International etiquette and the ‘Ugly American’
by Barbara Hickey
April 07, 2014 12:00 AM | 1793 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print

“The ability to get along with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar and coffee. I pay for that ability than any under the sun.”

— John D. Rockefeller

In the world of business that transcends borders, we must recognize and accept that cultures, belief systems, values and education differ from country to country. Changing economic and political situations may occur but the basic cultural attitudes are usually passed on from generation to generation.

We have been so fortunate to live in a country that has faced “adversity” and met the challenge with victory. We are blessed with natural resources, and have generations of citizens who have shown an indomitable spirit. Instead of showing humility for these blessings, Americans have been known to show their pride with boasting overseas, resulting in the use of the term “Ugly American.”

The term “Ugly American,” which began to describe American tourists who were loud and arrogant, has lasted and unfortunately is still used as our fellow Americans behave thoughtlessly when traveling abroad.

In order to build those business relationships with other cultures in this global society, we must do our research first to ensure we MAKE A GOOD IMPRESSION and are prepared to have a successful business opportunity.

On a personal note: Before going to our assignments overseas, we would research the assigned country and also the countries that were stopovers before reaching our destination. A basic Internet search of the country will not only give you the confidence of “stepping out of your comfort zone,” but will show the citizens who you meet that you are happy to be in their country. Remember: Not only Americans are proud of their country.

Beside your business information, here are the areas to research in order to be prepared and ready to engage your clients in conversation that will build that relationship:

  • Time Difference and Climate — Prepare for jet lag by arriving the day before your arranged meeting. Be ready for the country’s season with business attire, athletic challenges and social events. In many countries “Dress” is a statement of success.
  • Language — English is the International language, however any basic expressions are so appreciated, because you made the effort. If necessary, hire an interpreter.
  • History and Type of Government — There is so much fascination with the success of America that you should know how they have evolved as a nation and find achievements that they have had as a country.
  • Religion and Common Customs — Showing respect for their religious observations and the courtesies that they observe will show not only your intelligence, but generosity of spirit.
  • Business Culture — Research about punctuality, negotiating techniques, entertaining, titles and forms of address and gift-giving. Be prepared for all of these, especially a gift from America for your host/hostess.

There is no definitive way we can attribute definite characteristics to a culture, as Americans are testimony to eclectic behavior and diversity of opinions. However when we are prepared to be open-minded about the differences in all of the above areas, we will have a better experience.

Next month, I will go into greater depth and similarities by continent. Doing our homework will help us to not only represent our business in the right light, BUT also our country. Knowing cultural differences gives us an edge that builds long-term relationships and puts an end to the “Ugly American” label.

Barbara Hickey of Mableton is a community volunteer and owner of The Etiquette School of Atlanta.

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