When in Rome: Alcohol and Business around the World
Posted on December 17, 2015
In the spirit of the holiday season, the NDTO has taken a look at an item of a celebratory nature – alcoholic beverages. Indulging in a few drinks during meetings with overseas customers can be almost obligatory. Or on the other end of the spectrum, it may be atypical and unwelcome. Each country has their own practices surrounding drinking and business, though the rules are oft unspoken. So pour yourself a stiff one (or a fresh cup of coffee) and let’s take a look at some different approaches to combining business with alcohol around the world.
Australians enjoy their alcohol and it is quite prevalent within the country’s business culture. The country has a popular pub scene and will frequently use that time to build relationships with coworkers after business hours. Drinking within a group at a bar will involve “shouts” – each person taking their turn to buy the group a round. You’ll need to be prepared to buy a round on your designated turn, and for things to get a little rowdy.
Meals in Australia will also involve alcohol. Restaurants may allow or even expect patrons to bring their own alcohol, specifically wine, as is customary during dinner. So if hosting a dinner, check with the restaurant if you need to bring your own wine supply.
Brazilians don’t have any hard and fast rules when it comes to alcohol, except moderation is key. Public drunkenness is frowned upon. Skip alcohol during business lunches, but 2 drinks during a business dinner is acceptable. It’s also traditional to invite someone – man or woman – for a drink after work.
Alcohol will be the key to breaking down barriers within China’s strict hierarchal society. Drinks in China will surely involve Baijiu (BUY JEE-OH), the national drink of China. Baijiu is a high alcohol content beverage made from a variety of grains, including wheat, sorghum and barley. Its taste can vary and is hard to pinpoint. Some say it tastes of overripe fruit, or cheese … or rocket fuel. Reportedly baijiu becomes tolerable when mixed with red bull.
The drinking of baijiu will involve many toasts, made in order of rank, with the first toast to the highest ranking member. The ability to drink baijiu will help further your relationships with Chinese business counterparts, and may go so far as to make or break a deal. You may stumble and vomit as a result of drinking baijiu, but these actions are acceptable, even desired. Follow their lead. The situation may slow down (in a good way) if you bring some scotch or whiskey to the party.
As one may imagine, wine is prevalent within French business culture. Business lunches will include wine and may last well into the afternoon as relationships are established. One or two glasses will be customary, as wine is only drunk to compliment food. Be sure to hold off drinking until a toast has been proposed. It is recommended that you never refuse wine in France – even if you will not be drinking it. In that event, or whenever you’d like to stop, just leave the glass nearly full.
Liquid accompaniments are chosen based on the effect they may have on the meal. Scotch and martinis should not be consumed before or during meals as these beverages may numb one’s palate. Apertifs such as pastis, kir, champagne, or vermouth are acceptable. Liqueurs and coffee are often served after the meal.
Do not drink too much and never drive after drinking. Public drunkenness is not elegant, and therefore not appreciated in French culture. Also don’t bring up Napoleon. That has nothing to do with alcohol, it’s just good advice.
Beer is abundant in Germany, though it’s unlikely that it will make an early appearance at a business lunch. If it does, it is acceptable to decline. Germans tend to be very structured when it comes to business processes and draw a rigid line between their personal and professional lives. Business travelers will commonly be left to their own devices during the evenings instead of invited to organized events. If a person is invited out at night, there will likely be a plethora of beer and many toasts. During toasts, touch glasses with each nearby person while making eye contact. You’ll likely have a raucous night with steins held high. But while it’s polite to partake in the local brews, be sure to fill up on tasty Germany food and don’t drink too much. Public drunkenness does not have a positive image in Germany.
Do not clink beer glasses during toasts in Hungary. It may offend a patriotic host. This goes back to a story involving the executions of the 13 martyrs of Arad in 1849. We’re not sure of the full story, but it only involves beer glasses specifically.
Many Indians avoid alcohol, so it will likely not be a part of your trip. In fact, there are several states in India that enforce prohibition, with the 3rd largest state of Bihar joining them in April 2016. Other states have “dry days” when alcohol sales are forbidden. However according to Euromonitor International, alcohol use in India has increased in recent years and is forecasted to continue increasing as society’s view on alcohol changes.
Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, about 87% of their 255 million people. Alcohol will likely be publicly avoided.
Israelis are generally not big drinkers outside of special occasions. You are more likely to find yourself at one of the numerous coffee shops rather than a pub. As a side note, the predominately Jewish population will prefer kosher wine or other liquor allowed under Kashrut, and the significant Muslim population will probably not drink.
Alcohol is important within Japanese business culture as a means of revealing the true thoughts and feelings of your business associates. Opinions in the evening after a few cocktails may vary considerably from what they seemed to be during the daytime. Behavior will vary as well – there is a high tolerance for unusual behavior while under the influence, and all is forgiven the next day.
Japan is a very team oriented culture, and the same holds true for their drinking culture. If you go out with your Japanese business associates, the group will likely start out with a round of beer or sake before individuals begin ordering their own drinks. Either a server will pour your drinks, or wait for one of your table mates to fill your glass. You may pour for other members of the group, but it is considered impolite to pour yourself a drink. Proper Japanese etiquette calls for your associate to reciprocate and fill your glass after you’ve set the bottle down. Always use a glass for drinking, not the bottle.
Russian business practices are not homogenous, but will likely involve some drinking. Large amounts of food, vodka, and cigarette smoking will probably be on the menu. Accepting an alcoholic beverage when offered is almost mandatory. That is, unless you have a valid excuse in the eyes of your host, such as for health or religious reasons. Your glass will be refilled as soon as it is emptied, so pace yourself. Don’t interrupt the proceedings during the first and second toasts as those are considered the most important. Also don’t set empty bottles on the table. Superstition says it’s bad luck. The floor is the better choice.
There are many more nuances to drinking and business within each country. Alcohol is generally used as a trust building and bonding activity the world over. Using this knowledge of different drinking practices, you may choose to adopt the local customs into your sales approach, or prepare yourself to circumvent them. Whether your drinks are soft, hard, or somewhere in between – cheers and good luck!