Worldwide customs - Quick guide to prevent mistakes - Asia (I)

Good for business
I will dedicate some space to share with you worldwide customs, helpful for anyone who wants to go abroad or wants to settle a business. Since business meetings are an actual interests today and many of them take place abroad I will focus on tips concerning this matter, but not only. I’ve split my article by continents to can be followed easily. Writing just a phrase about a country to make the article short it’s just not my style, you can’t learn too much this way. In my first post I open the knowledge about Asian countries mentioning that countries like India, China and Japan (in this order) will have their individual post with specific negotiation techniques and methods. It was hard to figure out how to split all the info I wanna share with you, so I’m hoping I found the best way.
Note: if I let out some of the countries on the way please forgive me, I tried my own interest list. If you want countries not showed on the list please make a request and I promise to include it in future post. Also this will be my last post for a couple of days since I’m gonne travel starting tomorrow.


Koreans are very competitive and they hardly accept the second place so will always try to negotiate extra advantages, they are very agile and like to promise what you wanna hear which not always becomes reality. If they want to let you out from the business they will use any methods to create that business environment which makes you to retreat. The conversations are very dynamic and when they talk about serious matters became also very serious with some dark humor spread around. They know how to listen but can give the impression that they already know what you want to say. They love long time exclusivity, but they won’t stick to that contract if find something better. When they want to buy - the most important issue is the money; if they sell than the quality of the products depends on other bigger contracts which they could have. So it’s not the easiest to have Korean business partners. All this because history showed them just the first place is acceptable, second place means loosing.
Koreans are very traditionalists. Don’t like to be touched, in business meetings could handshake you + make a bow, but that’s it. The older person will make the presentations, first this is the custom. Punctuality is not the main issue like with Chinese or Japanese. They use titles instead of names so don’t call them on their first name.
Eating habits: they like to serve their guests, they sip the soup and belch after eating sign that the food was good.
Never make comparisons between them and Chinese and especially not with Japanese. Listen to them, embrace their thoughts, make jokes when you can but always be firm since they don’t respect weak people.


Here depends whom you’re talking to, the population is very divers so need to know where that person belongs. Singapore has many Chinese influences for instance. It’s indicated not to mention religion since it’s a sensitive issue and you could find yourself in a huge polemic. Always is good to show you are equal to them and give respect to what they achieved in their economy and social status. Be wise and disciplined, extravagance is not seen nicely here. It’s good to learn some words in their language: Chinese Mandarin, Malay and Tamin.


They respect hierarchy and calm people. Don’t be too direct if you can hurt the person. They are in majority Buddhist and respect this way of life. If you are angry try to not show it. They don’t show their personal problems or just a little of them and use smile to hide their problems. The good image and sometimes hypocrisy is accepted. They don’t like changes and competition, prefer to work a little for small money instead a lot for big money. Business is good to discus after working hours and don’t take decisions or make contracts on the first day, try to develop slowly a good relationship first. Giggles show many times that they hide something or want to ask for more. They don’t like to put anyone in a bad situation so the decisions are made accordingly.
Important: be social, nice, slow, insist on their independency, learn some elements about Buddhism, respect monarchy, time is cycle and be decently dressed.


They are really different compared to any East Asian country. More opened, accept foreigners and act like Latinos, especially when they are talking. They are very independent but respect also hierarchy depending on age, family status and position, also study level. Latin style is also showed in their time keeping, it’s good to ask what they meant when set up a meeting, Philippians time or American time, if it’s Philippians then 1-2 hours more it’s acceptable. Also they prefer to let things on the next day. Many of them talks English, the Philippines has the second-largest English speaking population in the world. Love to talk a lot and keep long sessions, but they are not so exuberant like Latinos. They can also listen well. Love warm hearted but modest people. They like to be respected and especially after their age and status – keep this in meetings. More personal issues can be discussed and they will listen. Since fatalism is between their beliefs many times you will hear the expression “bahala na” (whatever will be will be). If they lower their head the answer will be mostly “no”, if they say yes they could thing negatively about the issue involved. If they raise their heads and eyebrows on the other hand they mean yes. Love to party, music, dance and eat well, men call waiters with “ssss” and women use their fan. Don’t be critic about their government, religion, bureaucracy. Accept gifts and flowers but usually they refuse 2 times before accepting any gift. Be compassionate, interested in how they are and show respect to titles and status. Show also professionalism because they expect that from strangers.


