Q. We partner in business with many individuals who are not native to, but now either reside in or frequent the United States to finalize paperwork to import/export products native to their country. Should I greet them in a manner that would acknowledge their native country? Is there anything in particular that would qualify how I address the visitor?
L. P., Tampa, FL
A. A second grader once asked me why, if his bed time was 11:00 PM, did he have to go to bed at 10:00 PM when he visited his friend’s home. The answer was simple: When he visited his friend’s house, he was bound by the rules there, not the rules at his own home. One of the basics of etiquette is to respect the traditions of the culture you enter. A culture can be as broad as East compared to West or one country compared to another. But it also can be something as specific as the difference between two companies or even between two office locations of the same company. Therefore, in your case, when your partners come to the United States to do business with you, they should be prepared to be greeted with a handshake. That said, it’s also considerate on your part not to force a person into a situation that will be potentially difficult. For instance, in greeting a woman of the Islamic faith, even though our culture accepts a man offering his hand to a woman in greeting, you might choose to wait to extend your hand until she makes the first gesture.
The issue of addressing a person visiting you rests on the difference between being formal and being familiar. It is more respectful to use a formal means of address such as “Mr. Sousa” until told by the person you are greeting to “please call me Jorge.” Before the person arrives, call the person’s business to find out if the visitor comes from a culture where a title such as Professor is used, or if he has a degree that indicates use of a title such as Doctor. An added benefit of making the call: You can confirm the correct pronunciation of the person’s name.