Your boss walks into your office and informs you that you have been chosen to represent The Clog Company in China for the Shmenge deal. Your first thought – free trip to China and a chance to climb to the Great Wall. Your second thought – now I can find those affordable gadgets that will do my laundry while it straightens my hair or those super dynamic ear buds with positive subliminal messaging. But did you ever think about the specifics of doing business in a foreign country such as the practice of exchanging business cards or the proper way to greet your new colleagues? What about the dining experience or giving of gifts?
Doing business abroad invites a whole host of unexpected surprises and the success or failure in navigating those waters is predicated on how culturally prepared you are to deal with them. For example, the action of accepting a business card in China requires you to grasp it with both hands and look at it before slipping it in your pocket. It is considered offensive to pocket it right away.
Brazilians conduct business in the same way as North Americans approach dating. Prior to any negotiations there is a courtship to determine the chemistry of a potential partner. This would involve socializing over an elaborate meal and revealing personal details about family, views on sports, and a range of other topics of conversation.
Not only is the understanding of a country’s business and social etiquette crucial to achieving positive results, but being aware of and appreciating the intercultural differences that exist builds trust and strengthens relationships.
The difference between greeting a person in Bulgaria with a formalized “Gospodin” or “Gospja” followed by their surname and using their first name when first meeting demonstrates respect and a sense of order. First names are reserved for family and good friends.
Culinary customs are also crucial to breaking down barriers and promoting clearer communication. In many Asian countries, slurping noodles or soup is quite acceptable whereas in North America we correct children for making noises at the table. The rules in one place simply may not apply to another.
While adhering to the mores of a foreign country may threaten your own beliefs and sense of comfort, is it better to offend or suck it up for the sake of “being in Rome”?
So while you are waiting for your passport to arrive with that brand new Chinese visa pasted on page 4, consider your reaction when the host presents you with a dish of something that is still alive.
Travel is great fun and life changing, but you have to be sensitive and you have to arrive with a little knowledge and an open mind.
Want to learn more about customs, communication, and cantinas? Discover the world in Toronto and join The Kulture Klub on their next adventure. No passport required.