The following areas are the most likely to cause a cross-cultural mistake. By researching the country or culture of those you will be doing business with, you will be able to further avoid any embarrassment.
Body language and gestures
What we may consider innocent gestures or facial expressions might mean something entirely different in another culture. Many cultures consider pointing to be extremely rude and offensive; likewise, a simple thumbs up is an offensive gesture in many Middle Eastern countries.
Even handshakes can lost in translation; in the United States, we often view shaking hands as a way to close a deal, but other cultures see it as a sign that negotiations are just beginning.
It is important to understand the cultural or religious dietary restrictions in other countries. Doing so may help prevent any major faux pas. Before offering an alcoholic beverage to a potential client, consider their culture. Practitioners of the Mormon, Muslim, or Seventh Day Adventists faiths do not drink alcohol, whereas in Russia it is considered rude to refuse an offer of vodka.
If you find yourself at a silent business lunch, do not be worried. Many cultures do not speak during mealtime, believing that the food should be the focus. Likewise, not eating enough in countries like Greece or Italy may be taken as a sign you were displeased with the food offered.
How close we stand to another person or how often we touch them varies from culture to culture. In the United States we are accustomed to having a rather large “personal bubble” of 1-2 yards; in most Eastern countries, however, personal space is viewed differently with everyone, including strangers, standing much closer together.
In Mediterranean and South American cultures, it is common to touch or hug acquaintances, friends, and colleagues as a way of connecting. In many Eastern cultures, however, touching is taboo and as much as a simple pat on the back may be offensive.
Navigating the divide between different cultures may seem daunting, but with research you can hope to avoid any major faux pas. While most cultural mistakes can be graciously accepted and forgiven if genuine effort is shown, understanding cultural boundaries when doing business abroad can help you avoid any potentially embarrassing situations.