As businesses grow and venture overseas to expand their empire, we need to be humble enough to know that we have to learn the rules about doing business in other countries, and not the other way round.

Besides having a solid business plan and product, appreciating and respecting the cultural differences of your foreign trading partner is also crucial to the success of your expansion plan.

Here are some pointers about basic social etiquette and business manners in India and China.

CHINA

Meetings start with the shaking of hands. Don't be overly vigorous when shaking hands as this could be interpreted as aggression.

Punctuality is vital. Be early, because a late arrival is seen as an insult. Meetings should begin with some brief small talk and avoid anything political.

Business cards are exchanged at an initial meeting. When receiving a card, place it in a case instead of a wallet or pocket. Never write on a business card.

The most important member of your company or group should lead important meetings. Chinese value rank and status.

Conservative suits for men with subtle colours are the norm. Jeans are not acceptable for business meetings. Revealing clothing for women is considered offensive to Chinese businessmen.

Do not use large hand movements. The Chinese do not speak with their hands. Your movements may be distracting to your host.

Always arrive on time or early if you are the guest at a meal. Don't discuss business over meals. Do not start to eat or drink before the host does. Don't finish up all your food, as the Chinese will assume you didn't have enough food and are still hungry.

INDIA

A short and light, not firm, handshake is the customary start to a business meeting. Although it is customary for males to shake hands, shaking hands with women is a very sensitive issue. The important rule to observe is to shake a woman's hand only if she initiates hand-shaking.

A more common practice than shaking hands is the greeting of peace known as "namaste". When making this greeting, bring your palms together at chest level with a slight bow of the head, and say "namaste".

Business cards should be exchanged at the first meeting. Receive and give with your right hand. Make sure the card is put away respectfully and not shoved into a trouser pocket.

Punctuality is expected, although being 10 minutes late is not a big deal. Flexibility is paramount.

When entering a meeting room, always approach and greet the most senior person first. Start the meeting with some small talk on neutral topics like the latest business news.

Men are generally expected to wear a suit and tie for business, although the jacket may be omitted in the summer. Women should wear conservative dresses or pantsuits. Women should keep their upper arms, chest, back, and legs covered at all times.

Do not thank your hosts at the end of a meal. "Thank you" is considered a form of payment and therefore insulting.

INDONESIA

For men, it is conventional to shake hands with everyone at the start of a meeting. A man, however, should not extend his hand to an Indonesian woman. Wait for her cue. If she initiates it, then a handshake is appropriate.

Women, do not offer a handshake to an Indonesian man. However, should a man extend his hand, always shake hands. Men, do not offer handshakes to an Indonesian woman. Reciprocate, however, if she initiates it.

Men should wear a coat and tie until it is appropriate to dress more casually. Follow the lead of those you are meeting. Women must always cover their upper arms when wearing a casual blouse, and the hems of skirts should sit below the knee. Shorts are never acceptable for women or men. Jeans may be worn for very casual occasions.

Arrive on time for meetings. Meetings traditionally start late, and your Indonesian business associates will probably arrive late, but do not comment on the lateness of your associates.

Never stand with your back to an elderly person or high-ranking official. As you enter a room, be aware of the people in that room with you. Always rise when your host or hostess enters the room.

Present business cards to each of your Indonesian associates before beginning business discussions. Your right hand holds the card, with your left hand supporting your right wrist. Your card will be received with both hands.

Treat any card received with the utmost respect. Don't fold or write on the card or put it in your pocket or wallet. Take time to carefully read the card.

During meals, leaving food on your plate signifies impoliteness, so eat everything you are served. Eating, passing food or anything else should only be done with the right hand. Even if you are left-handed, try to use your right hand when eating.

JAPAN

Don't grab your host's hand at the first meeting and give it a hearty shake. Many Japanese seldom shake hands and are uncomfortable doing so.

Punctuality is important. Always arrive 10 minutes early for a meeting, and even earlier if the meeting will be with senior executives.

If you are greeted with a bow, return with a bow as low as the one you received. How low you bow determines the status of the relationship between you and the other individual. Lower your eyes and keep your palms flat against your thighs.

The business card should be given after the bow. In a business situation, business cannot begin until the meishi exchange process is complete. Business cards are given and received with great ceremony and importance.

Examine the card carefully as a show of respect. During a meeting, place the business cards on the table in front of you in the order in which people are seated. When the meeting is over, put the business cards in a business card case or a portfolio. Never write on a card.

Show greatest respect to the oldest members in the group. The most senior Japanese person will be seated furthest from the door, with the rest of the people in descending rank until the most junior person is seated closest to the door.

Men should wear dark-coloured, conservative business suits. But don't wear a black suit, white shirt and black tie, because that's funeral attire. Women's dress should be conservative and accessories kept minimal. Women shouldn't wear trousers in a business situation as some Japanese men find it offensive.

Let the host order and pay for the meal. If you do take your host out, insist upon paying. The Japanese will refuse, but insist anyway. Never pour yourself a drink; always allow someone else to do it for you.