It's a great insult and would be used, actually, by the Japanese to show great dissatisfaction, and it would be deeply humiliating for the person to accept it.

“One of the most important things every foreign traveler must know going to Japan is not to tip.” says a correspondent for The Economist Magazine in a podcast titled Doing business in Tokyo. “Let me repeat that so you understand: do not tip. The reason why is that tipping in Japan is an insult.”

“The presumption is that the person does the work for the agreed sum. ... If they needed a tip, they were a little bit slow and kind of needed a helping hand,” explains the correspondent. “It’s a great insult and would be used, actually, by the Japanese to show great dissatisfaction, and it would be deeply humiliating for the person to accept it.”

Correspondents for The Economist share helpful guidelines and recommendations like this for more than two dozen cities as part of the podcast series called Doing Business In. Unlike most cultural guides that must be read, this series is uniquely audio only and worthy of a free podcast subscription for all those fascinated by international business and culture.

The magazine produces a piece about a new city almost every month, with each segment being a brief 10 to 15 minutes long. Listeners will enjoy these interesting pieces for both their entertainment and educational value; many will find value in using the series as a primer before traveling to specific destinations. Cities covered range from Moscow in the north to Auckland in the south and from Toronto in the West to Singapore in the East.

Each podcast follows a fairly standard formula and shares pointers ranging from practical tips on arriving at your destination and getting around to cultural tips about meeting with and dining with international business contacts.

Berlin’s got two airports,” shares one correspondent, “and, whatever you do, you want to come into Tegel, which is the smaller of the two.” The same man notes that European Union and U.S. passport carriers will not have a problem dealing with immigration, but those carrying some other passports may face a bit of a grilling by people who probably do speak good English but choose not to.

After learning about the experience to be expected arriving at the airport and passing through customs, listeners receive recommendations for public transportation, hotels and tipping practices. Presenters also recommend ideal times to visit, as well as times to avoid travel to the city in question. For example, we are reminded that in Berlin, “Like much of the rest of Europe, August is probably not the best time to visit. A lot of people will be away taking an extended summer holiday.”

Cultural instruction about meeting with business contacts includes behavioral recommendations about timing, locations, cultural practices, dress, language, topics of conversation and formality. For instance, learning a few words in Arabic is often appreciated in Cairo, building trust with businessmen in Mexico City can require a lot of time, and businessmen in Dehli can be very forgiving if you arrive late because of traffic. These cultural tips about international interactions and relationship building rightly comprise a significant portion of each audio clip and can be quite captivating.

Business meetings in many countries also regularly include meals, so the information about dining expectations is particularly helpful. When doing business in Tokyo, your hosts will probably assume you do not want to eat Japanese food, so you will need to speak up if you indeed want an introduction to authentic sushi and other Japanese fare. If you intend to do business in Beijing, you are warned about a traditional “white wine” that some people describe as tasting like engine oil.

Finally, each podcast ends with recommendations for things to do and sites to see if you find yourself with some extra time outside of business appointments. The correspondent in Beijing suggests a non-touristy section of the Great Wall, and the correspondent in San Francisco proposes a good site to view the Golden Gate Bridge.

Comment on this story

I recommend the “Doing Business In” podcast series to any international business traveler and to anyone fascinated by international business culture. The information provided in the series is both interesting and practical, and The Economist’s choice to present the material in audio format makes the learning experience relaxing and entertaining.

Adam Wooten is director of translation services at Lingotek. He also teaches a course on translation technology at BYU. E-mail: . Follow him on Twitter at AdamWooten..