Often we can see the reason behind our own cultural ways and habits, but others may not see them in the same way. The habits, words and gestures of people from different cultures may seem odd and confusing to us. We are increasingly working across cultures and we should be aware and respectful of each other’s norms and differing etiquette.


If your boss visits another country, research any cultural differences for that country to make sure the boss does not offend anyone. The ritual of shaking hands is especially important and, particularly for women, the dress code. It is a good idea to provide translations of some basic greeting words – ‘hello, how are you’, ‘thank you’, ‘goodbye’ and so on. If possible, when planning to do business in other countries it is advisable to try to spend a day or two there beforehand to do some ‘on the ground’ research. If time affords then suggest this to your boss and schedule it in the diary.


Some countries take a much more direct and focused approach than others, while some will require ‘small talk’ and relation-ship building before doing business. Working with different cultures means that there will be a need for clarity in the communications we make and we should watch and listen
and learn from others. However, it is worth remembering that respect, openness and courtesy are common to all cultures.

‘Never assume that others think the same. Even people in the
same culture may be brought up in a different environment,
which makes them differ from each other. Observe people
before you do or say anything that may cause misunderstanding
or offend another person.’
Elzbieta Pietrzyk, The Smart European PA of the Year 2007

‘Try to learn as much about etiquette in different cultures as
possible. Find someone who is not offended if you ask questions
about their culture if it is different from yours, and question
away!’
Janita C Sullivan, President,
Legal Secretaries International Inc

Be careful with the English language as it can cause confusion.
The meanings of words and phrases may vary in different
English-speaking countries such as the UK, Australia, South
Africa and the United States.
Body language also means different things in different countries. The common English and American ‘thumbs up’ (well done) gesture, for example, would be offensive in some countries. Making eye contact, showing the sole of your foot, personal space, sitting down before the other person, reading a business card, presenting an object with your left hand – all these gestures and behaviors can convey very different impressions. Be warned and watch and listen and learn.

You can find out about culture differences from the internet, from books, by asking colleagues who work in different countries and by joining cross-cultural networks such as European Management Assistants, which also has sister organisations all over the world.

It is important to note that there is one gesture that is understood, liked and is well received by all cultures and that is a genuine friendly smile.

If you want to shine in your role, take a look at the training courses we offer at Bingo Traders. Designed specifically for EAs, PAs, Admins, Office Managers,… , these learning opportunities provide the skills and knowledge you’ll need to excel. 

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Sue France / Photo on Unsplash

Posted by BingoTraders