Top Business Advice Revealed

3 min read

Why Showing Up ‘Fashionably Late’ in Austria Could Cost You a Business Deal!

JOHANNESBURG – In-person meetings are important for doing business across borders. According to MIT’s Human Dynamics Lab, face-to-face requests are 34 times more effective than email, and handshakes promote cooperation and positively influence negotiation outcomes. It’s a compelling reason for businesses to send their teams on an international business trip. However, inadvertently offending someone you’re meeting because you misunderstood a cultural norm can instantly wipe out these benefits.

That’s why cultural literacy – truly grasping the customs and mindsets of a culture – is vital for today’s business travellers. “As companies send employees worldwide to build relationships and close deals, awareness of key cultural differences can make or break success,” says Bonnie Smith, GM Corporate Traveller.

Heritage Day in South Africa is a brilliant example of how we can celebrate and learn about diverse cultures. But the truth is, every day offers a chance to understand and appreciate different ways of life, especially if travelling to other countries for business, says Smith.

While profit and loss fundamentals are universal, values and business practices can vary greatly between cultures. Something as small as how you show respect or handle deadlines can differ completely depending on your location. Smith says that overlooking cultural norms isn’t just a faux pas; it’s a missed chance to build lasting, respectful business relationships, make a good impression, and achieve goals.

“Understanding a place’s heritage, etiquette, and local nuances isn’t just good manners now; it’s strategic,” she states. Consider the diverse cultural insights highlighted by Remitly’s (a global money transfer service) recent “cultural literacy” map. From grasping the importance of punctuality in places like Austria and Sweden to recognising unique customs like clapping as a sign of respect in Zimbabwe, each cultural nuance presents an opportunity to build stronger, more respectful business ties.

With this in mind, Smith has the following advice to improve cultural literacy.

Being on Time Shows Respect

Punctuality is valued differently across cultures. While arriving fashionably late may be acceptable in some places, like Canada, Jordan, and Eswatini, arriving on time in countries such as Austria, Poland, and Sweden is crucial. Always adapt your schedule to be punctual according to local norms – this shows respect.

Mind Local Customs

Each country has unique customs and etiquette. For instance, embracing the sauna culture, even at business events, is common in Finland. Learn about local customs like greeting with cheek kisses in Belgium or avoiding pointing with your index finger in Malaysia. This cultural awareness demonstrates respect.

Understand Varying Attitudes Toward Deadlines

Realise that the rigidness of deadlines varies significantly across cultures. In Tunisia, deadlines are often flexible suggestions, while in other countries, they are strict. Understanding this is key to managing expectations and planning work efficiently for a successful business trip.

Keep an Open Mind

Some cultural expressions of respect may surprise you. Clapping shows respect in Zimbabwe, even during handshakes. In Japan, slurping food politely indicates gratitude. Burping after a meal in Gambia and Togo compliments the chef. Approach these customs with an open mind to build positive relationships.

Smith believes that business travellers shouldn’t be burdened with mastering the nuances of foreign cultures when travelling. “Given the importance of a successful trip and the traveller’s safety and well-being, a travel management company (TMC) can equip your business travellers with the necessary preparation,” Smith suggests.

“Your TMC can offer guides on cultural norms and etiquette before the journey. In addition to travel plans, some TMCs provide logistical support, cross-cultural training, and translation services,” Smith continues. “Having the right resources and understanding ensures the success of each business journey.”

For more information about Corporate Traveller, or to interview Corporate Traveller South Africa GM Bonnie Smith, call Dorine Reinstein on 083 278 8994 or email