It’s part of travel’s enduring mythology: The American tourist, unable to manage even a few sentences in any language other than English, and oblivious to the culture and traditions of other countries.
The unflattering image of the “Ugly American” is a bit unfair, perhaps, but the “USA Number 1!” attitude persists among many American travelers, so Dean Foster, self-styled master of global etiquette and cross-cultural trainer to the world, is trying to do something about it with his Culture Guides.
He wrote five books on intercultural global solutions, and cultural literacy, because he says that what we don’t know about cultural differences could ruin our vacation-or screw up a business deal. Or just make us look bad in the eyes of a host country.
He points out that well-meaning advice, like “when in Rome do as the Romans do” is perfectly accurate but useless information – if you don’t know what the Romans do, and why.
For example, Dean says, you should never bring a dozen red roses to a dinner party in Italy. You should send them the next day. And be sure they’re not red because that improperly implies romance, and anyway, Italians prefer an odd number of flowers.
Didn’t know that? Most people don’t.
Foster ‘s snapshots of cultural “do’s and don’ts” are insightful and fun, ranging from the simply social to the seriously corporate.
Say you’re in Australia,in the middle of a tense business discussion that’s going no where, and you say,”Can we table this for awhile?”
But your Australian colleague keeps right on talking about exactly the topic you want to put aside.
What’s wrong with her?
To “table something” in Australia means to bring it forward for discussion, to put it on the table.
This is the opposite of what Americans mean, so watch your American idioms. Even if one never leaves home, or doesn’t do business abroad, Dean’s downloadable Culture Guides-To-Go are eye-opening and helpful.
John Samellas, CEO of MedselfEd a medical patient education site, says that Foster’s guides and insights provide him with just enough “cutting edge” to make a positive difference in his business and social travels abroad.
“It’s not that I’d be lost without them,” Samellas says,”but having the cultural insight is a definite advantage.” Take the Foster’s Culture Quiz (free) by picking a country, and answering the questions he asks about visiting and doing business there.
I had a tough time, but did know that in Russia you never break eye contact with your host (or with whomever is toasting you) from the moment you pick up your glass, to the moment you down the vodka and bang the glass on the table.
I also guessed that you should never use a first name in France when being introduced to someone for the first time, especially when they’re not introduced to you by their first name.
Foster’s site is also rich with hot travel articles and topics, and a book store that sells titles including Bargaining Across Borders or The Global Etiquette Guide to Europe (or Asia,the Middle East, etc.), providing multiple aspects of cross-cultural insights.
You’ll absolutely want to know not to make dramatic gestures in China. The Chinese find such gestures offensive. Good advice, I’m sure, if you’re ever stuck in a Beijing traffic jam.