Zuckerberg Speaks Mandarin: Etiquette Guide For International Entrepreneurs

October 23, 2014

2:30 pm

News outlets all over the world are going crazy about Mark Zuckerberg speaking Mandarin to audiences in Tsinghua University, Beijing. The Facebook CEO has been learning the Mandarin for the past four years, but right from the beginning of the talk he called his Mandarin level “really terrible,” which granted him applause and laughter from the crowd. This was a great move, since Chinese culture welcomes modesty.

Zuckerberg’s visit to China is strategic and like any intelligent entrepreneur, he was prepared not only to win the “hearts and minds” by learning the language but also by understanding Chinese culture.

If you are planning to expand your business to a different country and market, it is not expected that you speak the language fluently. What IS expected is that you understand the international business culture dos and don’ts. Every culture is different, and deals can be lost through misunderstandings, even between relatively similar cultures.

We’ve created a guide for entrepreneurs using resources like Forbes and others, to help you on their next international business meeting:


  • Give yourself a Chinese name if you’re an expat conducting long-term business. It’s considered a sign of respect and commitment.
  • Bring a small gift from your hometown or country to business meetings. Chinese businesspeople appreciate presents. One gift to avoid: clocks, as they represent death. Also, do not use white, black, or blue wrapping paper.
  • The Chinese will decline a gift three times before finally accepting, so as not to appear greedy. You will have to continue to insist. Once the gift is accepted, express gratitude. You will be expected to go through the same routine if you are offered a gift.
  • Business meetings are very formal events and dinner meetings can feature many rounds of toasts; be sure to pace yourself so you don’t overindulge.


  • Though meetings often run late, never leave early. It is considered rude to exit before the gathering ends.
  • Be aware of big, popular celebrations, such as Carnival, during which almost everything shuts down, and the upcoming 2014 soccer World Cup. Brazilians are social and passionate about these events, and prioritize them over doing business. Further ahead: the 2016 summer Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
  • Brazilians stand very close and use physical contact during conversations. In Brazil, closeness inspires trust, and trust inspires long-term relationships.


  • Don’t be surprised if other guests arrive a few minutes late to business events, unless it’s an official function. But don’t risk arriving late yourself; you won’t insult anyone by showing up on time.
  • Indians are very polite. Avoid use of the word “no” during business discussions; it’s considered rude. Opt for terms such as “we’ll see,” “I will try,” or “possibly.”
  • Don’t order beef if attending a business meal in India. Cows are considered sacred in Indian culture.
  • Traditional Indian food is eaten with the hands. When it is necessary to use your hands, use only your right hand, as the left hand is considered unclean.
    Drinking alcohol is prohibited among Muslims, Sikhs, and other Indian communities.


  • A no-nonsense culture, Germans are hard-working and business events are very structured, serious engagements.
  • Germans are passionate about vehicles.In many cases, compensation packages will include a car, and the type of car is almost as important as how much one makes.


  • Punctuality valued so it is best to arrive on time for meetings.
  • There is usually very little time for small talk as Israelis tend to get down to business quickly
  • Israelis are known to be very direct and to the point.  Many foreigners feel they are blunt.
  • Israelis tend to speak quite loudly and at a fast pace.  It may appear as if they are yelling and annoyed but it is most likely a normal tone of voice.


  • Japanese culture is very welcoming and formal. Expect each of your counterparts to bow during an introduction. Wait for them to initiate a handshake because it is less common, and sometimes avoided, in business.
  • The exchange of business cards is a very formal act that kicks off meetings. Present your card with two hands while facing your colleague. Do not conduct a brief exchange or slide your card across the table.
  • During meetings, the most senior person will lead discussions and members of his or her party may not say a word. Follow this lead and have the most senior member of your team participate in discussions.
  • When entering a meeting, you should sit across from your counterpart with a similar level of experience. Your junior staffers should not sit across from senior team members.


  • Shake hands or give a slight bow when introduced.
  • Bow when greeting a Mexican woman. Shake hands only if she extends her hand first.
  • Mexicans generally stand close together when conversing. Don’t show signs of discomfort, which would be considered rude by your Mexican counterpart.
  • Mexicans often “hold” a gesture (a handshake, a squeeze of the arm, a hug) longer than Americans and Canadians do.
  • Don’t stand with your hands on your hips; this signifies anger. It is considered rude to stand around with your hands in your pockets.
  • Meet with top executives first. Top-level Mexican executives may not attend subsequent meetings, which often take place with middle-level management and technical people. Don’t feel insulted; this shows that discussions are proceeding positively.
  • Negotiations move slowly. Be patient. For Mexicans, the building of a personal relationship comes before the building of a professional one.
  • If offered something to drink (usually coffee), don’t refuse. This would be seen as an insult.


  • Personal relationships are important in the Australian business world. Connections are valued. An introduction by an established representative may be helpful in establishing a relationship with an Australian firm.
  • Australians take punctuality seriously. If possible, arrive fifteen minutes early for a business meeting.
  • Australians will quickly get down to business. Communications will be direct, good-humored and to the point.
  • Australian businesspeople tend to be pragmatic, efficient and profit-oriented. They appreciate straight-forward, open presentations.
  • Australians dislike one-upmanship. Don’t overplay qualifications, rank or titles.
  • Negotiations proceed quickly. Bargaining is not customary. Proposals should be presented with acceptable terms. Leave some allowance for some give and take.


Any tips you can offer entrepreneurs based on your experience? Share them with us.

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Camila has been heavily active in South Florida’s tech startup community, where she is a co-host of a local radio show called pFunkcast. Camila previously worked at Greenpeace International and the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in various communication roles. A proud Brazilian who spent most of he life in Peru, she is passionate about traveling and documentaries.

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