11 Unique Cultures From Around The World

For some companies, having diverse employees has been a pull factor in attracting talents. After all, immersing oneself in various cultures and celebrations in the office makes it a fun workplace. However, the same reason could make you scratch your head. You may find that your colleagues’ cultural habits from certain countries are a bit unusual. If you’re thinking of working overseas or planning for business trips, here are 11 unique workplace cultures around the world for your reference:

1. Inemuri aka Mid-day Napping, Japan

As a writer, it surprised me when I found out about this. I’ve heard of siesta in Spain, but mid-day napping in Japan, a country well known for its strict work ethic? Inemuri means “being present while sleeping” — literally. You won’t be sleeping in a pod or designated relaxing space, but you’ll do it at your desk or during a meeting. The Japanese believe you’re a hardworking employee when you take a mid-day nap. However, pay attention to the rules before you sleep. Dr Brigitte Steger, a sociologist at Cambridge University, mentions that new employees can’t practice inemuri.

New employees must show that they’re active and diligent at work. The 40 and 50-year-olds have more flexibility. The higher your position in the office, the more you can sleep. Another thing to remember is you mustn’t do it on purpose. For example, walk into a meeting room, pick a seat then sleep. You should maintain your sitting posture and pretend you’re listening while putting your head down and sleeping. Get ready to wake up and answer when someone asks you a question!

2. No emails or texts after work hours, France

If you value work-life balance, you should consider working in France. The French take employee burnout very seriously that they make it illegal for people to send emails or texts after work hours. Bear in mind that the rules only apply to salaried employees who work at least 128 days per year. On top of that, you’ll enjoy a 35-hour work week and get a minimum of five weeks of annual leave. Aaah, c’est la vie!

3. Being late (or not) and hierarchy, India

Did you miss your interconnecting flight to India and arrive late at the business meeting? Don’t worry. As long as it’s not more than 15 minutes, you’re on time. If you’re a punctual person, you must adapt when working in India. Tardiness is quite usual there.

It’s not just at business meetings but also during dinners, functions, working hours and office breaks. Although schedules could go haywire, your colleagues will have no problem working past work hours. Some may even work on the weekends to meet deadlines.

With hierarchy, the locals have the utmost respect for their elders. The respect that they have applies to the upper management. It’s not their culture to call people from higher positions by their first name. The upper management doesn’t socialise with their subordinates as well.

4. Fika aka Coffee Breaks, Sweden

Coffee lovers, rejoice! As one of the happiest countries in the world, the Swedes take their Fika, aka coffee breaks, seriously. They believe taking breaks boosts productivity and serves as an opportunity to relax, chat, and bond with colleagues. Some companies even have their formal Fika at 9 am and 3 pm.

5. Respect the prayer time, Malaysia, UAE and other Muslim countries

When working in a Muslim country, you must be aware of prayer time, especially Fridays. Muslims prioritise their prayer times. You have to consider that work ordeals don’t clash with prayer time.

6. Un beso, aka a "mock kiss" on the right cheek, Argentina

In some countries, handshakes and pats on the back are physical contacts between colleagues or business partners. However, it might surprise you when your Argentinian colleague gives you a un beso, “a mock kiss” on your right cheek when you meet them. This gesture is acceptable in both professional and social settings. It’s the locals’ way of showing respect, affection, and welcome.

7. Dress to kill for business meetings, Brazil

In Brazil, you should dress well when attending business meetings. It’s not overdressing! Brazilians take great pride in how well they dress. It’s part of their business etiquette. You can even add on some accessories or jewellery to enhance your appearance. The higher your post, the better you should dress.

8. Fantastic parental leave, Iceland

Icelanders take maternity leave in the corporate world to the next level. Whenever a family welcomes a new baby, both mother and father get three months of parental leave. On top of that, there’s an additional three months’ leave to share between the couples.

To make it even more impressive, each parent earns 80% of their salary while on leave. This way, both parents have an equal chance to learn parenting skills, witness their baby’s growth, and bond with the child.

9. No thumbs up — Iran, Afghanistan, Nigeria, South America, the Middle East, parts of Italy and Greece

In most countries, signalling thumbs up means “good job”. However, in countries such as these:

  • Iran
  • Afghanistan
  • Nigeria
  • South America
  • The Middle East
  • Parts of Italy
  • Greece

The hand gesture is an obscene insult, equivalent to holding up your middle finger.

10. Working Sunday to Thursday, Israel

There’s no Monday to Friday in Israel. You will work from Sunday to Thursday, sometimes Friday morning in Israel. People can observe Shabbat (the Jewish Holy Day) on those days. Shabbat happens from sundown on Friday to Saturday evening.

11. Stay at home when sick, Germany.

You may think it’s light flu, so it’s no problem to show up at work. Besides, you’ll get to save your sick leave for more severe events. Right? When in German, do as Germans do. The Germans disapprove of this. In their culture, sick employees have to stay home. See a doctor if you feel unwell, so you don’t have to wait at home for three days, else you need to provide a medical note to your boss.

Alright, those are eleven unique workplace cultures from around the world. Which one that you find most interesting?

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