How to survive and thrive abroad – other countries, other customs
Hello everyone, I’m Stefanie and I’m from Cologne, Germany. I have been working for an international company in Cologne for far more than ten years now. I have to admit that it has been an adventurous time containing both lots of business travels and hosting international guests and colleagues.
The increasing number of work exchanges in international commerce and the global networking of companies mean that, year for year, thousands of Germans are spending a short or a longer period abroad. Depending on their destination, other customs, habits, etiquette and communication standards need to be considered.
If you are in contact with foreign business partners or are going to lead an international team, you are well advised to familiarize yourself with cultural modes of behavior in advance.
The following observations might help you to raise awareness for intercultural exchange:
Professional and linguistic skills alone are not enough
No matter where your professional assignment abroad takes place, good preparation is essential in order to better understand the country, culture and people at your destination. Between welcoming people and saying goodbye, there are plenty of opportunities to put your foot in it, because values and behavioral norms are widely different from country to country. In wide-ranging areas such as attitudes towards time and quality, hierarchy and respect, communication and etiquette, your own ideas can differ greatly from the patterns of behavior in your destination country.
Greeting correctly as a door opener
It all begins with a polite greeting. While you are familiar with your own greeting customs, you are sure to encounter unusual welcome rituals in many countries. On the whole, reaching out to the host in an open and friendly manner is expected, regardless of the traditional greeting culture of the country. Dealing with unfamiliar situations in a relaxed manner helps to quickly establish good contact. If you are too pushy or dominant, it can lead to misunderstandings. Being open, observant, and asking questions are useful skills that open doors in any situation.
A guest among strangers
No matter what role you have abroad, you are always a guest. When dealing with foreign partners, a collegial, assertive but always friendly interaction is appropriate in order to discuss your own position as well as the tasks and objectives that are required to implement the business projects at hand. Far less helpful and often counterproductive are comments and judgments relating to politics, religion and society in the host country.
Distinguishing characteristics from east to west
In Asia, however, different rules apply in many countries. Here they like to celebrate and feast sumptuously on public holidays, but otherwise, Asians from India to China tend to exercise restraint and a discreet friendly courtesy. Particularly in Asia, you should not only become acquainted with the special traditions, but also accept them. This includes expressing emotions sparingly as well as being too zealous in business.
If you are traveling in Russia, for example, you are quickly confronted with a warm and often exuberant joie de vivre. Work is conducted as intensively as the vigorous handshake you are greeted with. Beating the drum is part of the trade, which is why they often talk very loudly and explicitly about their business. Ultimately, performance is what really counts in Russia.
They love to talk about success in the US. If someone is affluent, they tend to show it. In a professional environment, specialists particularly are in great demand. A collegial exchange of experience with differing points of view is also possible.
Even in Europe, it's not the same everywhere! The French, for example, attach great importance to a friendly and open style of interaction, also in terms of work and leisure time, they tend to be rather informal. Punctuality is not quite as important as in Germany. The French also attach great importance to making a good impression - from fashion to good food and stylish social interaction. Greeting and parting are usually considerably warmer and a peck on the cheek is the norm, at least where there is some degree of familiarity. This applies equally to the southern European countries and some regions in Southeast Europe.
More and more companies have customers or suppliers abroad and have to adapt to their international partners. The global business world requires employees who work in an international setting to deal with other cultures, overcome prejudices and get to know the customs of the country in order to be able to interact with them adequately, efficiently and successfully.