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  • Topics to Avoid When in Asia

    Posted by Travel Be Free November 13, 2015 1,370 views - 0 comments - 0 likes - #Asia 

    Continents aren’t only separated by distance; it is also greatly divided by culture and tradition.



    This is especially true when it comes to business etiquette. What people consider as an act of appreciation in the west hemisphere may be seen as a disrespect for people in Asia.





    If you were in a business travel to Asia, stay discreet in certain aspects. If you want to make the best impression to your business partners in the mystical land of the east, avoid certain topics in politics, religion, and culture.



    But there is no across-the-board definition to all these unwritten limitations. Not all Asian countries have the same set of tight, ethical, and traditional values.



    If you are a foreigner coming to visit Asia, you should know the topics to avoid in your conversations.



    1. Don’t Get Too Critical


    Harakiri is one of the traditional practices observed in Japan. It is a “ritual suicide by disembowelment with a sword, formerly practiced in Japan by samurai as an honorable alternative to disgrace or execution.” [Photo Source:]



    What you call constructive criticism in America may be considered an insult in certain countries in Asia. People in Japan take their lives through the traditional “Harakiri” if their reputation and honor are tainted. This tradition may not be practiced in the modern day, but being too straightforward with the way you criticise the Japanese may lead to the destruction of any good relationship you have established with them. It is better to stay positive or constructive if you have something to say about their performance or production.



    2. Don’t Insult Their God


    The Muslims in Malaysia consider touching a dog a great sin. They see dogs as unclean animals. Asia is a mix of various religions, from Christianity, Islam, Buddhist, Hindu, and more. Even the Catholic Asian nations have their own sets of religious traditions that you should not cross.



    3. Don’t Press Hot Buttons


    The relationship between North Korea and South Korea is not something you bring to the table in a business meeting with either of this countries.



    In China, you can’t talk about Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen. This would be considered as foreign interference. You can’t praise China when you are in Japan, and you can’t praise Japan when you are in Korea. When you’re in South Korea, it would be best to avoid talking about North Korea. These are hot buttons that you simply must avoid.



    4. Don’t talk about politics and policies inappropriately


    There are various policies and laws in Asian countries that you might find very unusual. You may have your own opinion, but it is best to keep them to yourself. Caning is a form of legal corporal punishment in Singapore. This law may be unusual for foreigners from the west, but you simply can’t comment or condemn this practice. You also can’t air out your opinions about the Bumiputra allocations in Malaysia or the caste system in India.



    5. Don’t talk negative about the royalties


    Saying anything against the king could be a serious offense for certain countries in Asia. For example, you can’t say anything bad about the Thailand’s current king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, or else your host might get insulted. Worse, saying anything bad about the king of Thailand might put you behind bars. If you can’t stop yourself, the least you can say is “he is a great man.”



    6. Don’t be insensitive


    The best look in the west may not be the same standards in Asia. Don’t make the wrong remarks about how people may look like. Don’t joke about the Japanese businessmen’s hairstyles. It may be funny to you, but it is a very serious matter to him.



    7. Don’t generalize your compliments


    Sometimes you try to compliment your Asian business partners in the hopes of pleasing them. However, this may backfire, because your compliments may sound condescending. Saying “you have nice big eyes” or “you speak English fluently” could be offensive.  



    8. Don’t forget your manners


    Sticking your chopsticks on your food has a negative meaning in some Asian countries. [Photo: Iron Chef America blog]



    There are various unwritten rules of table etiquette in Asia. When clinking glasses in a toast, make sure you keep your glass lower than the superior. In China, never refuse a delicacy offered. Don’t finish the last dumplings or food off the plate, because it would mean you made your host order another. Sticking your chopsticks upward on your rice has a negative traditional meaning. Meanwhile, slurping soup loudly is considered a good compliment for certain countries in Asia.



    9. “Yes” doesn’t always mean yes


    In certain countries in Asia, “yes” may not always mean they agree. Sometimes it means they understand what you are saying. Meanwhile, a “no” may mean they just want a better offer. There are also a lot of Asian countries that would prefer delays, excuses, or avoidance than a direct “no.”



    10. Keep the silence


    Asian business meetings aren’t radio shows where you have to fill in every awkward dead air. Sometimes, for Asians, the things left unsaid holds the most values than what is said.

    Article Credit: Eva Magno