As one of the largest regions in the world, our community in APAC AirPlus covers a third of the globe. We have local offices from Tokyo in the north all the way down to Sydney in Australia. Our teams support our customers in local language, in country and time-zone every day.
One of the many benefits of local offices, is learning more about our customers and how they work. But in a culturally rich area of the world like Asia, you need more than just “to be here” to do business here.
Business meetings often open with a handshake, it’s not always the best way to greet someone in Asia. In Thailand, the main way to greet someone is the ‘wai’, performed by bringing your hands together in a prayer gesture and giving a slight bow or nod of the head while saying hello or goodbye. You should also acknowledge the oldest people in the room when you arrive and leave, as this is a sign of respect.
In Japan and South Korea, bowing can be used as a greeting and symbol of respect. You perform a bow by bending from the waist with your back straight and eyes down. There are lots of different etiquette rules, including the depth and duration of the bow. A deep bow is usually reserved for formal settings, so an informal bow is perfectly acceptable for travellers.
You may also encounter bowing in Mainland China. However, it’s usually reserved for very formal events like religious ceremonies. A small head nod is more commonly used to express “thanks” rather than as a greeting. If you do find yourself shaking hands as a greeting in Asia, don’t shake too firmly. This can be seen as rude or aggressive, so remember to keep it light.
Gift giving is often a minefield, particularly when it comes to the work environment. But when giving gifts in the Asian region, remember to check up on the local etiquette and traditions before you do!
In China, people will always refuse your gift a few times before accepting, and you should never give someone a clock, or an umbrella (surprising for many, as both are things we often think are great give-aways at trade-shows). In Australia, it’s known to discuss whether gifts will be shared before an event, so that no one feels embarrassed by showing up empty-handed.
In Singapore, never wrap your gift in blue, black or white colours as this is like funerals customs, whereas in Thailand, try to wrap your gift in yellow or gold colours, while in Indonesia, red and gold are the lucky colours. You should also be aware that your host probably won’t open the gift until after you leave out of politeness.
In APAC it’s very common to share meals. In fact, most Asian households like to prepare several dishes and share them all together around. And when you’re going out to eat, it’s custom for the host to order a few main dishes and share everything, rather than order individual dishes.
You’ll also need to brush up on the dining etiquette of the country you’re visiting, as each Asian country has its own unique traditions. For example, in China or Japan, you should never leave your chopsticks standing up in your bowl. If you’re finished with your meal, simply lay them to the side on the table or on a chopsticks rest.
There are also customs around toasting and drinking whilst dining at a business dinner. Particularly in China, it is customary that the host will usually make a toast at the start of the meal, but it is also welcomed for guests to salute the host, wishing them good health and prosperity.
While many restaurants and hotels will include gratuity on the bill, leaving a cash tip is not really expected in many Asian countries. In fact, in China and Japan, tipping can be considered rude and are refused.
In other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam, tips are not customary, but you are welcome to leave one and it is always appreciated.
In Australia and New Zealand, it’s not required to leave a tip, but it’s not refused. In fact, once out to dinner with a friend in Perth, I left a tip out of habit, and the waitress ran out after me, thinking I’d left the money by mistake!
- Head, hands and feet
In many Asian cultures, the head is considered the most sacred part of the body, so you should never touch anyone on the head (not that you often would in a business setting!)
On the other end, feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body as they touch the ground. You should never point the soles of your feet at anyone or anything considered sacred. If you’re sitting down in a temple, restaurant, or the office, remember to keep your feet politely tucked beneath you.
- Public transport
Across Asia and the Pacific, there are many differences in public transport type, rules, and etiquette. For example, in Japan, they have women-only cars on trains, usually indicated by a large pink sticker on entry to the train, on the windows and on the overhead ads.
There are also many differences in country too. In Australia, we have different transport systems by state, and only one cross country rail service that takes 4 days! Major cities like Melbourne and Sydney also have a tram service, while the transport systems vary from Ferry to Bus services.
Working and travelling across Asia and the Pacific has been one of the biggest privileges in my life. To be able to work within the unique countries and absorb the culturally rich environment has no doubt had a great impact on my life and the way that I work. We like to think that having this local “boots on the ground” aspect within our teams helps our customer base as well, because not only do we know what it means to work in country, but experience life here too.