Don’t use that fork! - The myth of the cultural faux pas

There once was an American businessman who was scheduled to visit his company’s Japanese subsidiary for a series of meetings. To prepare for the trip, he read about Japanese culture and customs, and even learned a few basic words of the language. He hired a consultant who taught him the proper way to greet his Japanese hosts, how to exchange business cards, how to eat with chopsticks, and more.

Text by Leah Guren


Image: © Hramovnick/

"In Japan," the consultant told him, "you must always start with a statement of humility about your own worth or status, and a statement of praise honoring your host." With that in mind, the American businessman carefully wrote his speech. Once in Tokyo, he followed all the rules, bowed just the right degree, and presented his business cards with both hands.

Then it was time to make his presentation in front of 2000 employees. "I am deeply honored to be here in your beautiful, modern factory," he began. "I am humbled when I see the excellence of your production methods. There is much that we can learn from your efficiency and your high standards of manufacturing quality."

All of the Japanese employees laughed uproariously.

The American was confused, but he managed to finish the rest of his presentation. Later in the day, he had an opportunity to ask his host, "Why did everyone laugh ...