Navigating a foreign culture can be difficult, and learning another country’s business culture can be even harder.
Workplace customs vary wildly from country to country, and what’s normal office behavior in one country could be highly unusual somewhere else.
That’s especially true in the United States, which has its own customs that workers in other countries fiercely resist.
Here are some of the international business practices that Americans would find completely out of place.
Workers in the EU can refuse to work more than 48 hours a week
Americans are notorious for working long hours – some of the longest in the world, it turns out.
The opposite is true for many countries in the European Union, and it’s actually written into law.
The Working Time Directive gives workers in the EU the right to work no more than 48 hours a week.
In practice, Europeans tend to work far fewer hours a week than that. In Germany, France, and Sweden, for example, the average is closer to 35 hours a week, according to Manchester Business School professor Cary Cooper.
In Japan, workers can sleep during the workday — and get praised for it
American workers are notoriously under-rested, and in many cases, workers wear their sleep deprivation as a badge of honor.
Japanese workers are known for working long hours- in fact, there is a word for “death by overwork” – and offices have adopted a habit that would be forbidden in most American offices: sleeping on the job.
In Japn, napping in the office is not only common, but can be seen as a sign of employee diligence. The word for the practice is “inemuri,” or “sleeping on duty,” and is most prevalent among senior employees, according to The New York Times.
The biggest rule of inemuri is to respect other people’s boundaries while you sleep.
It would be considered disruptive “if you stretched out under the table in the office conference room, or took up several spaces on the train, or laid out on a park bench,” Harvard social anthropology professor Theodore Bestor told The Times.
And in Japan, employers can get penalized for having overweight workers
Japanese workers between the ages of 45 and 74 are also subject to a law requiring them to have their waistlines measured annually.
The measure, passed in 2008, is known as the “metabo” law, and was designed to reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, and other ailments nationwide. The thresholds are a 13.9-inch waistline for men and a 12.4-inch waistline for women.
Individuals who don’t pass muster are steered toward dieting education after a few months, and companies that fail to meet certain standards face financial penalties, according to The New York Times.
In France, you can refuse to check your work emails outside office hours
Foreigners resent the American tendency to check their work emails after they leave the office.
French workers, for example, pride themselves on maintaining more of a distinction between work life and personal life. That pride led France to pass an initiative earlier this year allowing employees to ignore work-related emails sent after working hours.
The measure was billed as a “right to disconnect” and applies to companies with more than 50 employees.
Parliament member Benoit Hamon told the BBC last year that the motivation of the rule was to reduce employee stress.
“Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work,” he told the BBC. “They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash – like a dog. The texts, the messages, the emails – they colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”
In Finland, business is often conducted in the sauna
It’s not unusual for American business to take place at a bar, a restaurant, or even the golf course. But would you consider stepping into a sauna with a potential business partner?
Believe it or not, hot-bath negotiations are the norm in Finland, where an affinity for saunas is deeply rooted in the culture.
The practice is so widespread that many large companies have saunas in the office. Talk about office perks.
Finns swear by the sauna, insisting that the sweltering sessions enhance creativity and encourage more open dialogue. As the Christian Science-Monitor put it, the sauna is the “secret weapon behind much of their diplomatic and business successes.”
In Kuwait, workers are entitled to 30 days of paid leave each year
Americans have a reputation for rarely taking breaks from work, thanks to vacation policies that vary from company to company.
But in Kuwait, all workers in the private sector are entitled to 30 days of paid leave a year – the highest figure in the world.
Several European countries, like Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Luxembourg, France, and the United Kingdom, aren’t far behind, granting their workers about four weeks of paid leave a year.