A Crash Course in Japanese Etiquette (Part 2)

crossing-japanOur last post by Emily Bennington, Crash Course in Japanese Etiquette Part 1,  covered a a few cultural norms to be aware of when meeting with Japanese businessmen and women. The following is a continuation of those ideas, but with a focus on customs that may be misinterpreted or misunderstood by us Westerners.

The Greeting: During introductions and greetings, shaking hands is perfectly acceptable. Avoid bowing. Since there are various levels of bowing, if you aren’t familiar with the differences, it’s best to stay away from it completely. Example: The 90 degree angle bow is usually reserved for very high-ranking executives. I’ve heard stories, though, of Americans traveling abroad who gave full bows to the hotel doorman. This isn’t the worse faux pas in the world (probably made the doorman feel great), but underscores the need to know the different levels of bowing before you attempt it at all.

The Head Nod: Just because your Japanese host or guest may nod as you speak, this does not indicate that they understand or agree with what you are saying.  They nod to acknowledge they hear you and to recognize that you hold the floor. V-e-r-y different meanings.

The Long Pause: When natural pauses in conversation occur, we often feel highly uncomfortable.  In Japan, however, these pauses are not considered awkward at all. They are a time for reflection on what has just been said and frequently go on for 10 seconds or more.  Do not feel compelled to “jump in” and break the silence – use the opportunity to be more thoughtful in your response as well.

The Pour: In Japan, you do not pour your own beverage.  Your host will pour your drink for you and, in turn, you pour beverages for your guests (if any). Bear in mind that as your glass gets empty, however, someone at the table will continue to fill it – if only to remind you that it’s time to fill THEIR glass.  Since it’s considered rude to refuse a pour, if you don’t want to overindulge, it’s best not to finish your drink.

This is obviously just scratching the surface of Japanese etiquette but, as stated before, you can get away with a lot as long as you’re trying to be polite. Please stay tuned to YSN for more updates on this topic and good luck in all of your cross-cultural interactions!

This post is from Emily Bennington, author of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up on Your First Real Job. Emily can be found on Twitter @EmilyBennington or via email ebennington@msn.com.

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