Cross Cultural Notes
HOW TO USE PEOPLE'S NAMES
If the name is difficult to pronounce, which is common when you
are hearing a foreign name for the first time, ask the person to
pronounce it again slowly. Write the phonetic pronunciation of the
name on a small note pad. (It is rude in some cultures to write
on the back of the business card.)
In Australia, full names are used for initial greetings, and "Sir"
is an address of respect. Australians are quick to go to a first-name
basis. Wait for them to initiate the use of first names. "Mate"
will be heard more often than "Sir". It refers to anyone
of one's own
sex, but if they say "My mates", it refers to their friends.
Women also refer to other women as "mate". As part of
Australia's classless society, academic qualifications are downplayed
- in public. In Australia, a title - whether academic or job-related-does
command respect in and of itself. The individual must still win
the respect of others.
In England business titles are not used in conversation but do find
out the honorary titles of anyone you will be in contact with, and
use them no matter how familiar you are with the person. Doctors,
clergy, etc. are addressed by title plus last name; however, surgeons
are addressed as Mr., Mrs., or Miss. Rather than "sir,"
use the title of the person you are addressing, eg. "Yes, Minister",
and not "Yes, sir". The English are beginning to use first
names, but you should wait for your hosts to initiate this. Despite
my earlier suggestion, you should avoid repeating the other person's
name during the conversation.
There are three distinct cultural groups in Malaysia: the Indians,
the Chinese, and the Malays. Each has different rules about whether
the first name is the given name or the surname, titles, and protocol.
Most business is done with the Chinese, so I will focus on
them. Most business people you meet should be addressed with a title
and their name or, if they have no title, Mr., Mrs., Miss. Be careful
not to omit titles that may be important to that person and to your
understanding of that person. Chinese wives do not generally take
their husband's surname, but instead maintain their maiden names.
She should be addressed as Madam plus her maiden family name.
Be sure to match your hosts formality; if he asks you to call him
Mr. Gupta, don't say, "just call me Bob". Also, last names
may come first. Others may have already Westernised their name,
so the rule is ask, "What would you like me to call you?"
In South Africa, be sure to use the title Doctor or Professor when
appropriate; address a lawyer as Mister. Refer to an advocate who
pleads in the Supreme Court as Advocate with the last name. Use
first names only after a South African does.
Don't expect others to remember your name. Begin by eluding or
reminding them as to when or where you met before and give them
your name quickly to save them the embarrassment of asking.
Another component of that first thirty second lasting impression
is the body language. The most common among the countries we're
discussing is the handshake. But the use of the handshake differs
from one culture to another.
In England, a handshake is standard for business occasions and when
visiting a home. Women do not necessarily shake hands. A woman may
extend her hand; men should wait for women to do so.
Australia and Mexico
It is the custom to shake hands at the beginning and end of a meeting.
Women will often give a kiss on the cheek in greeting. Men may wait
for women to initiate a handshake.
With younger or foreign-educated Malaysian, a handshake is the most
common form of greeting. The standard Malaysian handshake is more
of a hand clasp; it is rather limp and lasts for some ten or twelve
seconds. Often both hands will be used. In Malaysia,
Westernised women may shake hands with both men and women.. Malaysian
businessmen usually wait for a woman to offer her hand. It is perfectly
acceptable for a women to simply nod upon an introduction rather
than offering her hand. Women should offer their hands only upon
greeting; too-frequent handshaking is easily
misinterpreted as an amorous advance. But men shake hands both on
greeting and on departure. Ethnic Malays are generally Muslim.
Traditionally, there is no physical contact between Muslim men
and women. Malaysian Chinese are generally comfortable shaking hands
with both men and women. Many Malay Indians are Hindu. Most Hindus
avoid public contact between men and women. The traditional Indian
greeting involves a slight bow with the palms of the hands together
(as if praying).
Remember that an "African Handshake" is used between blacks
and whites and blacks and blacks. To do this, shake hands and, without
letting go, slip your hand around the other person's thumb; then
go back to the traditional handshake.
Whites do not use this handshake with other whites. Afrikaaners
and whites of both sexes shake hands when introduced. With good
friends of opposite sexes: men kiss women on one cheek. Men greet
close male friends with a handshake or a hug. In greeting men in
a business setting, women should nod or shake hands.
In Malaysia, the exchange of business cards is not only unique from
the other cultures being discussed today, it is a formal ceremony.
After introductions are made, the visiting business person should
offer his or her card. Make sure you give a card to each person
present. Present your card either with both hands or with your right
hand (with the left hand lightly supporting your right). Give your
card to the recipient with the print facing him or her (so the recipient
can read it). He or she will receive the card with both
hands, then study the card for a few moments before carefully putting
it away in a pocket. You should do the same when a card is presented
to you. Never put a card in your back pocket and do not write on
someone's business card.
Business cards should be printed, preferably embossed, in English.
Since the majority of Malaysian business people are ethnic Chinese,
you may wish to have the reverse side of some of your cards translated
into Chinese (gold ink is the most prestigious colour for Chinese
Your business card should contain as much information as possible,
including your business title and your qualifications. Malaysians
include all of this data on their card, as well as any titles of
nobility. In the case of Malaysian associates, you might consider
keeping a small note book to record the phonetic pronunciation of
of meeting, and other important information.
In Australia, it appropriate to present a business card at an introduction,
but don't be surprised if you do not get one in return since many
Australians do not have them. Your best approach, when dealing with
Australians, is to be friendly, relaxed, modest,
and unpretentious - just be yourself because they are hard to impress.
England, Australia, Malaysia, South Africa
In England, Australia, Malaysia, and South Africa gifts are not
part of doing business. Although, if you are invited to an English
home, you may bring flowers, liquor, or chocolates. It is an excellent
idea to send a brief hand-written thank you note promptly afterwards
by messenger. In Malaysia, a gift could be interpreted as a bribe;
not give gifts until you have established a personal relationship
Giving gifts to executives in a business context is not required.
gifts, such as items with a company logo (for an initial visit)
or a bottle of win or
scotch (on subsequent visits) are appreciated. Secretaries do expect
A government secretary who performs any service for you should be
given a token gift. A secretary from the private sector would be
given a more valuable gift, such as perfume or a scarf. A businessman
giving such a gift to a female secretary should say the gift is
from his wife.