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Etiquette Concerns for European Business Trips

Behaving on a business trip in Europe depends on the part of Europe to which you travel. Some codes of business-trip behavior are shared across Europe:

  • Language: The European Union has 15 official languages, but English is fast becoming the business “communication” language. Even though most business professionals throughout Europe speak some English, it’s always recommended to learn important key words of your destination’s language.

  • Appropriate dress: For most businesses throughout Europe, business attire is formal, which means dark suits, subdued ties, and lace-up shoes. Women’s clothing follows suit.

  • Greeting rituals: Handshakes are standard business-greeting gestures throughout Europe and usually are exchanged both before and after every meeting, no matter how many meetings you’ve already had.

    European handshakes are more formal and less buddy-buddy than those in the United States, with a quick grasp and release being the norm. It’s customary to let women and those of higher rank extend their hands first in Europe.

  • Handling meetings: In general, meetings in the northern countries of Europe begin promptly, and the tone is businesslike, whereas meetings in the Mediterranean countries begin late and are prefaced by seemingly irrelevant banter (as an opportunity for your host to get to know you — a prerequisite for business dealings in Mediterranean countries).

    The fact that meetings in the Mediterranean countries typically begin late doesn’t mean that you can arrive late; it means that your host typically will arrive late.

  • Dining and entertaining: Expect enormous variation when it comes to dining and entertaining in Europe. But dining is taken seriously in most of Europe as an expression of generosity. Practically throughout all Europe, it’s rude to refuse dinner invitations or any of the sumptuous items offered to you at a dinner.

  • Giving and receiving gifts: Business and social gift-giving vary from country to country. In most countries, a small host gift is appropriate if you’re invited to someone’s home for dinner.

  • Social taboos: In many European countries, asking people what they do for a living or asking them a personal question as an opening conversational gambit is a serious mistake.

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