Between you and me … tea isn’t always tea, you see. Humbled to copycat our dear Dr. Seuss, I ask you to consider this: ordering tea in different parts of the world offers a nice sip of the nuances of working globally. Let me explain.
Growing up in an Irish family, hot tea has been a staple since my baby bottle. Seriously. Somehow, tea wakes me up and puts me to sleep. My husband on the other hand, can’t touch anything with caffeine hours before bed or he’ll be up all night.
Like many Americans, and in particular those with roots in the South, tea to my husband means iced tea. Knowing that, over the years I grew accustomed to asking specifically for “hot tea” in restaurants. So much so, that on a visit to the UK, I got such confused stares when I would say, “Hot tea, please.” “But, of course it’s hot, ma’am.”
And then there was a trip to Singapore where hot tea required a request not for hot but “English.” That way they brought the milk. Otherwise it was native green tea, which is still very nice, of course.
As I said, those little nuances serve as a good reminder of the simple things you may not know when doing business in an unfamiliar culture. With a nod to Dr. Seuss, I thought it may be fun to share a few tidbits I have learned from working globally. Obviously, call on the experts in business protocol when you really need to study the in’s and out’s before marketing within a new culture. But this will give you a little something to think about over that nice cuppa whatever you prefer.
1. Yes, it would appear, that English is not always English, my dear.
Even when you think you are communicating in the same language, you may not be. In many European countries (particularly the UK), plural and singular usage differs from what you may know. For example, when referring to a company, American English says “XYZ Company is” … There they say, “XYZ Company are.” It’s not wrong. You just need to know. And BTW, it’s good to remain humble when approaching this subject for we are the ones who “battered” the original English language – a point you are likely to hear if you offend an English native.
2. I see the rules, I do indeed, I just didn’t think they were for me, you see.
Spend any time in an American corporation and you ought to know very clearly that doing business abroad means you follow the rules of the State Department and “American” business ethics. Luckily, many countries have similar rules, but that does not mean it is universal. When sales pressure is on, gray areas arise. Make sure everyone in your business chain, be they supplier, contractor or employee, follows the same set of rules regardless of their perceived or actual local customs.
3. There is no one who knows Whoville better than a Who.
No matter what country your feet have landed in or how much you think you know from having worked with that culture, always check with a local. Things change within Horton and Whoville. Having a global perspective is invaluable, but always check in with someone who has their feet on the ground. It’s the best of both worlds.
4. From there to here, from here to there, time isn’t running as fast as you dare.
I’m a stickler for meeting deadlines, but know this: your deliverables and deadlines do not have the same meaning everywhere. Each culture is different in their perception of time. Our American approach is usually way too fast when doing business abroad. While one should be cautious about generalizing, typically Asian cultures cherish establishing long-term relationships first and ceremony is very important. Latino cultures don’t watch the clock to get to or conduct business meetings and European business practically shuts down for the summer holiday months. Exceptions occur, of course.
5. People are just whatever you see. People are exactly like you and me.
There truly is a universal language. Every individual wants to be respected, to be understood, to provide for themselves and their families and to make a difference in some way. Cherish the uniqueness in every culture and every individual you meet, but remember we are all on the same Earth with the same basic needs and desires. And yes, a smile is a smile everywhere.
When working globally, this I know to be truer than true … so now in the real words of the ol’ Dr. Seuss: “Just tell yourself, Duckie, you’re really quite lucky.”