Different language, different traditions, a different way of living together – a trip to a culture that is very different from Europe is a challenge for every traveller. This is true for tourists, but especially so for business travellers. After all, no one wants to give the wrong impression through their own behaviour and run the risk of offending the person they are talking to.
On business trips to countries such as China, Japan, Korea or Thailand in particular, there is a high risk of making a mistake. Indeed, Asia’s culture and habits are strikingly different from those of the West. Actions or statements that are normal for us can seem strange or even offensive.
China is one of the countries that is expecting a major increase in business travel, especially in the context of the new Silk Road projects. A little preparation can help us to anticipate such a journey calmly. Here are three really useful little tips.
1. Learn a few words in the local language
Don’t take it for granted that your business partners will speak or understand English. It can therefore be very useful to learn some basic terms in the local language in order to show respect to the host. Even knowing how to greet and say thank you can make a difference.
Apps that can help you learn a few words of foreign vocabulary, such as games and instant translators that you can use at your destination in an emergency, can help you get a feel for a new language. You don’t need to learn the language completely or master it perfectly – it’s about the gesture. Your foreign interlocutors and colleagues will appreciate your efforts to learn a few sentences. And making a good first impression can only be positive!
2. Use the trip to learn about a new culture
Of course you can and should state differences between your country of origin and the country you are travelling to. However, this should not be done by constantly complaining about the new circumstances. Not only does this seem rude, it can also cause negative reactions from your foreign colleagues.
It is better to use the business trip to get to know a different culture, to be curious about unusual habits and to return home more aware and more enriched than before.
This is precisely what travel means – discovering the unknown. That’s why travelling offers a great opportunity alongside the business opportunities it brings.
An effective way to discover local customs and traditions is to mingle with the locals as often as possible. For example, events and conferences are an opportunity not to be missed and can even help build relationships with professionals from different industries. Business travellers often stay in the hotel after their appointments. This is not productive. Go out and use your free time to take a walk, go to the park, discover the city or meet people.
3. Discover the customs and traditions of the place
What is normal for us can actually appear offensive abroad. Blowing your nose in public? Accepting the business card of your interlocutor with just one hand? In China, this is sometimes seen as discourteous. And in Arab countries it is considered offensive to accept a glass with your left hand. Avoiding such faux pas is not so difficult. Why not ask colleagues who have already been there or are working there about what behaviour should be avoided? Who knows about the customs, habits and incorrect behaviour? Maybe some colleagues are in contact with specialists who know about the correct behaviour at your destination, and who can brief you. On business trips in particular it is important to know how to behave in formal situations in order to make a good impression.
To sum it up, you should always know some basic information about the culture of your destination. This is simply a matter of respect. And with the Internet, we have every opportunity of becoming better informed. Also colleagues with travel experience are a good source of information. Business trips offer an indispensable opportunity to cultivate business relationships, meet potential customers and increase business. And with these little tips you can be well prepared to avoid possible pitfalls on business trips.