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Cultural awareness on the move

The world is becoming more and more globalised. But that doesn’t mean that everywhere – or everyone – is exactly the same. Successful business travellers adapt to the culture in which they find themselves. So how can we follow their example?

What’s your body language saying In Greece, Macedonia, Hungary, Albania and Bulgaria, a single nod of the head means ‘no’ and a shake of the head may mean ‘yes’. In most countries, it is appropriate to shake hands in a business context, but in India, a ‘Namaste’ gesture is considered more normal. In Muslim countries, you should keep eye contact brief, while in Japan, you should look at your new colleague’s neck.

Be aware of religious and cultural customs If you come from a western country, you’d probably think twice before setting up a business meeting on a Sunday. But would you be so aware when planning something with a Muslim colleague on a Friday, or on a Saturday if you were in Israel.

Do work and alcohol mix? In many places, the idea of drinking with business colleagues, clients and prospects is considered normal. Indeed it’s often encouraged as a way to get to know each other better, break the ice, and even network. But before you suggest going out for a drink – or a meal – with a client or prospect on your travels, you need to know whether that’s the way they do business here.

Wear the right clothes We all know that we need to make a good impression when we’re trying to do business, but how can we make sure it’s the right one? Let’s start with Muslim countries – it’s worth checking how strict the regulations are wherever you’re travelling, but in Saudi Arabia it is compulsory for women to wear an abaya – simple, dark gown ­– in public at all times. Open-toed shoes are a no-go area too. In Latin countries – France, Italy, Argentina – businessmen and women will always dress conservatively and stylishly, while in English-speaking countries, chinos and a shirt are often considered appropriate.

Don’t stay at the airport hotel It’s understandable that many business travellers want to stay as close to the airport as possible – and many international hotel networks are only too happy to oblige. That may be fine if you are meeting contacts from a multinational. But how many local business people are you ever going to meet there?  If you want to get under the skin of the local culture, and grow your business by making contacts in country, then you need to get to the heart of the matter. Stay in town, ask the concierge where the local business hotspots are, and get down there.