There are many good reasons Canadian and American companies dream of expanding their business into Asia.

With many Asian countries still growing economically, the fast-developing landscape paired with a massive audience make expansion into Asian markets exciting and potentially very profitable.

But, before you embark on this journey, understand that business in North America is not the same as business in Asia. This is mainly because of the cultural differences, and therefore many cultural faux pas that could make or break your business partnership.

Margaret Yeung, Co-Founder and CEO of The AXIA Agency, shares her knowledge and 20 years of experience successfully navigating global brand partnerships. Here are 8 cultural faux pas to know before you take that next step.

Presenting a Business Card

In Asia, especially in China, business cards are given as a gift. Present your business card with two hands, making sure that the entire card is visible, upright, and given in a respectful manner.

Avoid Touching

When meeting with a potential partner or client in Asia, greet them with a bow. Although Canadians are accustomed to, and place an emphasis on shaking hands, professional etiquette in Asian countries does not involve any touching.

Food and Dining Customs

Food and dining is a major aspect of business in Asia. It is the perfect way to test social etiquette in a more relaxed atmosphere. When dining out, most commonly on Asian cuisine, you will notice two sets of chopsticks. The chopsticks on the right are communal chopsticks, meant for serving. The chopsticks on the left hand side are for personal use, do not use these to grab from shared plates.

In addition, it is proper to serve your host before filling up your own plate. Make sure to use the correct chopsticks!


As a sign of respect, make sure to bring your host a gift. Margaret tends to favour elegant and classy gifts from Canada, such as a great bottle of pure maple syrup. Nothing cheap will do.

Green Hat

Green hats in Asia symbolize infidelity in marriages. During the war, men dressed in green army garb, including a green hat. The question that was commonly asked was what, or who, is their wife doing while they are away.

Colours and Flowers

While North American brides are often seen sporting white or ivory bridal gowns, the colour white represents death in Asian countries.

When gifting flowers for grand openings, a very common tradition in Asian business, opt to send colourful bouquets. Including red flowers is ideal, as red symbolizes success, wealth and prosperity.

Drinking in India

In some countries, like India, excessive drinking is improper.

Drinking in China

However, in other countries, including China, drinking copious amounts of alcohol is not just approved but encouraged during informal meals which are a large part of business culture!

Since this is a cultural tip that differs depending on the country, make sure you do your research.


Regardless of the position you hold and the country you reside in, business etiquette is extremely important. Do your research prior to embarking on global expansion, and always have a cultural briefing before you begin. You may regret it if you don’t!