If you’re planning a work-related trip abroad to a country you’ve never visited before, a cultural faux pas could potentially cost you business. While a smile and a please or a thank you are always welcome, here are a few more ways to keep your international business attempts from falling flat.
Do Your Research
“Fitting in is very important,” says Alexander Gordin, managing director of the Broad Street Capital Group. “Prior to going abroad, you should read up as much as possible on the culture, favorite sports, and entertainment to get yourself up to speed on what’s going on in the country.” Be prepared with some basic manners, and try to read up on the country’s customs to know what to do, and what not to do. For example, offering to buy someone a pint in London is a great idea, and in Japan, pouring your own sake is frowned upon. (And no matter what country you’re in, never point at anyone with chopsticks.) Once you’ve arrived, don’t stop your research. “Constantly speak to local people with whom you come into contact, like drivers or interpreters, and ask questions on cultural nuances,” says Gordin.
Take a Backseat
But don’t assume that your research makes you an expert. When planning a meal with a potential client in another country, Andy Dunn, co-founder and CEO of online men’s apparel e-tailer Bonobos, suggests letting them decide where to go and, once you’re there, what to eat. “If they’re a native of the country, I always defer to them,” he says. In certain countries, it’s considered impolite for the staff to give you a check before someone asks for it, so don’t assume you’ve been forgotten about.
Gordin suggests, “Don't turn down things like tea or coffee offered during meetings, take queues from the hosts and be a keen observer.” Being polite, interested, and as informed as possible will go a long way.
Michelle Court is the managing editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.