Posts Tagged ‘Global Etiquette’

My Book, Access to Asia, is Here!

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Asia is a beautiful continent with unique cultures that are as varied as its beautiful silks. My experiences in Asia, along with countless hours with my co-author Liz Alexander, have culminated in what we hope will be a valuable guide for global travelers!

You can order and receive it hot off the presses, and follow other news about the book, on my Amazon Author page.

Here’s a summary to give you a taste of what to expect:

Be culturally smart and build lasting business relationships in 10 Asian countries.
Over the last four decades, Asia has been the primary engine of global economic growth. This year the economy in India is expected to grow more than 6 percent, according to the IMF and OECD. China, the world’s largest economy adjusted for raw purchasing power, is sitting on $15 trillion in bank deposits, growing at $2 trillion annually. And since opening its borders to global trade in 2012, Myanmar, formerly Burma, is creating an extraordinary entrepreneurial environment owing to its “greenfield” advantage: a rare opportunity to build a fit-for-purpose economy to suit the modern world.

What does this mean for global leaders? Asia’s economic force signifies a call to action: executives, entrepreneurs, and emerging leaders, whether they presently do business in Asia or not, would be well served to become culturally smart about their Asian counterparts. Only then, as opportunities knock, can they build successful, long-lasting business relationships.

In my new book “Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Guide to Building Trust, Inspiring Respect, and Creating Long-Lasting Business Relationships” (Wiley), I offer a one-stop guidebook to intercultural relationship building and international etiquette in 10 Asian countries: China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. Additionally, I explore the U.S. business culture for any leader seeking a deeper understanding of the United States.

In “Access to Asia” I explore belief systems to business etiquette, customs to communication styles. I also share advice and anecdotes from interviews with more than 100 business professionals and regional gurus.

Advanced Praise for Access to Asia:

“This handbook provides US Americans with detailed awareness of their own cultural habits of thinking and behavior and pinpoints those that they are most likely to meet in key Asian partners. Its extensive information, essential as a starting point for doing business together, serves as a compass for the reader, stimulating informed curiosity and questioning in real-life contexts.”
Dr. George F. Simons, world-wide consultant, founder, author and editor-in-chief of diversophy® intercultural training games, Nice area, France

“Unlike typical regional business guides, Access to Asia focuses on the deeper side of cultural understanding. It goes beyond rules and facts and helps the reader make sense of the often subtle, yet profound, cultural differences found in Asia—something that’s critical for building successful relationships. Sharon Schweitzer understands that cultural understanding is not just a set of techniques to use, facts to learn, or rules to follow. By learning the cultural perspective of others, we explore the hidden parts of our cultural self. Access to Asia provides a great starting point for this profoundly satisfying journey.”
Joseph Shaules, director, Japan Intercultural Institute, Author of The Intercultural Mind: Connecting Culture, Cognition and Global Living, Tokyo, Japan.

“In a world of highly commoditized products and services, differentiation often comes in the form of human connection.  At our core, we humans are remarkably similar.  We all care about family, share anxieties, and aspire to greatness, although our definitions may vary.  Our cultural norms and beliefs are the gateway to our hearts.  Access to Asia is a must read for anyone seeking to understand the cultures of Asia.  Sharon’s practical approach offers a fast track to insider status in some of the most exciting economies of our day. Culture does matter!”
Stig Nybo, President – U.S. Retirement Strategy, Transamerica Retirement Solutions. Award Winning Author of Transform Tomorrow: Awakening the Super Saver in Pursuit of Retirement Readiness

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Tanzania: African Cat Outrunning Asian Tigers?


Before writing this post I happened to open a fortune cookie that read: “Good fortune takes preparation.” That was true for my recent photographic safari to Tanzania during the Great Migration (the clockwise migration of animals across parts of Tanzania and Kenya.) The four of us traveling together prepared for this adventure not only by updating our inoculations, packing the right clothing, cameras and binoculars, but by taking into account the following:

  1. 1. Language: Several weeks before arriving in Kilimanjaro we emailed each other short phrases in the language, Ki-Swahili, which we learned in order to engage with these kind and friendly people and show respect for their culture and customs. Just knowing a few phrases like Jambo-Jambo (hello); Asante-sana (thank you very much), and Karibu-sana (you are very welcome) resulted in many smiles.


  1. 2. Questions: Instead of talking among ourselves about U.S. topics, we asked our Tanzanian tour guide questions about his culture, like: How is it that Tanzania has remained such a calm, stable country? He was delighted to share this fascinating tidbit: That from the time they’re old enough, Tanzanians from the south are sent to school in the north, and vice versa. Students may then go to college in the east before starting work in the west. By meeting and making friends all over the country, Tanzanians are comfortable with people from different regions, and therefore disinclined to engage in tribal disputes.


  1. 3. Country Culture: As animal lovers, we’d read about and we were blessed to be observing and photographing the “Big Five”: Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard, Lion and Rhino. I was interested to know whether there was a “Little Five,” among Africa’s fauna. Our tour guide’s face lit up with a big smile upon hearing that—obviously thrilled with the question. He happily informed us that there were indeed, namely: the Ant Lion, Buffalo Weaver, Elephant Shrew, Leopard Tortoise, and Rhinoceros Beetle. I then used this culture-specific knowledge in conversations with other Tanzanians.


