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How to Professionally Greet People in the Top 10 Most Visited Countries

Guide on greeting VIPs
April 04, 2019

Imagine this … your boss has chosen you to be the face of the company and is sending you on a worldwide trip to build relationships in some of the world’s leading countries. You’ll travel first class, attend important events, rub shoulders with the rich and famous, and will stay in the finest hotels. It all sounds very plush, doesn’t it? But wait. Before you start planning your wardrobe and digging out the suitcase, there is something you need to do first. Your boss is expecting you to build relationships in order to strengthen the company reputation. You want to make friends with these people, put your best feet forward, and garner interest in your company for a long time to come. To do that, it’s essential you learn a little about the countries you are going to visit. Being the face of the company, you must know certain etiquette, cultural customs and how best to greet people. After all, first impressions count.

To get you started, here’s a guide on greeting VIPs in the Top 10 Most Visited Countries:


#10  Malaysia

Quick facts:

  • Population – 25 Million
  • Ethnic Makeup – Malay 50.4%, Chinese 23.7%, Indigenous 11%, Indian 7.1%
  • Language – Bahasa Malaysia, but many speak English
  • General greeting – Good morning: Selamat pagi (pag-ee), Good afternoon: Selamat tengah hari (teen-gah har-ee)

Malaysia is predominantly a Muslim country and visitors should dress respectfully. In rural areas particularly, aim for trousers or a long skirt and covered shoulders. Before entering a home or mosque, always take off your shoes. Malays hold the ‘concept of face’ in high stead and strive to present themselves as harmonious people with good qualities. Face is a personal concept that can be given, lost, taken away or earned. Malaysian business people are generally culturally-savvy and the correct greeting may depend on ethnicity, age, sex and status. Many Chinese and Indians also call Malaysia home, so try to find out ethnicity before you arrive and adapt accordingly. Your initial greeting should denote respect and, if part of a team, introduce in order of importance. Understand that many Malays and Indians are uncomfortable shaking hands with the opposite sex, so instead greet people by placing your right hand over the left breast. This gesture means “I greet you from my heart”. Always use honorific titles (professor, doctor etc) when applicable. If handed a business card, show respect by reading the card before placing in your pocket. When giving a business card, only give with the right hand. When saying goodbye, never hug or kiss, even if you feel you’ve become close during your stay. Hugging and kissing is considered inappropriate behaviour in public, and is frowned upon heavily. If invited to a person’s home, bring the hostess pastries and never alcohol. Only give with the right hand, as the left is a sign of ‘dirtiness’. Avoid white wrapping paper, as this symbolises death.


#9  Russia

Quick facts:

  • Population – 143 million
  • Religion: 75% belong to Orthodox Christian
  • Language – Russian
  • General greeting – Informal: Privyet (pri-vyet), Formal: Zdravstvujtye (zdrast-ue-te)

Unlike English customs, the first part of greeting a Russian is not to introduce yourself. A Russian will begin an introduction by saying, “Davajtye poznakomimsya”, which means, “Let’s get acquainted.” The response to this should be “Davajtye”, meaning “Let’s!” The Russians are generally a lot more formal than Australians, and it pays to get your greeting right. Being too informal can come across as rude or offensive. Don’t be offended if you do not get a smile, as initial greetings can come across as very cool. Don’t shake hands over a threshold, as this is deemed threatening. Once you have become acquainted, you can expect lots of physical contact in the form of backslapping, kisses on the cheeks, and touching when talking. Russians are very punctual and will expect you to be the same. They are also big fans of business cards, so pack plenty. As for clothes, anything goes. If you are invited to the home of a Russian for a meal (which is likely as they love entertaining), be sure to accept as this as it comes with great honour. And when dining at their home, always leave some food on your plate, as this will tell your host you have been fed well.


#8 UK

Quick facts:

  • Population – 60 Million
  • Major ethnic groups – British, Irish, West Indian, South Asian
  • Language – English, Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic
  • General greeting – How do you do

UK customs allow for most styles of dress, however it is expected you dress formally for an important dinner or cultural event. When greeting someone new, always start with a firm handshake and say, “How do you do”. This is not a question, therefore expect the same response back. Another appropriate greeting is to say, “Hello, I am __________. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” The British place considerable value on punctuality, and you should aim to arrive at the exact time suggested or a few minutes early. If invited to a home for dinner, a gift for the host is considered respectful. This is usually flowers or chocolates.

#7 Germany

Quick facts:

  • Population – 81 Million
  • Ethnicity – German 91.5%, Turkish 2.4%
  • Language – German
  • General greeting – Guten Tag (gooten tahg)

German customs generally require a certain air of formality when meeting for the first time, which may well explain why they have a reputation for appearing cold and abrupt. Once you are acquainted, however, the Germans are generally very friendly and welcoming. Germans expect eye contact and a brief but firm handshake. It is also advisable to always address business contacts with their appropriate title, ie. Dr, Mr or Mrs when first meeting, but be sure to accept an invite to be on first name basis, as this is a great honour. As for clothing, try to appear smartly dressed whenever doing business. At dinner, always wait until all meals are on the table before tucking in. Before you eat, say “Guten Appetit”.

