When doing business internationally, greeting your client or colleague appropriately is the first step to maintaining great professional relationships. Read below to see how greetings in China, Germany, and the United States compare.
- A Chinese name begins with a family name followed by middle or given names. For example, Yo-Yo Ma’s Chinese name is Ma Yo-Yo. It is very rude to address people with their given names if you are not a close friend to them. In front of elders or people who rank above, you should never use their middle or given names. You should always address them with their family names + their titles.
- Among peers or co-workers, regardless of gender, you should address them with Xiao (honorable young one) or Lao (honorable old one) in front of their family names. For example, Wong Peng is your colleague at work, whose age is similar to yours. You can address him or her as Xiao Wong.
- A common form of greeting is a brief hand shake. With elders or senior officials, a light nod or bow should accompany the handshake to show your respect.
- Germans shake hands a lot: when they meet, say goodbye, say thank you etc.
- You address a person by their last name and include titles (Herr Meier or Frau Doktor Schmidt). Fräulein is the old fashioned title for unmarried women; however, its use today is considered inappropriate.
- English “you”: German “Du” is informal and always used with the first name. “Sie” is formal and used either with the surname or sometimes with the first name (like something “in between” formal and informal). You usually use “Sie” until someone offers you the “Du” (“Wollen wir uns duzen? Ich heiße [first name]./We should say “Du”, my name is….). The traditional way to confirm this agreement is a kiss on the cheek and a hug (not in a business situation, of course). That may happen after some time or after some drinks. Careful: In special situations like the Oktoberfest or the Kölner Karneval after a few drinks people always say “Du”. That does not necessarily mean that it will also be that way the next day.
The United States
- A handshake is the typical greeting for men and women.
- Often the question ‘How are you?’ is asked when greeting others. This is really just a formality and does not require a detailed answer (‘Fine. And you?’ is standard).
- Americans avoid hugging and kissing people that are not family members or close friends.
What other greeting customs have you encountered in the United States that differ from your own country’s greetings? Please comment!
*** All excerpts are taken from Wetzel’s Business Travelers Guides (c).