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Orly Borges Personal Collection

It is vital to consider the culture of the country you are dealing with

Many managers agree that an understanding of cultural differences is essential when doing business abroad. The following cases illustrate what happens if business people do not take into account the culture of the countries they are dealing with.

The importance of the family in Saudi Arabia
Mr Byrd was an ex-US State Department employee hired by a wellknown multinational corporation to be its "man in Riyadh", Saudi Arabia. This retired American diplomat went to the home of a Saudi, Mr Fouad, to try to interest him in participating in a local joint venture with his company. A middleman who knew them both had introduced them. As this was a first meeting, the men's conversation began with small talk that made Mr Byrd a little impatient.
Questions such. as "how are you doing? how was your flight? how is your family? and how is your father?" were common. Mr Byrd, familiar with all these obligatory formalities of greeting, answered "Fine". "Oh, my father, yes, well, he is fine, but he is getting a little deaf. I saw him a few months ago during Christmas when we took him out of the nursing home for a few days".
From that point everything froze up. Mr Byrd's mission was completely derailed. Mr Fouad remained gracious enough but was obviously uninterested in doing any business with Mr Byrd.

INTERPRETATION: The American did not realise the importance of the family in this part of the world. It would have been inconceivable for the Saudi to have placed his father in the care of strangers. He therefore felt that he could not trust Mr. Byrd as a business partner.

The importance of "savoir faire, savoir vivre" for the French
Jim Turner was attending a conference in Lyon. This was not his first trip to France, and he was pleased some of the French colleagues he had met previously remembered him. One evening they invited him along for dinner and began joking about the quality of the food. That surprised him. He thought the food was really rather good and said so, expecting the discussion to continue. But to his great discomfort, they then made some joke about "food and Americans" and changed the subject. He felt somewhat excluded and didn't know what he had done wrong.

INTERPRETATION: The French take great pride in their food and wine and foreigners should be very prudent about passing judgement on the quality of the food. In this case, the Frenchmen obviously thought that the food at the restaurant did not warrant such praise, and in their view, the American revealed his lack of savoir faire.

The French need time to take a decision
This incident was reported by a British management consultant based in Paris:
"I had taken the American CEO of a New York-based consulting company to a first meeting with the three partners of a French consulting firm in Paris. The negotiations did not go well. He hadn't been in the boardroom for more than 15 minutes before he asked them what their company's annual earnings were. Without waiting for an answer to that question, he suggested they give him an estimate of their firm's market value, as he was interested in making them an offer. I could feel things freezing over".

INTERPRETATION: In this case the American CEO had no undestanding of the way the French approach business negotiations. In France, it is important to spend time on preliminary discussions before mentioning financial details. The executive did not build a proper relationship with his counterpart through an exchange of views and therefore was perceived as being authoritarian.

Why no one is eating?
A businesswoman recently asked why a high-level delegation of visiting Japanese clients had not approached the breakfast buffet table she had taken such great pains to prepare. "I'd gotten out the good china and silverware and even brought in Japanese green tea for them, but no one touched a thing!".

INTERPRETATION: There are perhaps two problems in this case. The first may concern the nature of the food the businesswoman served. The second involves the rituals of politeness and the relationship between men and women. In many cultures, it is considered normal to serve oneself. In the male-dominated Japanese business culture however, the guest would expect to be served, particularly in this case, where the person organising the breakfast is a woman.

Source: Orly Borges Personal Collection


abroad: in a foreign country (en el extranjero)
do not take into account: do not consider (no tiene en cuenta)
dealing with: visiting (visitando)
hired by: employed by (contratado por)
joint venture: a venture by a partnership designed to share risk or expertise (emprendimiento, asociación)
middleman: interlocutor (interlocutor)
a little deaf: not hearing very well (un poco sordo)
froze up: suddenly became cold and formal (se congeló)
derailed: caused to run off the tracks (se descarriló)
inconceivable: unimaginable (inconcebible)
savoir faire: (French expression) social skill (tacto social)

began joking: started kidding (comenzó a bromear)
take great pride in
: are very proud of (se enorgullecen de)
revealed his lack of: showed an absence of (reveló su falta de)
New York-based: located in New York (radicada en Nueva York)
: revenues (ingresos, ganancias)
market value: market price (valor de mercado)
freezing over: how the meeting became cold (cómo se congeló todo)
authoritarian: despotic, dictatorial (autoritario)
great pains: effortful attempt to attain a goal (denodados esfuerzos)
gotten out: taken out (sacado)
silverware: tableware made of silver or stainless steel (platería)
politeness: civility (buena educación)
male-dominated: domínated by men
(dominada por el hombre)