Event Etiquette in Asia

Are there meeting manners or table etiquette I should abide by?

When designing an event, planners sometimes fail to consider etiquette, which can be important in creating an environment conducive to meetings. But etiquette is about more than using the correct table settings: It’s about portraying polite, acceptable and culturally expected behavior, habits and good manners in any given situation.

This is especially important in Asian culture, where proper understanding of etiquette represents whether you’ll be perceived as trustworthy, reliable, honest and someone worthy of entering into business with. Here’s a primer on basic etiquette in this part of the world.

What should I eat and drink at the meeting?

Be aware of local customs and what types of food and drink can be consumed in that society. If you’re unsure, it could be best to stick to vegetarian options and nonalcoholic beverages to avoid causing any offense.

Sharing food in Asian culture, especially in Chinese culture, plays an important social role and is used to build relationships. Even if local foods seem unfamiliar, be prepared to try them. Being enthusiastic and willing to take part in local food culture shows that you’re open-minded and interested in learning about other people—a simple way to demonstrate that you’re also interested in the business that brings you together.

Are there meeting manners or table etiquette I should abide by?

Exchanging business cards in Asian culture can be very important. If possible, consider having translated or multilingual versions of your business cards made. Hand your cards out with two hands, and receive other people’s cards in the same fashion. Do not place a card in your pocket or write on it while in the presence of the person who gave it to you.

In some Asian cultures, it’s polite to eat with chopsticks. Don’t tap with them on your plate, don’t use them to point, don’t rub them together, don’t prod food with them, and try not to drop them.

Leave some food uneaten on your plate, or your host may think you have not been given enough food. Wait until you’re invited to take a seat—don’t just choose one yourself—and note that it is considered rude to leave a gratuity after a meal in many countries in Asia.

When and how should I socialize?

If there has been a presentation, performance, speaker or interactive event, this can be a good topic to bring up for small talk. Be sure not to talk during the meeting itself, which can appear rude. Instead, wait for appropriate break times or until after the event.

Ensure that you do not put guests on the spot with yes-or-no closed questions; instead, allow people to think carefully. This is especially important in Asia, which has cultures that put great importance on the concept of “face.” It’s very important to allow others to save face by not bringing up things that may cause embarrassment and by not pointing out their mistakes.

Another important aspect of saving face is to stay humble when speaking of your own achievements and to downplay your importance or greatness when others pay you a compliment. However, compliments to others should be given liberally to show them face.

To make networking smoother in general, take a look at our previous post on making networking feel authentic to brush up on your skills before you head off to a new culture.

When and how should I make an exit?

Once the meeting has ended and you’ve socialized with everyone you’ve wanted to speak to, it’s acceptable to make an exit. If possible, try to thank the speaker or person who has arranged the event. When you do exit, offer to help clean up, or take all of your trash with you, such as disposable cups and food wrappers—people willing to help make a good impression.

Because the Asia-Pacific area is home to so many different cultures, the most important thing you can do before attending a meeting or business event in the region is to do your research. Do your best to learn the etiquette customs and traditions of the area you’re meeting in so you can show good manners and prevent causing any offense.