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Traveller's Check: Travel Etiquette

Your Office
December 2000

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Sometimes Adeodata Czink, president of Business of Manners in Toronto, will get a call from someone wanting to know why they lost a client. After some probing of their etiquette, Czink will realize that even though the person was well-mannered North-American style, they still totally messed up.

"We can't assume everyone operates as we do," says Motria Skocen of Motriaís Image and Etiquette Services in Winnipeg. Business travellers have to be aware of cultural differences. Armed with this knowledge, they are less likely to have a shocked or impatient reaction when doing business abroad. "Understand, respect and work through cultural differences," says Skocen. "You'll be better equipped to adjust your behaviour."

For example, you can't expect to have sales completed on your first trip. "Other countries want to build relationships before buisiness," says Skocen. In Mexico, for instance, decisions are made by all levels of hierarchy, which is time-intensive. "Business in general is more formal than in North America and may take more time," advises Skocen.

Another good example is the different attitudes North Americans have toward business cards in comparison to their Japanese counterparts. Czink explains that in Japan a person will work their whole life for the same company. So take their business card with both hands, look at it and place it down in front of you. Showing respect for their business card means you respect them, and "Respect is the most important thing you can give," she says.

To find out about the country you're visiting, Czink suggests that you phone the consulate of the country you're going to visit to gather information and get advice. Or visit The International Business Etiquette Internet Sourcebook, a guide to Web sites on business customs and etiquette abroad from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Learn a few phrases (such as "good morning", "please" and "thank you") in your host's language. And make sure the translation is good, warns Czink. You could also ask the person you're with how to say something in their language, it shows that youíre trying.

Knowing that you took the time to learn how to introduce yourself in your hostís language shows interest and increases the chances of success in global business, says Skocen. Other benefits of cultural awareness include more effective business transactions and a more professional business image. Lastly, being prepared for what you might encounter while doing business abroad will also help reduce culture shock.

International gift-giving

"A lot of gift-giving is done in Latin American and Pacific Rim countries," says Motria Skocen of Motriaís Image and Etiquette Services in Winnipeg. Itís not bribing. For them, gifts are exchanged among friends, and business is done among friends, because friends take care of each other -- that's how they perceive and do business says Skocen.

Be forewarned that they'll probably give you a gift, so you should be prepared to reciprocate. It doesn't have to be expensive. "It's not the substance of the gift that is important," says Skocen, "as the style and the thought behind it."

Give something that depicts your own culture: pictures, books, native art or maple syrup. Make sure that the gift is made in Canada, rather than in the hostís country. Gifts should vary in value, suggests Adeodata Czink, president of Business of Manners in Toronto. For example, if you choose to give pens, give the more expensive one to the host with more senior rank within the company. Consider also that Arab writing requires a thicker pen to write well, whereas Japanese writing requires a thinner pen.