Time Matters for Business Meetings

Last month, we covered timeliness for business meetings in Europe and the UK. This month, we will reach further. Different cultures have many different customs.

In many countries, not being prompt or on time is considered a huge insult. Yet, as many of you may have discovered, being late is culturally accepted in others. This is an important distinction and I’d encourage you to err on the side of being prompt.  I simply do not know everything about every country and rely on my own experiences, friends, Internet research and books. As you will be able to tell, I know more about some of these countries than others. If you know and understand the culture and not take someone being late as personal, it will go a long way in your business relationship. Know and understand as much about time as you can.

No matter which country you visit, be sure to take its holidays and customs into consideration.

Global Etiquette with columnist Maralyn D Hill as featured in Luxe Beat Magazine


According to Do’s and Taboos Around the World, “Africa is divided into three distinct regions:

  • The northern nations, bound together by language (Arabic), religion (Islamic or Muslim), and resources (oil)…
  • The black countries,
  • South Africa.

“Each of the countries of these three regions has distinct cultural characteristics, depending, of course, on its history and on the influence of the country that colonized it. As for general rules, the Northern African nations follow Arabic protocol, gestures, etiquette, and behavior; the middle African nations are oriented to black multicultural; and South Africa is utch/English-oriented.”


Generally, you will need a local distributor or agent before you can set up an appointment. Punctuality is not what Algerians are known for. You should be on time, but expect to wait. Be sure to call to confirm your appointment, and women have a disadvantage. It is best to send a man. It usually takes several meetings before business deals can come together. Most speak Arabic and some speak French.


It is recommended that you have a local agent or distributor before you set up an appointment. Confirm your appointment and make an effort for on-time arrival. Be prepared that your counterpart may be late or not show up.


Punctuality is important for visitors in setting up a solid foundation, but the Ghanaian may be late or not show up at all. Make appointments several weeks in advance and confirm.

Ivory Coast

Be sure to make appointments in advance and be punctual. However, this part of West Africa is notorious for running late, so the host may not be on time. With that said, the area is making a effort to strive toward paying more attention to punctuality.


You will need a prior appointment. It is becoming more important to be punctual and particularly in the private sector of businesses. Be sure to arrive to allow time for relationship interaction. You may want to invite someone to dinner or lunch.


Make appointments far in advance and confirm ahead of time, even through your hosts may not show much regard for timing. Be prepared to wait, even though they try to stay on time. The Libyans have an open door policy, so that does delay meetings. It is important to keep the local culture in mind.


There are many similarities to Libya. Make appointments at least a month in advance and confirm, but be prepared for interruptions. Be patient and take up where you left off. It is very important not to catch a Moroccan client off-guard to cause embarrassment where he would lose respect.


Make appointments. First names are rarely used; instead, professional titles when at all possible and known. Try to do some research.


The Nigerians understand Western punctuality, even though they may not be as concerned about time. Travel is somewhat challenging, so be sure to allow a lot of time.


Appointments are necessary, but you may have to wait.

South Africa

Appointments are definitely necessary and so is promptness. Relationships are built in the office. If you are not known, an introduction would be helpful. Business people respect those who have attained their status through hard work.


Appointments are necessary and should be confirmed.


Prior appointments are necessary, even though a host may or may not arrive late. Many of the customs vary based on religion, tribe, or race; however British social habits are accepted and people are generally friendly.

Keep in mind that a group within the company frequently determines business decisions and the preference is consensus. They want to get to know whom they are doing business with and will spend time asking about families and background. They are usually conservative with speech making and proceed with protocol.


Whereas a prior appointment is advisable, it is a surefire guarantee that the meeting will take place. I would highly recommend a well-connected introduction from someone who will attend with you to increase your odds.

The Middle East

Appointments and punctuality are important and business weeks are from Saturday to Thursday. Thursday and/or Friday is honored as the Muslim day of rest and worship. Whereas punctuality is important for the visitor, the host may or may not be on time — err on the side of being punctual and wait patiently.

The Gulf States

The following countries comprise The Gulf States: Bahrain, Kuwait, Sultanate of Oman, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates.

You will discover that punctuality is important in all of the Gulf countries. You must make prior appointments, but don’t be shocked to discover other businesspeople present and numerous meetings taking place at once.

Be sure to enter the room with dignity, do not rush. Make your way to the most senior person to greet and move around to the left. Greet, pass, sign, and do everything with your right hand, NEVER your left (The left hand is for bodily hygiene and considered unclean). `


Prior appointments are necessary. Your appointments should be made via telephone, as well as in writing. Before you arrive in Iran, telephone and email again to confirm time and place of appointment. Be prepared to be patient if your host does not show up on time. Even through punctuality is rare, it will be expected of you. Feel comfortable asking for a lot of tea, while you are waiting.


Advance scheduling is important. Be prepared to be patient if you have to wait.

Before the meeting, time will be spent exchanging business cards. It would be appreciated if you had the backside of your card printed in Arabic or Kurdish depending on section of Iraq. I’d do both so I would be prepared for whomever I was meeting. Next comes the small talk and it is very important to participate.

The host will start the meeting and discuss various proposals. Iraqi businesspeople are quite diplomatic and tactful in these meetings. It is considered in poor taste and improper etiquette to be overly direct. Meetings may take awhile and international participants need to show patience and not try to be too persuasive.

This is very important, as the visitor is the one who adjourns the meeting. If your business is not concluded, you may ask when you could conveniently reschedule (negotiations are usually drawn out). But the host will not end the meeting, as it is considered rude.


Prior appointments are a must. It would be to your benefit to have a local contact schedule the meeting. Confirm your meeting at least once and definitely the day of the meeting. This is a relaxed setting and the host could cancel or be a no show. Be ready for some small talk and have your pitch in color on glossy paper.


Punctuality is not the highest importance, but that could change. Even though it is recommended to arrange and confirm meetings in advance, you may be able to arrange meetings on short notice. Do plan on exchanging business cards, and if you have any personal contacts, use them to your advantage in arranging your meeting.

Saudi Arabia

Meetings are scheduled according to prayer times, so try not to reschedule or be late. Punctuality is a sign of respect. Be patient, as it is customary to keep foreigners waiting.

Prior appointments are required and you may discover several meetings occurring simultaneously.

When the meeting starts, greet the most senior individual first. If you’re not sure, start by greeting people on your right and work your way around.


Appointments need to be scheduled in advance and reconfirmed. Your host may be late, but your punctuality is appreciated and noted. Be prepared for meetings to be much longer than you anticipate, even allowing for lateness of counterparts. Syria is quite social and they want to build a personal relationship and one of trust before starting business negotiations. Deals may take weeks or months to finalize. Saving face matters.

Note: Information for this article was compiled from my own experience, Do’s and Taboos Around The World”, associates, and double-checked from approximately fifteen different Internet sites.