Western Europe business etiquette and cultural differences

The Western European countries of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands and Switzerland and Italy share some similar social and cultural characteristics, while being distinctly different in other regards.

When interacting with individuals from any of the Western European countries there are certain customs and mannerisms that need to be kept in mind.

Here are some common cultural pitfalls that one can avoid in these countries owing to prior notification:

How do people greet and meet in Western Europe?

  • Greetings are traditionally formal in Western Europe with a firm handshake, a smile and even a slight bow in certain old-fashioned circles.
  • Familiar colleagues may kiss each other 3 times on the cheek. However, men rarely kiss men, they shake hands!

What role do women play in the Western European business industry?

  • Women in Western Europe are gaining popularity in the business field and it’s not uncommon to find them there, even in top managerial positions.
  • In fact, many companies in Western Europe have adopted policies that encourage women managers.

What is the right gift-giving etiquette in West Europe?

  • Flowers and chocolates are the usual favourites at Western European social functions.
  • The French prefer expensive wine as they have a taste for it. In some places, however, arriving at a dinner party with wine may be considered inappropriate as the host may have already selected the wine for the night!
  • If offering flowers, avoid gifting 13. It’s considered unlucky. Also, avoid white flowers as these are usually offered at funerals. In Luxembourg and Netherland, don’t gift chrysanthemums as these too are considered to be funeral flowers.
  • Sharp objects such as knives or swords are considered to be unlucky gifts.
  • Expensive (looking) gifts may be seen as a bribe, especially when giving them to government officials. Keep the value of your gifts below 50 Euro. Also, keep this amount in mind as the maximum spend per person when inviting officials for dinner.

What is the correct dining etiquette in West Europe?

  • Western Europeans follow the Continental or the traditional knife and fork custom when dining.
  • Men sit only after all the women are seated at the table.
  • Use your knife, fork and spoon wherever applicable. Even sandwiches are eaten with a knife and fork in most West European set-ups.
  • Wait for the host to offer the first toast.
  • Serve yourself small portions to avoid wastage.
  • Place your knife and fork diagonally parallel to each other on your plate, to indicate that you have finished your meal.

If hailing from an Asian or Middle Eastern background, getting familiarised with the Western European culture may take some practice. Hence, when unfamiliar with the local peculiarities of a Western European country, it’s best to utilise the negotiation skills of professionals to advise you with these practicalities.

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