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White paper: Business and Social Etiquette

How to do business in different countries around the world

We research and compare findings from 13 countries across the world.

Multiculturalism overview

High-context cultures (such as Japan, India, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa) are collectivist, value interpersonal relationships, and have members that form stable, close relationships. They rely heavily on context (i.e., body language, a person’s status, and tone of voice) and messages are not explicitly stated. This is in direct contrast to low-context cultures, in which information is communicated primarily through language and rules are explicitly spelled out. High-context cultures prefer more nuanced approaches that place a lower focus on team or business goals and are reluctant to suborn cultural and social norms in favour of achieving corporate objectives.

Organizations from the Anglo-Saxon group (US, UK, Canada, and Australia) place more emphasis on universally applicable rules and codes of ethics (and be less supportive of behaviors, driven by particularistic and situational considerations). They believe in the importance of personal moral and ethical behavior of leaders; and emphasize the importance of formal ethics programs and related training. These cultures place absolute importance on achieving corporate goals.

Organizations from the rest of countries are more inclined to use situational and individualized approach to ethical decision making, and will put less emphasis on formal rules, codes, or compliance programs.

We could expect to find significant variation in ethical business practices among countries outside the Anglo-Saxon cluster, even among countries of the same region.

This paper reports the results of a survey-based study of perceptions of ethical business practices in 13 countries of Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Responses from more than 23,000 managers and employees were analyzed and aimed at identifying homogeneous sets of countries. Anglo-Saxon countries (US, UK, Australia, and Canada) were clustered together and joined by India in most cases. Japan and Italy formed a significantly different from all other countries homogenous subset, while countries of continental Europe, China, Mexico, and Brazil tended to form various mid-range clusters, different from the above two groupings.


The Middle East

Business behavior in Arab countries is governed by Islamic views, which assume that human behavior, in general, is governed by innate universal moral values. In the Middle East, especially in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, business decisions have to pass through a moral filter. For example, it is a moral obligation of a seller to disclose to the buyer any defects in articles they are selling. However, in many cases, there is a gap between this ideal and the actual practices because of the existence of divergent behaviors on the part of business people who need to compete and to survive in difficult conditions.

United Arab Emirates

Social and Business Etiquette
  • Avoid business jargon
  • People may be loud and affective
  • They emphasize status
  • They are intuitive
  • They consider that a little of emotion is a sign of sincerity
  • Any hesitation in giving an answer is a sign of a No
  • Truth is mostly perceived as cruel, dangerous, rude and negotiable
  • Slow at revealing their true minds
  • Words have high value
  • Don’t swear or cuss
  • Status is more important than achievements
  • Exaggeration and metaphors are abound
  • Strong eye contact is appreciated
  • High level of connections and networking
Points of Interest
  • Stock market
  • Construction / contractors issues and future
  • Cars
  • Hospitality (Bedouin tradition of 3 days is a must)
  • Generosity
  • Hide emotions
  • Short eye contact
  • Extended courtesy (to count the blessings)
  • Wasta
  • Fatalism
  • Honor
  • They prefer a conservative sitting and position of feet
  • High work ethics
  • Manners (say haram in case of…)
  • Points of discussion: food, perfumes, medicines, family, multiple cell phones
  • Critical thinking is welcome within politeness
  • Staring / long eye contact
  • Discussing religion or politics with people they don’t know or trust well enough
  • Profanity and poor jokes

Saudi Arabia

Social and Business Etiquette
  • Saudi nationals can be affective and loud
  • Make enough eye contact
  • Saudis are shrewd negotiators
  • Many meetings may take place before something substantive may come out
  • Build confidence and trust. Business is between friends first
  • Meeting usually ends with an invite for hot drinks; an indication of future meetings
  • Reliance on God
  • Brief contracts (to maintain an allowance for future changes)
Points of Interest
  • History of country or city
  • Coffee
  • Discussing religion
  • Profanity


Indian managers agree that companies’ main concern should be making profits. They rated harming the environment as more dishonest than did their US counterparts. Indians rely more on intuition and on relational attributes of specific cases (e.g. assessment of who is involved in a particular situation). Indian managers consider unconditional loyalty to their organization a highly ethical behavior, being in this respect similar to the Chinese, and significantly different from respondents from the US, Europe, and Australia.