They believe in heredity and feudal hierarchy. They work usually in groups but they don’t like touches too much. Prefer doing things the next day also. They are more expansive than Chinese, Koreans or Japanese and still believe in communication. The southern ones are more opened and honest. They love poetry. They have many French influences, love frankness in the discussion having good communication skills. They have a tendency to be suspicious to any stranger at first, including Chinese and Japanese, although they are polite they won’t let too much from them. They prefer ASEAN members like a contra choice for the Chinese power. They respect age as well like most of Asian countries. They have a heavy history and you need to keep this in mind, they are proud and don’t like to be humiliated of any kind. Reputation and respect are keywords. They know when it’s time to give up so be fair with them and they will show a good common sense.


The biggest Islamic country formed by 13 000 islands. It’s a very poor country but with many values, here women are differently treated alike in most of the Islamic countries, have freedom and rights. Here the family is the most important thing. Although they accept polygamy rarely will use it. They are friendly and hospitable. They are not interested too much in status, money or profit. Like we saw before hierarchy is important here as well. Common goals in groups have much bigger value than individual ones. Age, work history and military rang creates their status. Punctuality is not so important here, 1-2 hours in plus it’s acceptable since they perceive the time like something extensible. They avoid conflicts in any discussion, talk a lot like many Asians but on a low tone without showing their emotions too much. They tend to tell you what you want to hear even if they don’t know the answer. They will never tell you if they didn’t understood your proposals. A normal discussion could be very long and boring but for them is normal. Need to keep in mind that everything needs time and is negotiable. They are very opened touching others unlike to any other Asian country, but respect the head area. That’s why they won’t raise their heads over a superior one keeping it inclined many times. Be nicely dressed and more traditional. Don’t keep your hands on your hip since this means aggressiveness. They use always the right hand or both to give or receive something. Like any Muslim they don’t eat pork, don’t drink alcohol. Don’t be too personal.
Eating habits: never eat everything from your plate. Respect them and don’t talk about sensitive issues like religion or corruption, even if they accept bribe.


The second islamic country of Asia. Family again is a very important issue, everything is around that and they encourage long term and stable family relationships. Love for children is something very powerfull. Respect, politeness and kindness are a must. A person who make many compromises in his life is most respected. They don’t care too much becoming rich, in the past malaysina peasant were prohibited to have fortunes. They are fatalist accrding to their religion and believe that every person is from essence good. They are motivated to finish the job than having money. They believe in their superior and don’t expect promotions, when they deserve it are sure the boss will take care of them. In any business meeting they prefer ierachi delimitations and kind salutation. They will use both hands and the handshake is kind – after they bring their hands to their heart sign of respect “ I salut you from all my heart”
The women use "salaam salutation" inclining to earth level. They never use the index to show something, rather they use the big finger with all the rest closed. They are enthusiastic about industrial and technological developments, especially the young ones.

What seem to share Islamic and other Asian countries ?

- the family is always important;
- no direct confrontation, harmony is always good for business and personal life;
- the society is based on hierarchy, age, years worked in that business, culture;
- good manners, respect, protocol and etiquette is always a must;
- every discussion is full of different subjects to avoid direct confrontations;
- compromising reputation is very serious issue;
- working in groups is always better than individual goals.


- Muslims are not so interested in moneys and high goals;
- they have their Muslim believes and habits: no pork, no alcohol;
- Muslims are less punctual than Chinese, Japanese, Koreans.

Now for the final let’s learn with fun. A short caricature tale about an Indonesian in America, to see better the differences. Instead of the Indonesian could be another Asian but let’s stick to our first version.

An Indonesian goes in America to negotiate a business and arrives directly from the airport to a dinner meeting, completely big headed after the flight. Recovering from a tuff handshake needs to drink some Martini, than red wine (against his will), eat a huge steak and go to bed. Next morning our Indonesian has a huge hangover but he respects the ridiculously fixed meeting at 9 o’clock. Another handshakes from some huge Americans and in 2 minutes, next to a Starbucks tasteless coffee served in plastic cup he founds himself in the middle of the business negotiation and he’s called on his first name, what a manner. His carefully prepared 10 minute speech which meant to relax the atmosphere and make both parts feel better become history. The whole meeting is too short and aggressive for his style and needs to answer many times with “yes” and “no” before his pencils had time to arrive on the table. The Americans just continue on and on with some weird demonstrative positions with crossed legs showing him their shoe sole. When he refuses politely according to his style some of the Americans proposal, with half his mouth open they take it as a yes and continue with more proposals. Sometimes they behave with him very tuff, than suddenly very kindly, changing their tactics all over again making him stare and swallow. For him they seem attacking a lot than making quick concessions every time they were caught in their way. For him this shows they don’t care about their reputation. Finally when he starts to wake up, his mind is full of thoughts and questions about where the h… did he arrived exactly.

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