Business travel: why it pays to prepare yourself both culturally and linguistically

Business Travel: there are lots of good reasons why you should try to pick up some of the local language before you go on a business trip.  First of all, it will help massively with the practicalities of foreign travel – like getting from A to B, whether you’re asking for directions, for tickets or for maps for public transport. It can also be imperative when it comes to getting receipts – not something that many people think of prior to their arrival, but given that the accounts departments in many companies won’t reimburse the cost of anything that you don’t have a receipt for, it’s very important!

Secondly, being able to speak some of the language will go down well with your potential business partners. Being able to order your own food at a business lunch without relying on them will not only impress them in the sense that you’ve been committed enough to learn some of the language, but will also indicate that you are an independent, respectful and intelligent person…all good attributes when it comes to doing business.

Culturally-speaking, doing some degree of training, or reading up on, the culture of the country you are going to can be priceless. Not knowing the cultural norms of your foreign counterparts can lead to embarrassing situations, and sometimes even offence. Not a great start to any potential business partnership…

Some business associates that you meet may be accustomed to western ways, and may be more understanding when it comes to cultural faux-pas, but this cannot be said for all. Often people don’t realise the extent of the cultural differences that can exist between nationalities, or the importance that is placed on certain norms by people from other countries.

To highlight some examples, did you know that….

1. In Japan, the exchanging of business cards involves a degree of ceremony. The card is viewed as a representation of the individual, so should be treated with due respect. Before travelling to Japan, you should make sure that you have plenty of cards, and have one side translated into Japanese.

When exchanging, you should offer your card with both hands, and make sure that you hand it over with the Japanese side up. When accepting a card, always use two hands too.

2. In the Middle East, handshakes are the usual way to greet business associates, and they can last a long time! It should always be the right hand that is used. You may also find that your hand is held while you are led somewhere – this is common in the Middle East and doesn’t have the same connotations as in western cultures.

3. In China, physical contact is not something that is widely accepted – especially when doing business. Be sure not to slap, pat or put your arm around any associate’s shoulders.

Body language and movement are both areas you should be aware of when doing business in China. You should always be calm and controlled. Body posture should always be formal and attentive – this shows you have self-control and are worthy of respect.

4. In India, when negotiating, you should try to avoid high pressure, or aggressive tactics. Criticisms and disagreements should be expressed with diplomatic language as it is considered very impolite to say “no” in Indian society. Listen carefully to Indians’ responses to your questions – if terms such as “maybe” are used then they might be disagreeing.

5. In Italy, hospitality plays a key role in business culture. Invitations to lunch and dinner should be expected when doing business there. Normally, the most ‘important’ guest will sit at the middle of the table or on the right of the host; the host always pays; it is not considered acceptable to take any phone calls at the table.

Cultural training courses are a great way to learn about the cultural etiquette and norms of the country that you’re going to. Programmes can be tailor-made to suit your specific needs, and offer great value for money. To find out more, or enquire about prices please visit the Cactus Language Training website.

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