One of the customs that affects business throughout the world is the act of eating together. There are countries where eating together is one of the greatest displays of affection that they have. By feeding you, they are telling you that you are important to them.
Here in the United States, we’re not all that big on hospitality; at least, not if you compare us to other countries. While I know there are countries that don’t make a big deal of the act of eating together, I also know that there are many countries where you can just about forget about doing business with someone, unless you sit down and eat together.
Take Mexico for example. Mexican’s are famous for their hospitality. If you visit three different Mexican businessmen in one day, you had better count on eating lunch three times. Or, to take it out of a purely business context, if you visit three Mexican families in one evening, you’d better count on eating dinner three times. Each one will feed you, and expect you to eat with them.
Not accepting the offer of food is a great insult in many cultures. In a sense, it is considered the epitome of arrogance; essentially saying that you think you’re too good to eat with them. You may as well forget about any business relationship with someone who you have insulted in that way. The same thing happens if you don’t eat what they offer you. So, if you have a squeamish stomach, you’d be better off sending someone else to do your overseas contacts.
On the other hand, eating together becomes a great ice breaker. Once you’ve sat across the dining table from each other, you can much more effectively sit across the conference table.