In last week’s post, I began the big task of ensuring that our International Formula 1 visitors feel comfortable in Austin. We Austinites know we are full of charm — the goal is to show this hospitality while also keeping ourselves out of trouble in a social situation! Here are a few more points I shared with my hosts and audience at the City of Austin that should do just that:
1. Personal Space & Distance:
Ever been the victim of a close talker? No matter how lovely or interesting this person may be, your instinct is to back up! Keep this in mind while serving and interacting with global customers. Be aware that different cultures maintain different standards of personal space. If you step back or away, they may take offense and terminate the sale or relationship. In the USA if you stand too close, you may be perceived 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 territory for the USA 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. The best option I’ve found is to allow the customer to dictate the proximity — at least within reason!
2. Gestures to Avoid:
As I mentioned last week, common gestures in the US have incited riots and caused international incidents in other countries! For example, a US “ok” gesture is considered extremely vulgar in Brazil. And the common US “come here” finger is reserved to summon cattle and “call girls” in many other countries. Even pointing is a no-no internationally. If you must call attention to a specific business location, say “look at 11:00” instead. People from non-demonstrative countries such as Canada, England, the Netherlands and Denmark will appreciate you keeping gestures to a minimum. Even thumbs ups and our beloved “hook ’em horns” may get us in trouble if we aren’t aware of who is watching.
3. Questions about the USA:
If you are fortunate enough to develop a relationship with a global visitor, be prepared for possible questions about culture, society and government in the USA. Know that your new friends aren’t trying to offend you when they ask how much you make or why you are so terrible at international geography! The book Citizen Ambassadors by Dr. Charles T. Vetter, Jr offers some great examples of questions to prepare you. Just remember that when put in an uncomfortable Q&A situation, do your best to politely diffuse the moment. Consider asking questions back, or speaking in generalities. Don’t feel obligated to discuss your political leanings – instead explain how Republicans and Democrats differ in many issues.
While we certainly can’t prepare for every situation we may encounter when Austin is fabulously full of international visitors in November, we can all do our best to avoid the worst. In the least, with 9 more years of Formula 1 coming our way, we can continue to work on our international social skills over time! As always, if you have any specific global etiquette or multi-cultural questions regarding these impending interactions, don’t hesitate to contact me. Let’s welcome our international visitors with cultural awareness and respect.