Tunisians prefer to do business with those they know and respect. Therefore they spend time cultivating a personal relationship before beginning to conduct business. As in other Arab countries, Tunisians pride themselves on being gracious hosts. The French has also heavily influenced their business practices so expect both courtesy and a degree of formality. Quite often business is discussed in café and restaurants. Since Tunisians judge people on appearances, do dress well.
If you have an advanced university degree from a prestigious university or have achieved special recognition in your business field, weave this information into your conversation since credentials impress Tunisians.
Appointments are necessary and should be made as far in advance as possible and confirmed a day or two before the meeting. It is best to avoid scheduling meetings in July and August when the heat is most intense. Workdays are shorter during Ramadan and since Muslims cannot eat or drink during the day it is another time best avoided since your hosts would not be able to offer you mint tea. Most businesses close for lunch from 12:30 to 2:30 pm on Monday through Friday. Businesses may also close at prayer times.
In general, Tunisians have an open-door policy, even during meetings. This means you may experience frequent interruptions. Others may even wander into the room and start a different discussion. You may join in, but do not try to bring the topic back to the original discussion until the new person leaves. Business meetings start after prolonged small talk.
French is the language of business. If you are not fluent, you may need to hire an interpreter. It is common to address people with “Monsieur" (Mr) or "Madame"(Mrs/Ms) followed by the family name. “Si” is also used as a title of respect, meaning Mister.
The social side of business is very important. Tunisians must know and like you to conduct business. Personal relationships are necessary for long-term business as Tunisians look for long-term business relationships.
Companies are hierarchical. The highest-ranking person makes decisions, after obtaining group consensus. Decisions are reached after great deliberation. Business meetings generally start after prolonged small talk.
Never criticise publicly as it is important not to cause your Tunisian colleagues to lose face. Tunisians are non- confrontational. They may agree in meetings rather than cause you to lose face. They do not like to say 'no' overtly.
Deadlines are seen as fluid rather than cast in stone. Decisions are made slowly; hence, do not try to rush the process as it would be interpreted as an insult. It generally takes several visits to accomplish simple tasks. Do not use high-pressure tactics as well as rush or show impatience with the time taken to accomplish something.
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