Culture, International Protocol & 2015 Formula1 Austin Grand Prix
October 21, 2015
It is Austin’s fourth year to host Formula1 and the Austin Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas. In just a few short years, we have learned much as business owners about intercultural awareness with international customers to Austin.
During F1 weekend, 300,000 visitors are expected from Friday, October 24 to Sunday, October 26 – more visitors than during South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits Music Festival combined! With the exception of the Olympics and the World Cup, there is no sporting event with more viewers. F1 weekend is viewed by over 600 million people – more than five times the most watched Superbowl of all time!
Here are a few reminders for hosting international visitors as we prepare for this weekend:
1. Greetings: In the service industry, be prepared with “good morning” or “good afternoon” as opposed to “hi” or “hey” with greetings. It is wise to use appropriate titles and last names when conducting a transaction, returning a credit card, or presenting a check and it’s best to use “Mr.” “Ms.” or “Dr.” until invited to use a first name. Latin Americans, Europeans and Asians use titles when greeting and introducing each other and expect us to do the same.
2. Restaurant Service: Dining customs differ around the world. Be prepared for international diners to linger over their meal, order dessert and savor coffee for lengthy periods of 2-3 hours. In certain Latin American cultures coffee is king and enjoyed after every meal regardless of the outside temperature. In Mexico, the main meal is midday between 1:00–4:00 p.m., typically starting at 2:00 p.m. and in Spain, the main meal in the evening begins at 10:00 p.m.
3. Personal Space & Distance: While serving global customers, be aware that various cultures maintain different standards of personal space and distance. During a discussion with a global citizen, do not be surprised or caught off guard if someone stands very close to you. If you step back or away, they may take offense and terminate the sale or relationship. In the US if you stand too close, you may be seen as pushy or aggressive. If you stand too far away, you may be seen as disinterested. For reference, in The Hidden Dimension by Edward T. Hall, personal space in the US may be broken down into several categories. Intimate distance is 0-18 inches, personal distance (good friends, family members) is from 18 inches to 4 feet and social distance (acquaintances) is 4–12 feet. One option is to allow the customer to dictate the proximity within your comfort zone.
4. Tipping & Gratuities: Tipping customs vary around the world. In some areas of Europe and in certain countries, including Australia and Japan, the gratuity is built into the cost of the meal and tips are not added. It’s also important to keep in mind that it is not the custom in all countries to tip; so do not be surprised if you do not receive a tip. For example, international protocol guides reflect that in Japan, if a tip is left for a server, the Japanese are offended. In 2013, some restaurants, including III Forks, placed tasteful tabletop signage advising patrons of an automatic 18% gratuity during Formula1 Grand Prix weekend, with successful results.
For those of us planning to enjoy the Austin Grand Prix and F1, here are a few helpful websites for race weekend:
Official City of Austin GrandPrix Website: http://austintexas.gov/grandprix
Official Formula1 Website: http://www.formula1.com/default.html
The Circuit of The Americas Website: http://circuitoftheamericas.com/
Let’s continue to expand Austin’s global presence, encourage intercultural understanding and show our wisdom. If we greet guests in our friendliest Austin way, aware that we may be serving a customer from another culture, Austin will continue making great impressions on our visitors. You never know, you may be the first impression an international visitor has of the USA!
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. Schweitzer is accredited in intercultural management, is a regular on-air contributor and has been quoted by Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, Inc., the New York Times, Bangkok Post and numerous other media. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide. For more of Sharon’s insight, follow her on www.twitter.com/austinprotocol and www.facebook.com/protocolww.
Three Tips for Being Smart Cross-Culturally During Ramadan
July 08, 2015
Ramadan date: 2015: evening June 17th – evening July 17th
Approximate dates 2016: June 6th – July 6th
For most government organizations and government linked companies, time for Muslim prayer will have a bearing on meeting time. In addition, during the fasting month of Ramadan, they tend to dislike a meeting in the afternoon.