#6 Turkey

Quick facts:

  • Population – 80 million
  • Ethnic makeup – Turkish 70% Kurdish 18%
  • Language – Turkish
  • General greeting – Merhaba (mer-ha-ba)

Islam is the major religion of the Turkish, and the Quran is used as the basis for all guidance. Pay attention to prayer times during the day, and refrain from eating, drinking, smoking or chewing gum in public during Ramadan. When greeting others, always maintain eye contact and use a firm handshake for men or light handshake for women. As you get to know one another, you may see two men greet each other with a kiss on each cheek or by making their temples touch. The Turkish love to touch, but only above the waist. Anything lower is considered a sexual gesture and is a big taboo. Time is not of great importance, so don’t be surprised if someone is late for a meeting. When arriving at a meeting, expect some small talk before more formal business is attended to. Once talking business or politics, expect the Turkish to be very upfront about their views.

#5 Italy

Quick facts:

  • Population – 61 million
  • Ethnic makeup – Italian, German, French
  • Language – Italian
  • General greeting – Buongiorno (bwon-jur-no)

The Italians hold inventiveness, imagination and intelligence in high stead, and will greatly welcome the educated. Family is hugely important and at the centre of many of their decisions, both in life and business. When meeting someone for the first time, be sure to shake hands with everybody in the room, regardless of title. This includes children. Do the same when you leave. Use last names and titles until told to do otherwise, and if giving out business cards give one to each person in the room. Eye contact is important, so maintain it always. Body language is also of great importance, as is punctuality. A bit of small talk is considered polite before business is attended to. Italians like to work with people they can trust, so it is especially important to make friends before discussing business. Business relationships must be mutually beneficial.

#4 Spain

Quick facts:

  • Population – 47 million
  • Ethnic makeup – Spanish 87%, Latin American 7%, African 2%
  • Language – Castilian Spanish
  • General greeting – Cómo está usted? (como ess-ta oo-sted)

The Spanish consider greetings extremely important, and when introducing yourself to a group it is essential you greet each individual with the same greeting. Try to aim for a greeting that matches the time of day, ie “Buenos dias”, meaning “Good Morning”. The Spanish have a warm, open, and often flirtatious way of conversing. They generally speak at a close physical distance, and will commonly greet each other with a “besitos” – a kiss on the right cheek. Most Spaniards will want to get to know you on a personal level before doing any kind of business, and generally don’t have a great deal of trust for large institutions. Most introductions will be held over lunch or dinner to establish whether or not there is any social chemistry between the two parties. You are expected to dress well, with particular attention to be paid to shoes as the Spanish consider these very important. Men should wear jackets and ties even in hot weather, and women should wear dresses or skirts.

#3 China

Quick facts:

  • Population – 1.3 billion
  • Ethnic makeup – Han Chinese 91.5%
  • Language – Chinese or Mandarin
  • General greeting – Nin hao ma? (nin hay-o ma)

A smile, good eye contact and politeness are good signs of sincerity in China, and how you address a person should depend on the individual and the environment. A common greeting is “Hen Gao Xing Ren Shi Ni”, meaning “Nice to meet you”. When introducing yourself, it is considered polite to state your full name, job title, and place you work for. Introductions should always be performed with rank in mind, ie. the junior is introduced to the senior first. A soft handshake is well accepted, and a gift is considered polite. Never point to address a person, never blow your nose and then return the tissue to your pocket, and avoid touching strangers. These gestures are all considered very rude. When talking business, the Chinese are astute negotiators. Be prepared for long meetings and lengthy negotiations, but refrain from talking business during meal times. Business cards should be printed in both English and “simplified” Chinese. If asked for dinner, always arrive just on time and not early, as this inclines you are hungry and impatient. Spouses are not usually invited.

#2 USA

Quick facts:

  • Population – 316 million
  • Language- English 82%, Spanish 11%
  • General greeting – Hi. How are you?

It is common etiquette in the united States to ask a person how they are doing, regardless of how well you know them. A firm handshake is also expected along with a warm smile. A woman may be given a hug once you know them well. General manners are required, such as holding doors open for others to enter a room. As a whole, meeting in America on business is much like business in Australia.

#1 France

Quick facts:

  • Population – 65 million
  • Ethnic makeup – French, European
  • Language – French
  • General Greeting – Bonjour (bon-jure)

The French are big fans of elegance, and will expect you to be well presented at all times. They celebrate fashion, the arts, history and culture, and will embrace new, novelty ideas. When meeting a group of people, shake the hand of all in the room. Do the same upon leaving. If you are unaware of their last name, address all women (except waitresses) over 18 as “Madame” and men as “Monsieur”. Academic titles and degrees are very important and should be used when applicable. Body language is of great importance, and you should never sit with your legs apart. Your posture should be good and legs either crossed or knees placed together when seated. The French do not mix business with pleasure, so do not discuss personal things with someone you plan to do business with. Business relationships are proper, orderly, and professional. Business is generally discussed quickly. Any presentations should be very clear and performed in French when possible. Most French do speak English, but they prefer not to.

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