Cultural faux pas: Avoiding a business disaster

Language Faux Pas, Languages17 June 20154.7k

We’re always talking about the need to understand the complexities of language when carrying out translations.

Businesses want to ensure a seamless release of their products and services all around the world and the best way to do this is to localize all of the materials so they resonate with the right international audience.

However, companies also need to be wary of cultural faux pas, as they could do untold damage to their reputation if they are not aware of accepted business norms in their target market.

For example, Nike was left to look very stupid after a range of women’s leggings were created that gave the appearance that the wearer had a traditional Samoan tattoo that is reserved for men.

So how can you avoid embarrassment? Let’s look at some of the most common business mistakes.

Business cards in China
The exchanging of business cards is a common practice, as it gives potential customers important contact information. However, this seemingly innocuous event is a serious business in China. People have to accept and give business cards with both hands and study them before putting them away in a small case. They should never write on the card or put it in a wallet or pocket, as this will be seen as disrespectful. 

Head movement in Bulgaria
Attending a client meeting in Bulgaria can be a tricky exercise, as the commonly accepted norms for saying yes and no through head movements are the other way around – so, shaking your head left to right means yes. If a potential clients asks you a series of questions about your stay in the country, there is every chance they will be confused as all of your responses will be negative.

Footwear in Japan
The Asian nation may offer excellent investment opportunities for businesses, but you will have no chance if your representatives wear shoes when entering houses or Japanese-style hotels. This is considered to be very rude and will not go down well with the locals, as they will view it as ignorance of their culture on your part. 

Tardiness in Hong Kong
No one likes people who are late for important meetings. However, some countries have a more relaxed attitude to kicking off on time than others. Hong Kong is one place where tardiness is not tolerated, as you are only allowed to be 59 seconds late before a local businessperson will question your professionalism and potentially take a dislike to you. 

Handshakes – a global headache
First impressions last and this is why brand representatives should be keen to master the art of the handshake. It is not simply a case of following the method you are used to, as various countries have different interpretations of what constitutes a correct handshake. In Latin America, pulling away from a handshake too early can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect, while in Arab countries male friends will embrace and kiss each other on both cheeks following a light and lingering handshake. The lesson – do your homework before meeting a client!


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