  1. 4. Attire: Tanzanians dress conservatively and wear Western-style clothing. Women may wear pantsuits; skirts and dresses should be modest, particularly in rural areas. Shorts or revealing attire are not appropriate, unless a specific situation requires them. Ironing your clothes, including T-shirts, is important as those who don’t are considered ill-bred.


  1. 5. Dining & Etiquette: Jackfruit, passion fruit, guavas, red bananas, mangoes, pineapples and oranges were organic and delicious. We enjoyed barbequed meats (Nyama choma), Indian inspired dishes with spices (curry, cinnamon, cumin, peppers), rice, samosas and sticky toffee pudding. A dining etiquette tip: it’s considered rude to smell or comment on the fragrance of food.


  1. 6. Relationship Building: Tanzania was not at all what I expected, but this trip embedded one thing I’ve long believed and emphasize with clients: The relationships you build, and the actions you take with people in mind, will determine the experience you have. For example, this safari was a personal trip, scheduled as the calm-before-the-storm of my Access to Asia book release, with no business planned. However, thanks to the impression I made, I was invited to return to Tanzania to conduct intercultural and international etiquette training in Dar es Salaam and Arusha. You never know where your next piece of business is going to come from!


Africa is predicted to become the world’s new “economic tiger.” As the McKinsey Global Institute’s report Lions on the Move: The progress and potential of African economies points out: “Africa’s economic growth is creating substantial new business opportunities that are often overlooked by global companies.”

Perhaps you will visit Tanzania or one of its neighbors in the months or years to come?

Photo credit: cheetah cub with safari tour guide: Exaud Marandu, Tanzania


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Myanmar/Burma & ASEAN, Part II

The global consulting firm McKinsey calls Myanmar “one of the few remaining largely untapped markets in the world.” But for those of us who simply love mysterious Myanmar (formerly Burma) for being one of the most fascinating nations worldwide, it is “the land of the pagodas.”


The past year was significant for Myanmar as the country Chaired ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) and they held their first census since 1983. I recently visited Myanmar at the invitation of the Women’s Forum Myanmar–ASEAN 2014 and participated in this wonderful Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society. The focus was on ‘Building the Future with Women’s Vision’ with events held in both Yangon and the country capital, Naypyidaw (for pronunciation, see: What delighted me most about being in Myanmar was the opportunity to become immersed in the culture of this mysterious (to most) country and meet its polite and welcoming people.

For those of you interested in visiting Myanmar, either in a business context or as a new vacation spot now that the country has opened up to the West, here are some cultural insights. These will impact your interactions and demonstrate your good manners and intercultural understanding if you seek to develop long lasting relationships—business or personal:

  1. 1. Belief Systems, Philosophies and Religions: The Myanmar society continues to be built on order, respect of elders and their Buddhist faith. Keep in mind that the country breakdown is Buddhist 89%, Christian 4% (Baptist 3% Roman Catholic 1%), Islam 4%, Animist 1%, Other 2%.
  2. 2. Meetings: First and second meetings are the time for introductions with Ministry officials, and for building trust. The Myanmar place a strong emphasis on chemistry between business partners.
  3. 3. Greetings: Although Men greet each other by shaking hands, women are frequently greeted with a smile and a nod. If a Myanmar businesswoman offers her hand first, it is acceptable to shake it; Western men should not offer their hand to a Myanmar woman until she does so.
  4. 4. Appearance: Despite the heat and humidity, professional business dress was worn at all my meetings, including first meetings, contract signings, and official events. In less formal situations, businessmen wore an open collar, light-colored shirt and dark slacks. The women all dressed beautifully and modestly, covering arms, legs and décolleté. In some offices it is common to remove shoes, so men should choose socks accordingly! Expect Ministers and local businessmen to wear Longyi and Mandarin collar shirts. My colleague from Sanofi attended a Myanmar wedding and returned to the ASEAN conference wearing this traditional, beautiful Burmese dress (see photo of the two of us below):
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  6. 5. Dining Etiquette: Most business entertaining takes place in hotels, tea houses and restaurants. Until recently, it was illegal for international visitors to be invited into a Myanmar home. At business meals, the most junior host will begin serving guests first. I found that while forks, spoons and chopsticks were provided, knives were not, even though we were in a Western hotel.
  7. 6. Currency: The Kyat (MMK) pronounced chat is divided into 100 pyas. Myanmar is still a heavily cash-based economy. It is true that you must bring only bills that are freshly minted as U.S. dollars with small tears or folds will be refused. Bring larger bills such as $50 and $100 and twice as much money as you think you will need. The ATMs in Myanmar did not dispense funds and charged my account $9.95 for each attempt to withdraw money. I suspect the Myanmar banking system will continue to improve, along with their infrastructure.

In Summary:
Even though Myanmar is open for global trade, the country’s business professionals are apprehensive about doing business with international visitors, for fear of becoming too Westernized. They will greatly appreciate your knowledge and respect for their unique culture and Myanmar customs.

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