts for the following countries:


  • Be punctual.
  • Be 30 minutes late for social occasions.
  • When in doubt ask “En punto”? (on the dot).
  • Use an intermediary.
  • Personal relationships are important.
  • No business over meals.
  • Hands on tables.
  • Cross fork and knife when finished.
  • Shake hands.
  • Address: Title and name.
  • They talk close – do not back away.
  • Eye contact is important.
  • Avoid hands on hips.
  • Don’t eat in public/on street.
  • Dress is important.

  • Be punctual.
  • No high-pressure sales.
  • Modesty and casualness are important.
  • Brevity is the order of the day.
  • Authority is not taken too seriously.
  • Small talk is important
  • No business in pubs.
  • Always buy a round. “Shout for a round.”
  • They want your opinion even if they disagree.
  • Aborigines is not a topic to discuss.
  • The 1980 Australian Election/US/CIA topic is not good to bring up.
  • Use Hello instead of G’ Day.
  • “Thumbs up” sign is rude.
  • Winking is impolite.
  • Dress informal.


  • Not Hispanic and resent being spoken to in Spanish. Portuguese is the official language.
  • Home and family are private.
  • Feelings are important.
  • Strong class and status concepts.
  • Long term is important, otherwise forget it.
  • Personal relationships are essential.
  • All aspects will be scrutinized.
  • Simultaneous negotiations of the whole contract will occur.
  • Avoid confrontation. Not necessary to get right to the point.
  • Watch out for “in America” – they’re Americans, too.
  • Shake hands with everyone.
  • “OK” sign is vulgar (circle of index finger and thumb).
  • To motion forward – palm down, scoop in.
  • Flicking of fingertips under chin means “I don’t know the answer”.
  • Manicured nails are important as are good quality clothes.


  • Virtues of kindness, intelligence and faithfulness are key.
  • Face is important!
  • Bring your own photocopies.
  • Black and white – Be careful of color.
  • Use Gold on business cards.
  • Humility is a virtue – do not exaggerate.
  • BE PATIENT – do not talk about your deadlines.
  • Highest-ranking person in business meeting should lead the group.
  • Subordinates should never interrupt.
  • Learn their history.
  • Leave before the Chinese at end of meeting.
  • Never surpass your host in the degree of banquet lavishness.
  • Never empty your rice bowl. It can be an insult to your host.
  • Use chopsticks. Do not place parallel on the top of the bowl. (Bad luck) Do not stand chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice since it will resemble joss sticks used in religious ceremonies.
  • Do not drop chopsticks. (Bad luck)
  • Never take last bit of food.
  • Formal titles should be used.
  • Avoid exaggerated gestures or dramatic facial expressions.
  • Do not touch the Chinese; this is especially true for children. Under no circumstances should you ever touch anyone on the head.
  • It is okay for people of the same sex to hold hands, but people of the opposite sex should never do so in public.
  • Use an open hand rather than one finger to point.
  • Avoid giving anything of value in front of others as it could cause embarrassment.
  • If you give a gift, wrap it in red (lucky color) or pink and yellow (happy and prosperous colors). Do not use white, as that is used in funerals.
  • Gifts should never be given before business negotiations are concluded.
  • Chinese New Year – It is customary to give a gift of money in a red envelope to children. This is called a hongbao. Give only gifts in even numbers as odd numbers are considered bad luck.
  • Avoid bringing gifts of food to a dinner party unless it is agreed upon before hand as it may imply that your host is unable to provide enough food for the guests.
  • When giving a gift, it is customary for the recipient to refuse the gift three times. This is to not appear to be greedy and expectant. Also know that rarely will your gift be opened in your presence; once again, the receiver does not want to appear greedy.


  • PUNCTUALITY IS ESSENTIAL. Even keeping an executive waiting one or two minutes may totally ruin your prospects of a successful deal.
  • Do not forget about the Germans group of background decision makers. This will save you the frustration of understanding why the individuals who appear to be decision makers are not currently making the decisions.
  • Be prepared to spend a lot of time developing a relationship with the Germans since that is the only way you are going to get around their apparent “standoffishness”.
  • All of your promotional materials, manuals and supporting information should be translated into German.
  • Be prepared to hand out a lot of business cards. Note that generally the higher ranking people in Germany will have less on their business cards, so govern yourself accordingly.
  • If your company has been in business for a long time, it is wise to notate that on your card.
  • Include any title on the card that is above a bachelors level.
  • Germans do not appreciate humor in the business context.
  • Do not give or expect compliments. This is clearly embarrassing to the Germans.
  • Remember, the Germans are very formal; therefore, all your correspondence and actions should reflect this.
  • The Germans do not appreciate the compliment-compliant approach many Americans take; it simply confuses them.
  • Respect Germans privacy. Doors are closed and you should always knock before you enter.
  • Never discuss business during the meal.
  • When you finish eating, your utensils should be placed side-by-side on the plate.
  • Germans love to shake hands and a firm handshake should initiate and end all meetings. Only shake a woman’s hand if it is offered to you.
  • Always stand when a woman enters the room. Women should know as long as they remain standing, so will the men.
  • Never address someone by their first name until you have established a close personal relationship with them. It is always better in Germany to error on the side of formality. In addition, always use their formal title wherever possible.
  • Fraulein is only used for women under 18. Whenever you meet a business woman in Germany, whether she is married or not, Frau should be used before her surname.
  • As in many parts of the world, the eldest or highest ranking person should enter the room first.
  • When invited to dinner in a German home, always bring a bouquet of unwrapped flowers to your hostess. The bouquet should have an uneven number of flowers. Avoid the number 13. Red roses are for courting and should not be used. Also, heather should never be used because it is often planted on graves.


