Themes > Cross Culture > Hidden Rules
Hidden Rules

Is the sun red or yellow? Should you crack a joke in a business presentation? Are such questions important? Is it only language you need to learn?

International business people often invest time and money in improving their knowledge of foreign languages in order to be able to communicate with colleagues from around the world. Language, of course, is vital, but it is only half the problem.

There are hidden rules for playing the game of doing business with people of other cultures. It is all to easy to "put your foot in it" by making mistakes which can upset your foreign counterparts.

An American, greeting a mid-European businessman by saying "Hi Dieter, great to meet you!" may not be favourably regarded in a country where more formal modes of address are usual.

In the West, business cards are given a cursory glance and pocketed. In Japan, they are highly regarded, looked at closely and left on the table during a business meeting.

In Britain, most business presentations would include a joke. In many other countries, this would be unheard of.

Will you cause offence if you refuse to eat something generally regarded as inedible in your country? Your counterpart may be watching your reaction when he offers you this local delicacy.

Small talk and relationship building are considered highly important in some parts of the world; talking about the weather, the wine and the local area come before business. In other places, people get down to business immediately.

It is important to know the way things are usually dealt with in your host country. Problems arise because we see things differently. It helps to be aware of how other nationalities perceive certain things.

The Japanese see the sun as red. It is an important national symbol which appears on their flag. When Japanese children paint pictures, they paint a red sun. European and American children paint the sun yellow. When children travel and see the sun painted in a different colour, they are surprised and find it very strange.

Adults find these differences harder to accept. Both sides may feel uneasy because they are unsure of the rules of the game in the opposite culture.

It is, however, very dangerous to have stereotyped views of what the other culture is like. Such views are often narrow and can cause criticism and intolerance. "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing" and can encourage you to make predictions about what will happen in your business transactions. If your ideas are too narrow, you may be surprised at all the people you meet who do not fit into your pattern and who behave differently from the way you predicted they would.

Our ideas then, have to be flexible and constructed from thorough research and observation. We should also recognise that it is not only people's national background that influences their behaviour and personality, but also their particular regional background, their personal background and their company culture.

Reading for meaning

When you read an article, you can often guess the words you do not know from the context.

Find words or expressions in the above article which have the following meanings:

a. say or do something wrong or inappropriate, usually as a result of thoughtlessness, and so cause an awkward situation
b. quick and not thorough
c. something to eat which is considered rare or expensive
d. having a fixed, and often incorrect, idea of what someone or something is like
e. inability to accept ways of thinking and behaving which are different from one's own



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