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Different countries? Different cultures!

June 30, 2015

Can you imagine that you come in a country for the first time without decently informing you on beforehand about the habits of that country?
Well, I had that experience with a colleague with whom I visited Japan.
When visiting a company in Japan it is very common that you have to take off your shoes at the entrance and change them for slippers that are mostly open at the front.
If this habit would have been known I am sure that you never visit a company in Japan without first checking the status of your socks.

Wikipedia is a very good source to learn about specifics of a country, this is what we call culture. It also gives you good information about demographics, food and e.g. the tip system.

In Japan for instance they are not used receiving tips, you just pay what is on the bill. You can imagine how surprised the taxi driver was when he received a tip of 20% from my US colleague who assumed that the tip system was the same as in the US.

Two nice examples showing you how important is it to inform you as good as possible about the culture and habits of the country you are visiting.

Our company is in the fortunate position that our products are popular all over the world. The pleasant consequence of this is that it’s necessary to travel to many countries and continents to support existing customers and to appoint new customers in countries where our products are not yet available.

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Eating with chopsticks in Japan.

From our EMEA entity, located in Belgium, we are looking after Europe, Middle-East, Africa and a part of Asia. This geographically area is very extensive and the culture not just varies from continent to continent but also from country to country and sometimes we even have to deal with different cultures in the same country. No need to say that this makes it all very challenging and requires a very careful preparation before starting the travel to another place.

What exactly is culture?

Let me first say that I want to share some experiences about national cultures and not about corporate cultures although that also can make your professional life interesting.
All of you who work in a company will have to deal with a company culture.

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Training in South-Korea.

There are many definitions of culture. I feel that the below descriptions explain best what I want to share with you in this blog.

“Culture is the learned and shared behavior of a community of interacting human beings”

“Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one category of people from another.”

Charracteristics of culture:

  1. culture is learned (behavior, language)
  2. culture is shared by a group of people
  3. culture is cumulative
  4. cultures change
  5. culture is dynamic
  6. culture is ideational
  7. culture is diverse
  8. culture gives us a range of permissible behavior patterns

The above will give you some idea what culture is and why it is “especially” in business so important to take this into account when visiting countries and people.

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Meeting in Nairobi, enjoying a local beer.

When you are in sales and have to sell your products in other geographical areas to people who don’t share your standards, values and culture, it is an absolute must that you inform yourself before you go there. There are many sources where you can find information how to approach people and how to behave in a culture that is different from yours.

Some derivatives of culture are the way you present yourself, how you dress, how you hand over your business card, what are the eating habits, do you need to bring presents or do you have to avoid this, who serves the drinks and to whom first and many other seemingly unimportant things but all of these can make the difference between succeeding or not succeeding!

Just keep in mind that also you want to be treated in the way you are used to and feel most comfortable with. This is the same for those who you visit.

I have the privilege to regularly travel to other parts of the world and always prepare myself seriously and in a way that reduces the chance coming in unforeseen situations. This is very much appreciated by your interlocutor(s) and shows them that they are taken serious.

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Many of you spend their holidays abroad. Although apparently less important than going on a business trip, I recommend that you also deepen yourself in the habits and culture of the country you are visiting.
By spending some time in doing this you will have fun whilst preparing your travel, you will feel much more comfortable and will face less unexpected surprises.

I wish you all a great, relaxing and sunny summer period, wherever you may go!

Erik WiegmFeatured imagean’s career in the Sign and Engraving industry started over 30 years ago. With experience in signage and personalization for many years, in 2005 Erik got involved in sublimation. In 2011 Universal Woods established its own affiliate in Belgium of which Erik became Managing Director. Together with a dedicated team he successfully worked on further expanding the Unisub brand in the EMEA region and bringing ChromaLuxe to the market.
You can contact Erik at [email protected].

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