Cell Phone Etiquette Abroad

When traveling abroad on the company dime, it’s often necessary to be in contact with your business associates and bosses, but how much is too much? Is being on your cellphone in public rude? Are you expected to turn it off? Here’s what you need to know to avoid offending any foreign business partners.

In America, we’re well versed in what is acceptable or not. For instance, you shouldn’t answer your cell phone while in a meeting or speak loudly on the phone when in close proximity to others. But in other countries, the etiquette isn’t always the same. For instance, business men and women won’t think twice about answering a phone call while in a meeting or conversation – this is because the caller will often keep ringing them until they answer. So don’t take this as a sign of rudeness; it’s just what they do. The same goes for Thailand, where they will answer their phones just about anywhere. If they don’t, the caller will keep trying all day long.

In Egypt, don’t just get right to the point: it’s customary to exchange pleasantries for five or so minutes before getting to the matter at hand. Egyptians commonly give out their phone numbers to strangers while out and about. They don’t take cell phone privacy as seriously as countries.

If you call someone in Russia, don’t expect a warm greeting. In fact, you may be met with silence or a curt “who is it?” if they even pick up the phone at all. They are leery of speaking on phones in general – a fear that has permeated the country since the Cold War when phone tapping was a common occurrence. In the same vein, Russians don’t like using voice mail, so if your call gets picked up by the machine, don’t bother leaving a message; call back later to see if you’ll have any luck.

Just like the Chinese, some Brazilians will answer their phones while in meetings, or will step out to answer the call, because it could be considered rude to ignore a call. When speaking to someone in Brazil, you may hear them utter “uh” every so often – this is to assure you the line is still open and the connection is good.

When making cell phone calls in France, don’t speak too loudly. This is considered rude, as the French are soft talkers. The French have a similar policy about public cell phone use as America: don’t answer your phone in crowded public areas or in meetings, and silence your phone while having dinner at a restaurant. Likewise in Japan, but they take it one step further and place signs in public places reminding people not to speak on their cell phones in public spots.

India does not have an unwritten rule about late calls like Americans do. In fact, it is perfectly acceptable to place a call after 10 p.m. and beyond. They tend to have very loud ring tones, and don’t have a problem with talking on their cell phones in public places – even libraries. You can text someone in India but keep in mind those text messages are often more expensive to place than phone calls.

Save your snacks for after your phone call if you’re speaking to someone in the UK, where it is very rude to talk on the phone while eating.

As you can see, cell phone etiquette varies widely overseas. Do your research before heading over, and make sure BRIC Language Systems is a part of your prep work!