Business and Social Etiquette
  • Indian nationals expect relationship-oriented business with savvy, honorable and trusted partners
  • Prefer to deal with top decision-maker
  • They’re witty
  • Prefer people who show emotions in words, not in agitation or touching
  • Social banter awaiting cue from principal to talk business
  • Be genial, warm, talk about family stuff or self at first to connect and make them identify with you
  • Earn their respect and liking
  • New generations have more contemporary social inclinations
  • They make decisions based on intuition and facts
  • They’re moderately animated and emotionally expressive in a business environment
  • You need to understand their needs
  • Be solicitous, reasonable and flexible
  • Indian managers are mostly experimenters
  • They show respect and humility in general to the listener
  • Indians are reluctant to criticize because of fear of bad karma
  • They show respect and humility in general to the listener
  • Reluctant to criticize because of fear of bad karma
  • Willing to listen at length but do not misunderstand their sagacity
  • Very skilled negotiators because they listen and are patient
  • Dislike sarcasm and irony
  • Show in general a high degree of interest in good corporate governance
  • Purity is valued as is humility and self-denial
  • Indirect eye contact
  • They prefer limited banter at start
Points of interest
  • Entertainment
  • Family values
  • Archeology and culture
  • Foods
  • Heritage
  • Cricket
  • Savviness and honor
  • Family
  • ‘We’
  • ICT
  • Impact of Indian business community on the local economy
  • Ideology when talking business
  • Personal questions

Anglo-Saxon Countries

The Anglo-Saxon cluster includes the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK. These countries represent one cluster (high individualism, low uncertainty avoidance) where ethical business cultures are based on the alignment between formal structures, processes, policies, formal training and development programs, and consistent value-based ethical behavior of top leadership. Personal moral development and authentic behavior of leaders is perceived as an important factor in creating the ethical culture of an organization. Significant attention is paid to the development and enforcement of codes of ethics and formal compliance programs. There is a strong emphasis on the development of ethics-based mission and value statements, and the alignment of corporate values with all other elements of the culture and day-to-day operations of the organization.


In China, business ethics practices are strongly influenced by Confucianism (Compassion, Appropriateness, Norms, and Wisdom) to deliberately develop a corporate culture with uniquely Chinese characteristics. CEOs display leadership approaches, based on Confucian principles of “benevolence, harmony, learning, loyalty, righteousness, and humility, which emphasize the central importance of the Confucian moral principle of trustworthiness. Specific examples from business practice, suggest that, in keeping with Confucian principles, Chinese business people rely less on formal contracts, and prefer to rely on individual informal agreements and personal assessment of the trustworthiness of business partners.


The Japanese value system stresses the importance of harmony in contrast with the stronger emphasis on benevolence in China. This leads to “greater emphasis on ‘situational ethics’ in Japanese society, where the emphasis on group harmony largely eliminates the search for absolute values, and in effect, individual responsibility beyond conformity to group norms. Japanese managers tend to be more situational in their ethical decision making than Americans. In addition, company policies on business ethics are the most important determinant of whether managers will make ethical decisions.

Western Europe

Countries of Continental Western Europe pointed out that, due to significant cultural-historical differences among the countries of Europe, it is impossible to make generalizations about business ethics approaches in Western Europe as a whole. France and Germany belong to a different cluster than the UK, and as having moderate individualism and high uncertainty avoidance. Europe places less emphasis on corporate codes of ethics, but more emphasis on strengthening the overall legal framework for business conduct. Companies in Europe do not receive strong incentives from governments to promote business ethics-related programs, while in the US, state guidelines provide reduced fines for violators, who had effective ethics programs in place.

German companies were less inclined to introduce formal ethics programs than their US counterparts. German managers tend to be more particular in their outlook and view American business ethics as excessively legalistic. The US legalistic emphasis on corporate codes of ethics is rooted in the culturally-conditioned belief in procedural justice, and in maintaining a level playing field for all. This view corresponds to universalism (defined as a strong belief that laws and rules apply to all equally, regardless of specific circumstances, which contrasts with the particular assumption that rules can be interpreted more loosely based on specifics of a situation and the nature of relationships with involved people). German businessmen feel that this kind of business ethics does not have much to do with ethics at all since it “only” aims at legal compliance. Ethical behavior goes further than legal behavior.

Latin America

Some of the numerous problems facing Latin America (including Brazil and Mexico) include low transparency levels in business and politics; excessive consumption and materialism, on the one hand, and high levels of poverty, on the other. There is a disconnect in private domains values of the Roman Catholic Church and business practices. Brazilian managerial culture is characterized by paternalism, power concentration, and loyalty to one’s in-group and leader. Social ethics is based on the strong preference for social cohesion, which is cemented by loyalty to the group leader. The leader, on the other hand, is responsible for each group member’s well-being. This web of reciprocal obligations could lead to both positive and negative outcomes. On the positive side, it can result in high performance on the part of individual employees if they feel loyalty to the group and the leader; on the other hand, such loyalty is associated with a strong fear of making a damage to the collective mistake, thus reducing creativity and innovation. Another cultural trait is flexibility. Flexibility in business reflects a realization that “there is an ‘intermediary path’ between what is and what is not allowed”. There is a special way of managing obstacles in order to find a way out of bureaucracy; it’s a way to find a middle path between what is allowed by numerous laws and regulations, and what is practically possible and makes sense. There’s an adaptation mechanism which allows individuals and businesses to function despite the rigid and stifling legislative environment, massive bureaucracy, paternalistic management systems, and the oligarchic economic structure, dominated by powerful hereditary clans.