International Business Etiquette and Glossary of Terms

Posted: Apr 16  |  By: Janet Berry-Johnson

A U.S.-based consultant working with an international business has a lot to consider. Will you need a Visa? An overseas bank account? What about taxes? Those are all critical issues to sort out, but while you’re at it, brush up on some differences in international business etiquette and culture in foreign countries. Here are a few areas to get you started.

Vacation vs. Holiday

Americans and Brits both speak English, but even our common language has some differences. Of these differences, one includes the time take off work. Americans call this a vacation, while the Brits use the term holiday.

It’s not just about what that time is called, but how much of it there is. On average, American workers take 10 paid holidays a year, while those in the U.K. receive 28.

The European Union requires their member countries to provide at least four weeks or 20 days per year, but some countries are more generous. France and Germany give their people 30 days paid annual leave.

When we take time off also varies. Many employees in Italy are encouraged to take off almost the entire month of August. Such long breaks are common in Europe. Most Europeans take most of their vacation days at once. That’s virtually unheard of in the U.S., where taking just two or three days at a time is the norm.

Working hours

Traditional working hours in the U.S. are Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm, or some variant adding up to 40 hours per week. But of course, most U.S. employees will tell you that sticking to a “9 to 5” workday is not so common. Many businesses expect their employees, especially if they are salaried, to work extended hours.

The U.K. working day is traditionally 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday, with an hour for lunch. In comparison, Spanish employees will normally work from 9 am to 8 pm with a two-hour lunch break. In Dubai, the work week is Sunday to Thursday.

CV vs. Resume

Looking for a job in the U.K.? Please don’t send your resume. In Britain, the document you use to apply for a job is called a CV. That stands for ‘curriculum vitae,’ which in Latin means ‘course of life.”

In the U.S. and Canada, this document is called a resume, which is the French word for “summary.” The etymology of these words hints at the expected length of the document. A resume is typically concise – just one page long – and designed to highlight your employment history, skills and achievements. A CV, on the other hand, is an in-depth document that gives an overview of the owner’s entire career and may span several pages.

Biweekly vs. Fortnightly

How often will you get paid by an employer in the U.K.: biweekly or fortnightly? In case you missed it, that was a trick question. They mean the same thing.

The word fortnight comes from an old English word meaning fourteen nights. It’s commonly used by speakers and writers of British English. Biweekly is used in the U.S. to refer to something that occurs every two weeks.

Negotiating tactics

There are some things Americans feel comfortable negotiating: car prices, contracts, salaries – although some research shows that more than half of U.S. workers don’t negotiate job offers! Shoppers in the U.S. rarely haggle over price, but other countries negotiating is a way of life.

In Arab and African countries, shoppers are expected to bargain – it’s seen as pleasurable, not painful or embarrassing. In India it’s common to negotiate deals at length, haggling down everything from supplies to business services.

As business becomes more global, it’s important for consultants to respect other cultures and customs. Before you seek out an overseas consulting gig, do a little research on etiquette, manners and business terms in that country. Then take to heart the old adage, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

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