Topics and Things to Avoid when in 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 are traveling to Asia for business or pleasure, stay discreet in certain aspects. Especially, if for business as you must make the best impression to your business partners in the mystical land of the east.  This included avoiding certain topics in politics, religion, and culture; as 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 includes:


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 or Religion


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 South 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. Leave the talking points to State Department Officials.  As believe it or not, “Caning,” which are basically  light strokes with a small cane 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, which are indigenous peoples, as 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, Maha Vajiralongkorn, (who replaced Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej who was crowned king on May 5, 1950), 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 them.


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

Embed from Getty Images


We Sure hope that Diana, Princess of Wales is not sticking her your chopsticks vertically through  her food as supposedly this has a negative meaning in some Asian countries. For example it is said ‘folk tale’ that Sticking your chopsticks vertical in a bowl of rice is bad in Japan. This is called [tsukitate-bashi (突き立て箸)], which is is incredibly taboo because it reminds Japanese people of funerals, where a bowl of rice is left with two chopsticks standing vertically in the center.


Remember, 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. Although some Asian soups are so good and you just can’t help yourself. 🙂


9. “Yes” doesn’t always mean yes


In certain countries in Asia, “yes” may not always mean they agree. Nor, should you miss understaand bowing of the head as sometimes it means they understand what you are saying. Meanwhile, a “no” may mean they just want a better offer, or simply a thank you but no. 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.  Yes, difficult but all important in good business and cooperation.


Article Credit: Eva Magn0


Global Fusion (GF) Admin

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