Be Internationally Savvy at Home and Abroad


      The world has truly shrunk in size given email, air travel, and the influence of world economies on our homeland.  Moreover, one in four Americans is either African-American, Asian-American, or Hispanic-American.  We live in a multicultural environment and business is global these days so it’s important that we are sensitive and respectful to people from different cultures and backgrounds as well as countries.

      One of the reasons why the Japanese were so successful in business in the 70’s and 80’s was due to how they handled the people their met in the global community.  Here some tips to help you be successful in today’s multicultural workplace or with international visitors.

·         Get an understanding of the various different cultures that surround you.  This will enhance your sensitivity and appreciation for the differences between cultures and better prepare you for the workplace and business.

·         Have an open mind about people from different cultures and avoid stereotyping them one way or another.  For example, all Asians are not the same: Thai people are very different from Vietnamese; and Chinese are very different from Japanese.

·         If hosting international visitors whether they are staying at your home or at a hotel, make an impression by having a basket of fruit or flowers placed in their room.  When choosing flowers, avoid white or yellow if your guests are Chinese or Middle Eastern.  If dealing with Europeans, avoid chrysanthemums since they are linked with death.

·         Consider helping your foreign guests when they are making arrangements to visit by recommending or handling restaurants, hotels, airports, and transportation accommodations.

·         When someone visits you from another country, don’t assume that they will want to eat their country’s food during their stay.  Rather, choose restaurants that have a continental menu that pleases most palates.  Although we consider squid or sea urchin strange foods abroad, many foreigners consider corn on the cob, grits, and hot dogs strange.  Other foods that considered strange include sweet potatoes, pumpkin and pecan pies, and marshmallows.

·         If entertaining people who are Muslim or Jewish, depending on the extent that they follow the rules of their religion, operate from the standpoint that they are orthodox or conservative and follow their religious beliefs closely regarding food and other practices.  For example, Muslims do not normally drink alcohol and they do not eat foods such as lobster, pigs, goats, and birds.  Moreover, they don’t eat foods prepared with oils or other parts of these animals.  Jews cannot have milk and meat in the same container.  Further, meat and fowl must be kosher, which means it is prepared under religious guidelines.

·         Also be aware that people from other parts of the world operate on a different meal plan compared to Americans.  For most Americans the main meal is at night.  For many countries abroad the main meal is around one with a light meal late in the evening such as 9 or 10 o’clock.  Ask them how they want to schedule their meals.

·         If dealing with business people from Latin America, Asia or the Middle East, include your family in selected activities outside business.  Getting to know the family is part of building trust in the relationship and subsequently closing the deal.  Compared to conducting business with other Americans, foreign business deals take more time and effort to allow the relationship to grow.


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About vseitz

Marketing Professor at California State University, San Bernardino and author of "I Don't Wear A Suit."

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