Global Manners: Hilarious Etiquette Goofs

Today's business environment is becoming increasingly more global.  Meetings, phone calls and conferences are held all over the world and attendees could be from any part of the world.  Researching global manners is a great place to start to avoid embarrassing faux pas.  There is even certain manners you should know before you travel to certain areas of the world.

In business, language errors occur very often.  For instance, when General Motors was marketing the Nova.  In Latin America, Nova literally means, doesn't go.  When the Swedish product, the Electrolux vacuum cleaner, came out in the US they advertised that their product, "sucks",  not knowing that the word also had a slang meaning.  The Perdue chicken slogan, "It takes a tough guy to make a tender chicken" came out in Spanish as, "It takes a macho guy to make a chicken affectionate".  Last but not least, the slogan, "Come alive with Pepsi" appeared in South East Asia as "Pepsi brings your ancestors back to life."

Faux Pas are also seen in traveling to different countries, whether for business or pleasure.  In Jamaica, watch what you say.  Make sure you refer to the locals as "islanders" or simply "Jamaicans".  The term "native" can be taken as a  racial slur.  Blow your nose in private when in Japan.  This is never done in public - it is comparable to cleaning your ears or cutting your toenails in public in America.  When dining in Brazil, always use utensils.  If it's a finger food, use a napkin to pick it up.  Here, even sandwiches are eaten with a fork and knife.  If in Russia and someone offers you a shot of liquor, accept it.  Sharing vodka is a symbol of bonding and friendship.  If you have trouble with liquor, it's perfectly acceptable to say, "choot choot, pozhaluasta" which means, "just a little please".  In Malaysia, the head is considered to be the seat of a person's soul, so keep your hands off.  You should even refrain from patting a child affectionately.  Countries such as Africa and India, food is eaten with the hands, not both hands, only the right hand.

Using forms of address correctly is given more significance around the world than in the United States.  Here, we are very informal and are quick to call someone by their first name.  Approach first names with caution when dealing with other cultures.  Use titles and last names until you have been invited to is the person's first name.  In some cases, this may never occur.  Use of first names are reserved for family and close friends in these cultures.  A good tip is to listen closely when being introduced and also to pay attention to what is on the business card.  For instance in Germany, an engineer is addressed as "Herr Ingenieur" and a professor, "Herr Professor".  Although, in Britain, it would be a mistake to say, Thank you, Doctor" to the surgeon who operated on you.  In a hangover from the days of medieval Barber/Surgeons, reverse snobbery causes British surgeons to take pride in being addressed as "Mr." to distinguish then from Physicians.

Whether the world comes to you or you go out to it, a great compliment to pay your clients or just citizens of the world, is to learn about their country and customs before your visit.  Understand differences in behavior and honor them with your actions.  People from other cultures will appreciate your efforts to accommodate them and you will find yourself with friends and/or clientele.