Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Arm Yourself with Knowledge and Observance to Avoid Cultural Embarrassment

As globalization takes hold it has gradually began to erase the lines between cultures – specifically within the realm of business. However, as these lines begin to fade, misunderstandings often occur based on an emerging laziness to truly and thoroughly understand cultural subtleties. Most notably, these mistakes are in relation to traditions, manners, gratitude and gifts. For example, in Singapore any sort of gift given should be addressed to a company instead of an individual, otherwise it will be considered a bribe!

Sometimes things work in the opposite direction though. Over the last few years many countries’ cultures have changed from what they used to be and adopted new ways of looking at the world. Therefore, just as most people have heard; don’t assume anything. Globalization may be erasing some of the niceties, but it does not mean that things are not still being processed with older ideals subconsciously.

Being an international traveler with friends all over the globe, and working with other 23 countries each day – I’ve learned an important message. Never assume that you are completely savvy about a country’s culture (including your own!) - even if you’ve been before and know a mass of people. Things are constantly changing. But by constantly observing and sharing, mistakes and embarrassments can more readily be avoided. I’ve become a resident expert at my job on this topic. (Embarrassments do unfortunately breed knowledge!) My own personal travel has given me a strong background to be able to discuss with other young professionals ways to avoid too many mistakes, and how to not embarrass yourself regardless of what culture you’re working with.

There are two things in particular I will focus on:
How have other cultures changed due to globalization?
Laughter may be a universal language, but some things (like handshakes) are not. How do you know if a handshake represents a friendly face or a slap to it?

Because I’m not omnipotent, I’ll be looking to other sources to help me prove my point.
I’ll focus on general search terms such as: globalization, cultural differences, global manners, international business etiquette, and world travel.

These are 5 pages I will probably refer to, but there will be many, many others:

World Public Opinion.org
“Others report what the world does – we report what the world thinks”
This website reports on US public opinion on a broad range of issues and also incorporates a wide variety of polling data. It will aide in providing examples of long established stereotypes.

The Web’s Leading Resource for International Business Etiquette Manners
This website offers a country by country ‘cheat sheet’ of the social norms, etiquette and expectations of different cultures.

Cultural Differences? Or, are we really that different?
This is a perfect reflection on how sometimes understanding cultural subtleties is not that simple.

Manners 2000. Courtesy builds community
This site gives very blunt descriptions of very basic manners. It will provide a nice topic starting point that I can expand on and perhaps compare to large cultures as a whole.

The Savvy Traveler
This is an NPR show site, that while the show has been discontinued it offers a look at a number of cultural intricacies in different locations, including manners and proper interactions. It may serve as a great measurement of how things have changed down the line.


Boris said...

Hi Jessica:

Here is a cultural lesson I learned last year.

One of the vice president of my organization asked me to drive three South Korean delegates to Winston-Salem. My supervisor told me not to force any conversations and that the South Koreans revere silence.

Well the 90-minute drive really consisted of not one word being uttered between me and my guests.

So to end this story, the delegates later told my supervisor that I was a good host. I was just happy to suppress my urge to break the uncomfortable silence with meaningless small talk.

Amanda Toler said...


Here's a link I found while roaming for my own topic: http://www.sideroad.com/Cross_Cultural_Communication/index.html It has a lot of information for business travelers and other adults. You're off to a great start with your blog!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jessica,

I think your blog topic is an excellent forum to discuss the changing views that people must learn in a global society. I'm looking forward to your posts.