These are simple things, among the countless, that you can do to help make a difference when interacting with potential business partners in a foreign country:
Translate your name on business cards. Having your name printed in the native language, especially in countries that do not speak a Romance language, is extremely beneficial for both you and your in-country business prospects. Prepare for your visit in advance by printing business cards, and be sure to take plenty of cards with you. You do not want to run out on your first evening in-country.
Learn “military time” and brush up on the Metric System. Most of the world uses the 24 hour clock and the Metric System. Learning to use both will help you stay on the same page as others in the foreign countries you visit. Knowing the Metric System is just as important as knowing exchange rates when negotiating price.
Be prepared for others to smoke during a meeting. Smoking in public does not carry the same taboo in much of the world as it does here in the U.S. 350 Million Chinese and 112 Indian people smoke. After a handful of meetings and social gatherings in either of these countries, you can expect to have someone light up in your face. Waving the smoke violently away from your face is not the best way to tell your in-country contacts that you want to do business.
Be mindful of superstitions. Just like in our culture, other countries have superstitions of their own such as “unlucky” numbers, phrases, or chance events. Some of the countries that are most involved in international trade are also the most superstitious. The numbers 4 and 14 are unlucky numbers in both China and Korea because their pronunciation rhymes with the word for death. On the other hand, anyone who was paying attention during the 2008 Summer Olympics also knows that the number 8 is considered lucky in China because it rhymes with the Chinese word for prosperity. So before your business signs that long term lease at a too-good-to-be-true rate in Hong Kong, make sure the Suite number is not 444 lest you will have trouble scheduling client meetings at your office.
In another case in point, many Japanese are superstitious of being photographed in a group of three because the person in the middle is expected to die soon. In a world full of digital cameras and smart phones, be mindful of this when you are taking the next photo op with your new Japanese partners.
All countries, and often regions within countries, have different cultural norms, standards of behavior, and superstitions. Your best bet is to do your homework on the areas you plan to visit far in advance. We at Country Intelligence Group want your company to put its best foot forward when representing America in the global economy. We will be happy to open up our network of in-country contacts and foreign area experts to help you plan your next overseas business venture.