How to be a Winner in the International Arena
"All people are the same. It's only their habits that are different."
This quote should serve as a reminder that in a global economy, cross-cultural awareness is no longer optional. Doing your homework is number one on the Top 10 list of do's and don'ts of visiting another country. To avoid potentially costly and embarrassing miscues when dealing with other cultures, remember the following tips:
Copyright © 2003 Protocol Plus
- Don't be uninformed. Plan to invest at least 30 hours studying your target country before doing business abroad. But don't take anything for granted. What you study in the books may not match the people you meet. Be observant, be polite, and have an agenda of flexibility with "situational awareness."
- Avoid being overly informal. In many cultures, using the first names of people you don't know is socially unacceptable, even insulting. Be prepared for a very formal atmosphere in all of your dealings abroad. If you unsure, it's always safe to ask, "What would you like me to call you?"
- Don't leave home without your business card. Most business contacts demand it. Have the local language printed on the reverse side and present the card in that language. When receiving a card, take time to look at it before placing it in the breast pocket of your jacket, in your wallet or your briefcase - never in your pants pocket. Present your card to the receptionist when you arrive at a company at home or abroad.
- Sometimes Americans possess a strong sense of urgency and can come off as being rude and pushy. Don't be loud or abrupt and don't be afraid of silence. In most cultures, silence is a sign of strength.
- Be aware of personal space, which varies from 12 - 36 inches. You may insult someone if you back away or come too close and invade his or her space. Arabs tend to stand the closest and are insulted when people back away from them during conversation. Resist the urge to move closer to Japanese people, who often feel uncomfortable at a distance of less than three feet away.
- Be sensitive to eye contact. In some cultures, direct eye contact is avoided and may be interpreted as rudeness. The Japanese practice eye contact before visiting the United States. The Arabs believe you can see into a person's soul through their eyes. When you talk to Arabs, their gaze can be quite intense.
- Acknowledge everyone present with a handshake and a greeting. To stop halfway through even a crowded room is considered a rejection of those you omitted. The ranking or oldest person extends his or her hand first.
- Be careful with gestures. Those innocent winks and well-meaning hand gestures may get you into trouble. Do not beckon with the second finger or with the palm up and never point a finger. It is safer to merely close the hand and gesture with the entire hand. Don't cross your legs - it suggests premature familiarity and is considered a sign of bad breeding. In the United States, the OK gesture means that something is just right. In other countries it could mean worthless, a homosexual invitation, or a lewd comment about a female. So be subdued with your gestures when you travel.
- Gift giving is a revered custom in some cultures. Know the traditions of what, when and how to give gifts. For example, never give an Arab person liquor; it is forbidden by the Islamic religion. Never surprise a Japanese with a gift; he or she may be embarrassed by not having one for you. Do not give a Chinese a clock; its pronunciation is the same as funeral in English. Books are usually safe, but be sure there is no nudity in them.
- Smile - it is a form of communication understood by all. Enjoy your travels and new friends.
Back to News & Articles