f1-trackIt 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 theAustin 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.

COTA F1 Austin, TX USA Track ©Jim Innes photography. All rights reserved.