If you are travelling a lot to different countries for business, you might want to delve in and find out a bit more about their culture and local customs.

These can vary by country, and I know from experience I may have caused offence without realising it on a few occasions. I once remember starting a business discussion during a meal in a restaurant with a French colleague, only to discover later it’s customary to wait until after dessert to talk business, and then the conversation should always be led by the host.  Or the time I ate all my dinner in Dubai, only to find out afterwards that a clean plate is a sign you are not satisfied and are still hungry. I was very confused when I was continually offered more food after already finishing my meal.

So let’s begin by looking at the different cultures in some of the leading countries in Europe, so you are well prepared:


  • Always arrive on time for a meeting.  Germans are incredibly punctual and will view lateness as a sign of rudeness. If you are going to be late then contact them to let them know.
  • It is customary to shake the hand of everyone in the room; kissing is not appropriate in a business setting, but in a more informal setting you can kiss on both cheeks.
  • When entering an office always knock first.
  • It’s polite to address everyone by their family name (e.g. Frau Schmidt) unless they address you by your first name.
  • It is common to toast before drinking with the word “Prost”. In an office setting, it’s more common to lift the glass and nod, making eye contact with your colleagues. The host should always lead the toast.
  • With waiting staff paid relatively well tips in restaurants are lower than in many countries, but it’s still customary to tip 5-10%. For taxis, rounding up the fare to the nearest euro is normal – or a bit more for help with baggage. In hotels, tip the porter €1-3 per bag and €3-5 per night for the housekeeper
  • Don’t address a young woman as“Fräulein”- this is now outdated and rather than being seen as polite it can come across as offensive.  Instead, use “Frau” and their family name.
  • Don’t expect to get hold of anyone in the office after 5pm in Germany.
  • When out for dinner don’t start eating until everyone at the table has their meals and drinks, and then follow the lead of the host.


  • Address others as ‘Monsieur’ or ‘Madame’ when first meeting. If the host addresses you by your name you can switch.
  • Introduce yourself by giving your first and last name
  • Where possible business cards should be printed in both French and English – such attention to detail is appreciated
  • At dinner or at a restaurant it is customary to keep your hands resting on the table, not on your lap.
  • Service is normally included in French restaurants (service compris), so there is no need to tip, but if it does not then add 5-10%. Tips aren’t necessarily expected when taking a taxi, but rounding the fare up will be appreciated. Hotel porters will expect €1-2 per bag, and housekeeping €1-2 per night.
  • Don’t dive in with a heavy handshake, the French tend to shake hands with a light and a looser grip
  • Grooming is essential too, so aim for a clean shave and no stubble at a meeting.
  • At a restaurant don’t start a business discussion during your starter or main course; these tend to begin after dessert is served, and it is up to the host to initiate the conversation.
  • Don’t try and organise a last minute meeting; in business in France it is normal to give at least two weeks notice
  • Don’t use pushy sales techniques; these will be frowned upon as the French tend not to make business decisions on the first meeting.


  • Dress in smart and formal business attire when attending meetings.
  • If you can, do have your business cards printed both in English and in Spanish -one language on each side
  • Arrange meetings and appointments well in advance, the Spanish don’t tend to do last minute meetings.
  • It is customary to shake hands on meeting and address the most senior person first. If it is a more informal setting you can kiss on both cheeks.
  • Be prepared to go out for dinner quite late; the Spanish don’t tend to eat until at least 9 pm.
  • Expect the person who has arranged the meeting to pay the bill for dinner. If they pay this time then you can pay for the meal next time.
  • Service is included in a lot of the bills in Spain but if not then add 5-10%. For taxis, tips aren’t expected, but rounding up the fare is normal, whilst an extra euro or two for good service will be appreciated. Hotel porters (less common in Spain) would expect €1-2 per bag. A couple of euros at the end of your stay is appreciated by housekeeping.
  • Don’t expect business discussions to be made right away; the first meeting will be more about getting to know you and building a relationship of trust.
  • Don’t expect business to be discussed over a meal. If you plan to do so then it is best you inform those you are meeting beforehand.
  • Don’t eat with your hands, even fruit is typically eaten with knife and fork.

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