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Five cringe-worthy things foreign businessmen do

Editorial Staff
Publication: 

It's pretty clear - when senior officers of businesses travel, they carry with them the attitudes from home, but add new ones. Here are our top five things visiting executives get wrong when they visit overseas offices, etc.

Say your one word in the local language as if it's a joke or as if you are proud of yourself for saying it

If you turn up in the Philippines and issue a media statement or social media post starting with "mabuhay" and explain it like learning it has made you special, you sound like a dick and lose respect of many of those who do or might work for you and your customers and potential customers. And you've given your competitors a stick to beat you with. It's the same if you turn in in Thailand and keep putting your hands together, bowing and saying "kapunka" - especially if you don't realise that there are gender-specific versions of thank you. Of if you think it's clever to add "lah" to the end of sentences in Hong Kong or to say things like "jalan, jalan" for "let's go" in Malaysia.

If you don't speak the language, don't use the language. If you want to use the language, learn the language. The people around you will, usually, be delighted that you are trying. But not if you try to impress by using one word with a big smile on your face. It's patronising and insulting.

Using terms specific to your country or locality when you travel and expecting the locals to know what you are talking about

In almost the whole world, if you ask someone for a lift, they will take you in their own car. Californians.. Take note.

Also, across much of the world, say you want an Uber and you can't have one either because Uber's been driven out or because they are banned.

Only a small percentage of wine geeks and wannabes have any idea what zinfandel is so saying "let's go out for a glass of zinfandel" is meaningless and you'll get blank stares.

Telling stories that relate to domestic culture

This, it has to be said, could just as easily have been named "telling stories that relate to expired culture."

Yes, TV and movies have run out of ideas and they are re-doing (don't say "rebooting" or "reimagining") series from the 1970s and 1980s (hands up who wants to be in Knight Rider when that comes back) and that means that today's audience is familiar with the basic concept but here's an important lesson from a friend of this newspaper: she complimented a young chap on his Led Zeppelin t-shirt.
"Great band," she said.
"What band?"
"Led Zep."
"it's a band? I just thought it was a cool t-shirt."

Put simply, don't assume others have any clue about the stuff you are familiar with.

Jumping into the front seat of the car

Business visitors are often treated as VIPs and VIPs sit in the back. Sitting in the front doesn't make you look like one of the lads, it makes you look like an Afghan Hound that sits with its locks blowing in the wind through an open window - stupid and self-satisfied.

Wait until you are shown to a seat or, if you have a particular reason for sitting in the front, ask if your host minds and explain why.

But, generally, you will sit diagonally behind the driver with your host behind the driver. If there is a fixer, he will sit in front and give a running commentary on where you are going, where you are passing, etc. Will you actually learn anything or see much? Probably not but don't tell them that.

Being over-effusive

"The dinner was GREAT. I just loved the rats' tails and fish-eye soup." "You have all been so kind, I wish I could stay in [insert name of town or plant] for the rest of my working life." "That meatloaf was great: you must send me the recipe. Start with one dog poached in snake's bile? Wow. I'll call my butcher when I get home."

Need we say more?