~Executive, Malaysian Airlines
Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE
Think your business calendar and implementation schedule aren’t impacted by belief systems, philosophies or religions? Think again. How many millions of dollars will be lost when your construction project is delayed, as was the case in this example?
Case Study: A senior project manager for a U.S. tech company was concerned about whether his two-month implementation schedule should be modified to accommodate the holy month of Ramadan. Concerned with potential delay, his VP decided to proceed with “business as usual” and scheduled meetings and production nonetheless.
The U.S. project team faced not only absent team members, but questions about their disrespect for Islam. The implementation was subsequently delayed three months, then six months. Numerous U.S. deadlines were missed, penalties were assessed, and promotions lost.
Cross-Cultural Awareness: The Holy month of Ramadan impacts group as well as individual decision-making, especially within large companies, government and public sector organizations.
Spending time virtuously, and respecting Islamic law is particularly important during Ramadan. Work hours are significantly reduced, employees take holidays, telecommuting increases, and colleagues are likely to decline business travel. As such, when key principals are out of the office or are working reduced hours, the decision-making process slows considerably.
Cultural Business Practices for Employers/Visitors:
• Consider hosting a weekly Iftar for the workforce, when both Muslim and non-Muslim employees have an opportunity to get into the spirit of Ramadan. Iftar is the meal eaten by Muslims to break their fast after sunset every day of Ramadan.
• Schedule meetings around prayer times during the holy month of Ramadan. Islamic law impacts time as it relates to holidays and the traditional Muslim workweek, with the weekend falling on Thursday and Friday. In geographic locations where Friday remains a workday, many offices close at noon, as Muslims take a two-hour break for prayers at a local mosque.
• Remember that Muslims believe the past and future rest in God’s hands. You are likely to frequently hear the phrase Inshallah, which means, God willing.
Sharon Schweitzer JD is a recognized international etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, corporate trainer, and the international award winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Guide to Building Trust, Inspiring Respect and Creating Long Lasting Business Relationships. Her work and travels have taken her to over 60 countries on seven continents. With over 20 years’ experience providing consulting and training to more than 100,000 attorneys and corporate executives in law firms and global corporations, her clients range from MD Anderson to Charles University in Prague and NFP. She has been quoted by the New York Times, Fortune Magazine, and numerous international media outlets. To learn more about Sharon, connect with her at www.sharonschweitzer.com; follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/austinprotocol and Facebook at www.facebook.com/protocolww.
Photo credit: ©iStock.com/badahos
Heading to Mexico City, Part 2
April 29, 2015
In Part One of this blog post on the wonderful Mexico City I outlined five things to think about before you leave for your business trip. In this second part, here are five practical and intercultural etiquette tips that will help smooth your visit after you have arrived:
- 1. Getting There: Benito Juarez Airport is Mexico City’s main airport, located close to downtown. Only commissioned taxis are available there, so travelers must hire these services and pay their rates. However, this apparent restriction provides considerable safety for travelers carrying valuables, since all taxis and drivers represent well-established and trusted companies.
- 2. Currency: ATMs are available everywhere and using them is more convenient than using exchange services that tend to impose high commissions. Just be cautious about using public ATMs, as you would in any large city.
- 3. Traffic: As in any major city, traffic here is chaotic and unpredictable at peak hours. Plan ahead for delays when possible, and realize that even though your hosts may suggest a trip could take 45 minutes, it could take up to twice as long—or longer.
- 4. Transportation: While taxis can be hailed in the street, it is safer to use radio-taxis booked over the phone. They will pick you up at an agreed location within 20 minutes and are likely to charge a fixed rate. Although more expensive, this is certainly the safer option, especially at night.
- 5. Communication: Mexican businesspeople prefer to avoid overt disagreements. Instead of saying “no” they’ll often use “maybe” or “I’ll get back to you.” However, they not get back to you and this should be understood as an indirect rejection, or a negative response to a proposal.
Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Phototreat