Work in Japan Advice Board
While doing business, your image and behaviour matter – this includes any lunches or dinners of varying degrees of formality – with both clients and business acquaintances. In this blog we will go through specific etiquette and mannerisms that might be somewhat unfamiliar to most Japanese people due to cultural differences.
One obvious difference is the use of forks and knives as opposed to chopsticks. If you find your place is set with more than one fork or knife, start working your way from the outermost pair down to the inside. There are usually very specific forks and knives for eating particular dishes, like fish and salads. When in doubt just glance at the host or someone else who is has experience in proper dining.
The way you hold a fork can differ between American (points up) and European (points down) but as a general rule, the index finger should be stretched out along the handle while keeping the thumb and three fingers down. Avoid shovelling food into your mouth by making sure you are not holding either in a fist, as this can give others a rather negative and savage impression of you.
If you happen to have a big piece of meat or fish you need to cut up, be sure to do this one piece at a time and avoid slicing and dicing your entire plate. You may have heard otherwise, but size matters. Cut up your pieces too big and you run the risk of having your mouth full and chewing endlessly without being able to speak clearly. Cut up your pieces too small and you may give others an impression that you are overly careful and prude. As a general guideline, if you are able to get all the forks' prongs into it with a little excess, then you are in the clear.
When speaking, place your silverware on the plate, and do not suspend the ends in the air. Finally, certainly do not rest them points up, as this is very rude.
Outside of Japan, you find that rice is not commonly eaten with meals, and instead, you will end up seeing lots of bread on the table. For this reason, be sure to first break off and then apply butter on one small piece of bread at a time - you don’t want to give off the impression you are making yourself a sandwich.
It is universally accepted that the host will initiate the business discussion. Sometimes if it is not urgent the topic will be brought up during the final stages of the meal. Most Latin American countries will take their time, be sure to take part in any seemingly trivial conversation and not be in a hurry to talk business, as this can have a negative impact later on.
Before you do something, it is important to think about how you will be perceived by others. Behaviors, such as, bad posture, resting your arms on the table and prematurely sprinkling salt and pepper on your meal can all give others a negative impression of you. Please keep these things in mind the next time you are out on for business lunches or dinners.
Noel Bradshaw is the COO of Rosetta Stone Learning Center and started his career at management consulting firm Accenture. He came to Japan with the JET programme before joining Rosetta Stone Learning Center and has been with the company for 8 years.