Certainly it is quite easy to be misinterpreted when sending business emails. Obviously emails are there to deliver quick, simple information to any destination in the world at the click of the return button.
What I am always surprised about is how sensitive a lot of us really are and some of us do in fact experience an emotional reaction to cultural faux pas of business emails. I am often called in to interpret the real meaning behind an email text for non-native English people.
In terms of business email etiquette, English people are quite renowned for their politeness and small talk expertise, but sometimes you may get an extremely laconic, terse email from an English colleague which absolutely baffles some people. This is really acceptable and is the factual, short, simple, quick approach to emailing which is accepted in the English workplace. So do not always expect to get a chatty missive about the weather from the English!
Another cultural faux pas is how to address the person you are writing to. As a recommendation, I would always, always write a first contact email to someone I do not know with a ‘Dear Mr. Brown’ or ‘Dear Mrs. Brown’. If you have no idea if the lady is married or not then be on the safe side and write ‘Dear Ms. Brown’ (of course assuming you know the name).
If you do not know the name then the simple business email etiquette write ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’. If that person replies and signs off with only her first name, you could take this as permission to then write back to her with only the first name (so ‘Dear Jean’ or ‘Dear John’). However, if that person signs off with his/her full name still, then be careful how you reply. In this case I personally would reply ‘Dear Ms. Brown’.
Of course, in England and America we really do favour the use of first names even in the workplace; on the other hand, I would be extremely careful with people from other countries. In business, Italians are extremely formal still and almost always would write Signor or Signora and Germans would only write Herr and Frau as well, leaving out first names. Never forget that those first words of your business emails could set the tone for the rest of the text – if you annoy your counterpart with the ‘Dear John’ part, then you start off on the wrong foot for the rest of the email.