One of the most surprising things I discovered on my recent trip to Myanmar (formerly Burma) was the depth of the country’s association with the French. A quick dip into the history books showed that this relationship has been in existence since the early 18th century. It was only the pressing nature of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars that allowed Britain to gain a stronghold in the country so that Burma became a British colony.

Bringing us back to today, however, an interview in The Irrawaddy with the France Ambassador to Myanmar, Thierry Mathou reveals the large number of French citizens living in Myanmar.

The need for intercultural awareness has become increasingly crucial for successful global business travelers – so how do the cultures of France and Myanmar cooperate so effectively? Here’s my insight, developed while observing culture, doing business in Myanmar and writing my book Access to Asia in which I stress the importance of building trust, inspiring respect and creating long lasting business relationships across cultures:

Building Trust:

The trust that the French have built in Myanmar has been developed through the following activities:

  1. 1. French visitors are the country’s most numerous European tourists;
  2. 2. Sixty five percent more French citizens have moved to Myanmar in 2013 than the previous year;
  3. 3. President U Thein Sein visited Paris in 2012, the inaugural visit by a Myanmar head of state to France. Other bilateral visits have occurred and are planned;
  4. 4. Aung San Suu Kyi’s 2012 visit to France was her first overseas trip since release from house arrest;
  5. 5. France engages with Myanmar in positive ways through their involvement in the economy, education, health and cultural events and also helps promote democracy and human rights.

How much easier it is to have confidence in one’s partners and develop a strong intercultural bond with them when, like the French in Myanmar, they show this kind of ongoing commitment and reliability.

Inspiring Respect:

Many major French companies have established a presence in Myanmar, including one of the world’s leading hotel operators, Accor; the beauty giant L’Oreal; and engineering organization Technip. This not only helps to demonstrate French willingness to invest in Myanmar but exposes high-quality French brands across the country. On top of that, French oil company Total is now held in high esteem internationally for its Socio-Economic Program. France’s long history of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has inspired the respect of the Myanmar people.

Creating Long Lasting Business Relationships:

As mentioned earlier, the French have long-standing ties in Myanmar, having established a shipyard at the port city of Syriam (now known as Thanlyin) way back in 1729. In contemporary times they have continued to demonstrate their commitment to the country in other ways. In 1996 the French established what had been the oldest Western business association in Myanmar, the French Myanmar Business Association, now known as the French Myanmar Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FMCCI). More recently in July 2014, France was a member of an international consortium that helped establish Myanmar’s first-ever private journalism school, The Myanmar Journalism Institute. None of this would have happened if the French were not fully invested in ensuring their relationship with Myanmar continues for decades to come.

I believe that businesspeople can learn a lot about intercultural awareness from such examples of bilateral cooperation, especially at a time when teams are increasingly comprised of international talent from many different countries. Team members that truly appreciate what it takes to work effectively across cultures embrace both global etiquette and intercultural awareness.

Working to earn trust and inspire respect, and focusing on building relationships that will stand the test of time rather than being solely task oriented, are the key to successful international partnerships. Wouldn’t you agree?