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BUSINESS TRAVEL ABROAD
Business Executives who hope to profit from their travel abroad should learn about the history, culture, and customs of the countries they wish to visit. Business manners and methods, religious customs, humor, and acceptable dress vary widely from country to country. It is recommended that business travelers prepare for country visits by reading travel guides, which are located in the travel sections of most libraries and bookstores.
Some of the cultural distinctions include differences in business styles, attitudes toward punctuality, negotiating styles, gift-giving customs, greetings, significance of gestures, meanings of colors and numbers, and customs regarding titles. For example, consider the following:
· The number 7 is considered bad luck in Kenya and good luck in Czech Republic. The number 10 is bad luck in Korea, and 4 means death in Japan.
· In Bulgaria a nod means “no”, and shaking the head from side to side means “yes”.
· Red color is popular in China and Korea, but is not popular in Africa. Purple is associated with death in Brazil and in many Spanish-speaking countries. Yellow flowers are a sign of infidelity in France, but one of death in Mexico.
Any firm must pay close attention to different styles of doing business in different countries.
Attitudes to punctuality vary greatly from one culture to another and, if misunderstood, can cause confusion. Romanians, Japanese, and Germans are very punctual, whereas people in many of the Latin countries are more relaxed toward time. The Japanese consider it rude to be late for a business meeting, but acceptable, even fashionable, to be late for a social meeting.
Sometimes something as simple as greetings can be misunderstood. Traditional greeting may be a handshake, a hug, a nose rub, a kiss, placing the hands in praying position, or various other gestures.
Proper use of names and titles is often a source of confusion in international business relations. First names are seldom used when doing business in Germany. In France and Belgium it is important to address business people as “Monsieur” or “Madame”, while in English-speaking countries they should be addressed as “Mr.” or “Mrs.”
It is also important to understand customs concerning gift giving. In some countries gifts are expected, whereas in other countries offering a gift is considered offensive. Gift giving is an important part of doing business in Japan, but gifts are rarely exchanged in Germany. It is not a normal custom in Belgium or the United Kingdom either, although in both countries flowers are a suitable gift when invited in someone’s home.
Customs concerning the exchange of business cards also vary. Although this point seems of minor importance, card giving is a key part of business protocol. In Japan, for example, the Western practice of accepting a business card and pocketing in immediately is considered rude. You should carefully look at the card after accepting it, observe the title and organization, acknowledge with a nod that the information has been digested, and perhaps make a comment or ask a polite question.
As illustrated in the examples, it is very important to have knowledge of the business culture, business methods, and consumer habits before traveling abroad. This is very likely to have a positive impact on overseas travel.
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