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Business Lunch from East to West: The Rules of Etiquette

Business Lunch from East to West: The Rules of Etiquette

In today’s global world it is not the young folks you send to finishing school, but grown up businessmen and women ready to make business deals worldwide

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Table etiquette can be tricky if you haven’t studied the rules of each country. This is why more and more finishing schools are addressing the issue with specific courses for the business world. Cultural courtesy is becoming very important as more business is being conducted in and with foreign countries.

You should always be aware of these cultural differences in etiquette. This can be very important to your business dealings.

For example, did you know that spaghetti is forbidden at formal business lunches—even in Italy—as the dish puts foreign guests in a difficult situation? That in France the prongs of a fork must be kept facing downwards? The fact that slurping of any kind is considered strictly verboten in the U.K.?

There are many small differences throughout the tables and dining rooms of Western countries, but the most extreme contrasts are between the West and the East. As an example of this China’s increasing connection to the Western world—both financially and culturally- makes learning Western etiquette a big—and ever-increasing—business in China.

Most of the business is conducted at the table and learning Western behaviors has become part of any executive training. In the past, citizens were hardly encouraged to think about foreign issues like how to distinguish a water glass from a wine glass. This were issues of the traveling elite. Nowadays, however, business transactions with China are widely spread and require some worldly knowledge. The cultural etiquette industry has never been so florid.

The Sarita Institute, one of the most popular schools in Beijing, charges fourteen thousand euros for a three-month course, although shorter and more concentrated courses are offered as well. “Maybe some of the things we teach may seem obvious,” says the Institute’s director, Sara Jane Ho, in an interview to the Financial Times. Not so obvious in China where these are novelties.

This is true for all emerging markets, including Brazil, Russia, India and the Middle East which are all investing time and money into learning the appropriate etiquette. Learning table manners is considered a fundamental step for anyone who wants to enter into global business and hold some power.

For this reason, the lessons given at Switzerland’s Institut Villa Pierrefeu, one of the most prestigious schools of etiquette in the world, attract a wide range of students: from young entrepreneurs to high-earning executives to wealthy young ladies who are being bred and primed to move in the most exclusive of social milieus.

If you wonder what set of skills are taught, some of the course names are Food and Drink Taboos or Precedence and Conversation at The Table.

With power comes responsibility, and so the breaking of country barriers and the globalization of business deals involves getting prepped at a “finishing” school first.

You can start by following these universal and simple instructions: Jamais, Parfois, Toujours (Never, Sometimes, Always). The guideline connects each frequency adverb with a position: never elbows on the table, sometimes rested forearms and always hands held in one’s lap. 

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