Category Archives: Cultural

Travel Tips – Nonverbal Communication Can Make The Difference

Although speaking the language of the country that you’re traveling to will usually make the trip easier and more enjoyable, it is also important to understand the nonverbal communication signs used in that culture. Failure to understand that your facial expressions, gestures, and body position may be offensive to someone from the country that you are visiting invites unnecessary problems.

Darwin’s research on facial expressions has led to a widely held belief that the primary emotions conveyed by the face are universal, and thus not specific to any one culture. These facial expression are of happiness, anger, surprise, fear, disgust, and sadness, so no matter where in the world you exhibit these expressions they will be recognized, even by those who have had no prior contact with western civilization. However, the acceptability of making certain facial expressions can vary widely between cultures. For example, while American women are encouraged to smile large smiles, it is considered inappropriate for Japanese women to do so.

Eye contact is an important part of many western, European, and Arabic cultures, but in many parts of the world, direct eye contact is considered disrespectful, especially to superiors. So when traveling in countries such as Nigeria, Puerto Rico, Thailand, Japan, or in Native American reservations, keep in mind that the eye contact that you are intending to be sincere and friendly may be taken in a way that it was not intended to be.

Public touching is also sometimes an uncomfortable culture shock when traveling from a low contact culture (North American countries, northern European countries, Asian countries, Pakistan, and Native American Peoples) to a high contact culture (Middle East, South American countries, southern European countries) or vice versa. In high contact cultures, it is considered friendly to stand very close to each other and touch frequently, whereas this would be considered rude or improper in a low contact country. Typically, high contact cultures are also more permissive about same-gender touching among friends.

Head and hand gestures are common in almost all cultures, but sometimes the same gesture can have radically different meanings in different cultures. The “OK sign”, made by making a circle with your thumb and index finger with your three other fingers extended upward, means OK in the United States. However, in Japan, this hand gesture means “money”, in France it means “zero”, in Mexico it means “sex”, and in some South American countries like Brazil, it is an obscene gesture. The “thumbs up” gesture is similarly confusing. In some countries it has a similar meaning to that of the US, but in Iran and Sardinia, it is an obscene gesture. Nodding ones head up and down means yes in many cultures, but in other parts of the world it can mean anything from “no” to “I don’t know” to “I disagree”.

So save yourself some trouble, and look up an etiquette guide online for whichever country you’re going to travel to. You’ll be glad you did when you’re not getting yelled at in a foreign language for accidentally insulting someone.

Corporate Gifting – A Culture To Nurture

In the wake of globalization and increased business linkages, gift-giving has been moulded to suit the demands of a growth-oriented and competitive business atmosphere. MNCs, business houses with global links and export houses are the core contributors to the growth of this culture. Gifts can play a role in awarding of contracts, finalizing joint ventures and in wooing the right kind of VC. Goal-oriented gifting is a known phenomena in the Global Corporate World.

But beware. It is first important to understand the global gift culture, which can have a big impact on the psyche of foreign partners. Most business representatives from overseas firms do not like to take gifts when dealing with Indian companies as it may become an obligation. Having inherited a dislike in dealing with the politicking of Indian business, a foreign partner always guards himself from being branded as corrupt or manipulating.

Representatives of foreign statutory bodies such as US FDA, TGA of Australia and ISO Certification agencies are generally averse to accept gifts from Indian firms.

Fred Luthans, George Holmes Distinguished Professor of Management, University of Nebraska, studied the gift-giving culture of Western Europe in his popular book Organisational Behaviour. Culture is important in understanding the socialization not only of Americans but also of those living in other countries. Western Europe is a good example. The US does considerable business there, so it is helpful for Americans or Indians working there to know how to act in this corner of the globe. The following are some useful guidelines for gift-giving in Western Europe.

 Do not give a business gift at the first meeting. It is considered bad manners.

 If you are going to send flowers to your dinner hostess, send them ahead rather than handing them to her upon your arrival. This gives her time to arrange and place them as she wants. It also prevents any embarrassment among other guests who may show up empty-handed.

 When sending flowers, be sure of your choice. In France, Chrysanthemums are associated with mourning. In France and Germany, red roses are a gift only between lovers.

 Good chocolate and liquor are excellent house gifts. If the occasion demands something more elaborate, small porcelain and silver gifts such as candle-sticks are good choices.

 Never give perfume or men’s cologne. This is considered too personal for a business gift to or from either sex.

 Do not enclose your business card. This is considered crass. Instead, write a note.

Different cultures contributed to the gift giving ethos of global business houses. It is, therefore, in the interest of business relations to be cautious about the gift giving culture of different countries.