To celebrate Business Etiquette Week, our blog this week is on taboo conversational topics in different countries:
The Chinese are generally very open-minded, but there are a few subjects that remain taboo. The reasons for this are fear of repercussions from government officials, or even the police, and loss of face. The most obvious of these taboos are the 3 Ts:
Tian An Men – the student repression of 1989.
Tibet - its independence and cultural preservation...
... and Taiwan - which is considered by the Chinese to be a rebel province and not a country. These are three subjects to avoid at any cost. It’s also a good idea to steer clear of the communist past, Mao Tse Tung, the Great Leap Forward – which was an economic and social plan implemented by Mao between 1958 and 1960. It was intended to transform China from an agricultural to a modern industrial communist society – but it failed, and many starved to death during that period.
It’s also best to avoid the Cultural Revolution, politics in general, democracy, human rights, censorship and Fa Lun Gong – which is a spiritual practice that is regarded as subversive.
The best policy is to simply avoid any subjects that might be embarrassing for your Chinese counterparts. Be especially careful after few ‘gan bei’ in the bar! If you’re really curious, there are many books on these topics - but don’t bring them with you to China.
From “The Lowdown: Business Etiquette – China” by Florian Loloum.
You might be wise to steer clear of religion. Mexico is nominally a Catholic country, with total separation between church and state. There are a significant number of Protestants in some areas of the country, and other religions are practiced freely. As in many other countries, people who profess a religion may rarely go to church. Mexico’s patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, is widely revered, and many businesses close on December 12th in her honor. Be very respectful if the subject does come up! It is highly likely that your business contacts will assume you are Catholic and these days, when the Catholic church is coming under some scrutiny, it may be best to avoid sensitivities by not touching on subjects of religion at all. Travel, cars, sports and movies are useful, anodyne topics.
Mexico’s relationship with the US is a sensitive topic, and the evident desire of many Mexicans to speak fluent English, to study in the US, and to take their children to Disneyland should not be confused with an appreciation of US culture, to which most Mexicans have an ambivalent attitude. The treatment of Mexican immigrants in the US can be a touchy topic, as can the wall being built along parts of the northern border.
By way of a footnote, just as you should not assume that there is universal admiration for the US in Mexico, you should not assume that there is universal admiration for Spain, the country that colonized Mexico and from which Mexico won independence. Most people in Mexico are of mixed Mexican Indian and European origin, and many Mexicans are prouder of their pre-Colombian heritage than of any Spanish colonial origins – just have a look at the 100-peso banknote!
From “The Lowdown: Doing Business in Mexico” by Christopher West.
With religion, as with many other aspects of Indian life, there’s a high degree of day-to-day tolerance and acceptance of differences. Pragmatism is a way of life and in a country where so many people are so poor, keeping the commercial machine running for the greater good tends to take precedence - so it would be unusual for you to be aware of any conflicts as you go about your day-to-day business. In practice, Indian people will know that you don’t have sensitivities to their religious issues. They won’t expect you to have a view. In social discussions, like at a dinner party, you need to be careful – particularly if you’ve had a few drinks. It’s best to avoid the subject altogether, except in the context of being respectfully curious about religious ceremonies and practices.
As always, it pays to be careful when discussing politics – India’s position as a nuclear power is a sensitive issue and so are ecological issues, the condition of the poor and the status of the girl child.
From “The Lowdown: Business Etiquette – India” by Michael Barnard
Don’t discuss where and how your partner got his money. Some Russian businessmen of today may have acquired theirs illegally. Avoid the subject. And don’t suggest that your partner might have been associated with racketeers and Communist bosses of the past. You may not do it on purpose, but let’s say you innocently start telling your Russian companions at the table a story you read on the flight, over about some ruthless gangsters in a small Russian town. They might take it as a hint that you’re suggesting something about them. Be careful about even a casual mention of things like gangsters and the mafia.
If you want to start a conversation, discuss things like restaurants, cruises, ocean waves at Mauritius or buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Tell jokes about your in-laws, but not about outlaws.
From “The Lowdown: Business Etiquette – Russia” by Charles McCall and Slava Katamidze
Photo by Robert Bejil
Photo by Robert Bejil