The excitement is building, as many international visitors have already bought their tickets to come to Austin in November for our first ever Formula 1 race weekend! I was honored when the City of Austin asked me to help prepare our local hospitality businesses and service professionals for interacting with our guests from other countries.
While there are whole volumes written to prepare for a situation like this, my goal was to pull out a few key points that will hopefully keep us all out of trouble. Here is my first set – keep an eye out for my “Part 2” next week:
In Austin, many of us offer a hearty “hey” as we meet new people – it’s part of our charm, right? With international customers, be prepared to say “good morning” or “good afternoon” instead. Use appropriate titles and last names when conducting a transaction, returning a credit card, or presenting a check. It is best to use “Mr.” “Ms.” or “Dr.” until invited to use a first name. Avoid the familiarity of calling consumers by their first names when presenting a check or bill. Latin Americans, Europeans and Asians use titles when greeting and introducing each other and expect us to do the same. Many in the USA and Australia are bothered by class distinctions and people appearing snobbish; however, using Mr. or Ms. will generally be appreciated.
2. Business Cards
Many Asian countries exchange business cards with much ceremony. The rituals vary; however, cards are treated with respect in most countries around the world. For the Chinese, an executive without a business card is a “nonperson.” Accept cards with both hands graciously, and treat them with respect. Use a business card case — but even if you don’t have one handy, avoid placing a card in a wallet or trouser pocket. Do not write on a business card in front of anyone, as it is considered disrespectful. Avoid using your left hand (“potty hand!”) when handling a business card. Consider having double the number of cards on hand as you think you will need.
3. Retail Service
Retail establishments should keep in mind that global customers may not be familiar with the typical approaches of USA sales associates. As much as we love to be offered drinks, dressing rooms, matching skirts, additional sizes, and plenty of compliments… these customers may consider that “hovering.” Consider putting your expert customer service tactics aside and allowing a customer to shop independently; check in periodically and thank them when they depart.
4. Restaurant Service
On Formula 1 weekend, you should probably forget about turning that table a few more times in one night. Be prepared for international diners to linger over their meal, order dessert and savor coffee for lengthy periods of two or three hours. In certain Central and South American countries, coffee is king and is enjoyed after every meal regardless of the temperature outside. In Mexico, the main meal is mid-day between 1:00–4:00, typically starting at 2:00 pm. In Spain, the main meal is in the evening, beginning at 10:00 pm.
In Austin, Texas and the USA, we are known for our friendliness, openness, gregariousness, informality and humor. And of course we don’t want to lose our Austin Charm as we bring visitors to our wonderfully weird city! But at the same time, let’s treat our visitors with respect and ensure that we don’t botch such an incredible tourist opportunity!
NEXT WEEK: Do you know the “Come Here” motion has been used for thousands of years in many parts of the world only to beckon animals or “call girls?” Most of the world uses a palm facing downward and a scooping motion to ask people to join them. Learn more about gestures, tipping, personal space and other tricky topics.