  • In India, a side-to-side toss of your head indicates agreement. An up and down head nod means “no”. That is just the beginning of the confusion. India has 14 major and 300 minor languages, although mercifully, English and Hindi are spoken throughout.
  • Punctuality is appreciated, but don’t expect it from the Indians.
  • The phone service and mail is very slow, so you should plan at least two months ahead.
  • Go to the top of the company. Although most middle managers will be glad to deal with you, it will be a waste of your time. Despite that, understand they will be the ones to forward your proposals.
  • Try to visit India between October and March.
  • Business is not conducted during the numerous religious holidays, so it’s best to check first.
  • Indians are fatalists so your concept of hurrying to get things done is going to be meaningless to them.
  • Business in India is highly personal. As a result, if you are not prepared to establish personal relations, you should forget it.
  • Never refuse an offer of refreshment. To refuse any refreshment is an insult. Simply drink slowly and to your limit.
  • Do not use the word “no”. It is much better to be vague. If you refuse an invitation, it is taken as a high insult. It’s better for you to say “maybe” or “I’ll try”.
  • Remember, the Hindus do not eat beef and Muslims to not eat pork.
  • Never touch a communal dish.
  • Never offer another person (even a spouse) food from your plate. It is considered “polluted”.
  • Wash your hands before and after each meal. Note: In Hindu homes, you are expected to rinse your mouth out as well.
  • Do not thank your host at the end of the meal. Saying “thank you” for a meal is insulting because thanks are considered a form of payment.
  • Women should never initiate handshakes with men.
  • Learn to give the traditional “Namaste” greeting.
  • Indians are very impressed by titles and degrees of education so be sure to make yours well-known.
  • Never touch someone’s head as it is seen as the soul.
  • Never point your feet at a person; feet are considered unclean. If your shoes or feet touch another person, apologize immediately.
  • Do not point fingers.
  • If you are invited to a home for dinner, bring a gift of chocolate or flowers (avoid funeral flowers).
  • Do not wrap gifts in black and white as they are unlucky colors. Red and yellow are lucky colors.
  • Indians enjoy receiving imported whiskey as there is a high surtax on it.
  • If you give money to an Indian, be sure it is an odd number by always adding one dollar.

Saudi Arabia

  • Punctuality is not a virtue, however, you should always be prompt.
  • Do not be put out if you are kept waiting. This is a general practice, so it is best not to have too many appointments in one day.
  • Your Saudi sponsor is the most important person in your life when dealing with business in Saudi Arabia, so you should treat him just as you would a valuable lifeline.
  • Be prepared to have a number of people walking in and out of your meeting.
  • Government officials do not work more than six hours per day, so if you are looking to meet with them, mornings are probably the only available time.
  • Be prepared to work anytime up until midnight. It is not unusual for business to be conducted late into the evening.
  • It is very important to be aware of the Islamic calendar since it uses lunar months of 28 days. For this reason, you cannot count on fixed dates for various holidays. Any paperwork you prepare should carry both the Gregorian (Western) date and the Hijrah (Arabic date). Whenever possible, try to avoid doing business during the month of Ramadan.
  • Be patient; business pace is very slow. Do not be surprised to have many inquiries made as to your health and that of your family.
  • Prepare to have decisions take a very long time.
  • All business cards should be printed with English on one side and Arabic on the other.
  • Since many Saudi’s have an unlisted telephone number, you should always record all information on a card.
  • Whenever dealing in the Arab world, remember that the books and publications are generally read from what would be in the U.S., back cover forward. Therefore, it is very important that your back cover be impressive even if you are not having it translated.
  • Leave multiple copies of the brochures and materials since the person you may be talking to may not be the real decision-maker.
  • Saudi’s speak much closer than we generally do; do not back away.
  • It is not unusual for Saudi men to walk hand-in-hand or arm-in-arm. Take it as a good sign if your hand or arm is being held.
  • In Arabic, it is very easy to confuse the “yes” with the “yes” in English. A “yes” in Arabic is probably simply a reflective courtesy and not an agreement.
  • Do not discuss women unless a Saudi broaches the subject. Do not even inquire as to the health of a Saudi’s wife or daughter.
  • Remove your shoes in their home.
  • The left hand is considered unclean. In the Arab world, always use the right hand.
  • Keep both feet on the ground as Arabs do not cross their legs when sitting. Never show the bottom of your foot to an Arab as they consider it offensive.
  • The “thumbs up” gesture is offensive throughout the Arab world.
  • It is very important to in no way compromise someone’s dignity.