To enjoy pleasure travel or success on a business trip, it’s important to be culturally in-tune with your counterparts. So how do you accomplish this when you are trying to pack, handle last-minute items at the office, coordinate with the spouse, house-sitter, kids and the pet? As a traveler who has worked on more than 80 countries on all 7 continents, I humbly share my thoughts with the Luxe Magazine audience for accomplishing cultural sensitivity.
So, what do many cultures appreciate? The following tips will assist you in engaging in successful interactions. Although not all of these tips apply to every culture, these will help you to avoid faux pas and blunders that prevent the development of trust and long-term relationships.
- Respect: We all have our own cultural beliefs, traditions, and values that we cherish. It is crucial to acknowledge and show respect for the unique beliefs of someone else’s culture. We all have different cultural roots and cultural conditioning; however, we recognize respect when we observe it – don’t we?
- World Geography: Unfortunately, U.S. Americans have gained a global reputation for having a poor grasp of geography. Prior to traveling, while at the airport, or on a layover, download a world map or a country briefing on your destination country. Learn about the geography, economy, heroes, and heroines, along with the neighboring countries.
- Know the Regulations & Laws: Laws are very different from your passport country. For example, in Singapore, it is illegal to possess, pack in a suitcase, or carry chewing gum. It is also illegal to smoke in public, litter and spit. The fines and punishment are stiff.
- Know Country Specific Customs: What’s mannerly in one culture may be rude in another, so do a little research. For example, in the U.S. we keep one hand or both in our lap while dining. However, in the U.K. and Europe, it’s customary to keep both wrists on the table while dining. This centuries-old tradition reassures diner that no weapon has been concealed in the lap. Another variation includes the Middle East and northern Africa (MENA countries), where the left hand is considered unclean and must never touch any food, serving platter, or utensils. Many Asian, European and Latin American cultures avoid discussing business at meals. Do research.
- Understand Status & Hierarchy: Protocol varies by culture. For example, Australia, Canada, and the U.S. have less decorum with few procedural expectations. However, Asian, European, and Latin American cultures follow protocol and procedure, while displaying honor and respect for their elders, rank, status, seniority, and title. Knowing this in advance pays dividends.
- Practice the local language: Learn a few important phrases such as “Good day” “Hello” “thank you” “please” “please help me?” “you are welcome” “Goodbye.” Even if your pronunciation isn’t perfect, the effort will be appreciated, and the locals will be delighted.
- Understand Titles & Forms of Address: In the U.S., it’s common to default to first names in social and business circles, skipping over Dr., Ms., or Mr. In Germany, protocol reigns, and the title Herr Dr. Albert Schweitzer would be appropriate. However, in Mexico, and other parts of Latin America, some people use two or three names along with their family name. In China, and some other Asian countries, the family name precedes the given name. Learn the customs.
Investing in yourself as a life long learner is worth the effort. Do some research, bring along an international guide like Access to Asia and enjoy the journey.
Sharon Schweitzer wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, attorney, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre and the Intercultural Communication Institute, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, and Fortune. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide (Wiley 2015), now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards and the 2017 New York City Big Book Award for Multicultural Nonfiction.