It has been a long week. I’ve spent much of the last week working on adjusting processes and systems internationally. It’s hard work convincing people to change their positions. The hardest aspect though is that every country works a bit differently. That inspired this post, how business and finance works around the world. Now it is easy to take a leap and start stereotyping people if you look at these things as written in stone. But these can be viewed as a general guideline, and I find them very interesting which I guess is the reason for this post. Let’s explore the world of International Business and Finance.
Initial International Business Exposure
My exposure to international business and finance began in graduate school. As part of an international business class we video conferenced with another business class located in Japan. We learned in that class all about how to do business in Japan. The big thing to remember when dealing with the Japanese is that non verbal communication is a big deal. The facial expressions, body positioning, and even the context of their statement has great meaning in what they say. I’ve spoke about this in brevity related to pausing, but it really is very different from the western version of communication. If you want to adapt to their culture and do business there, then you use subtle mannerisms to get what you need rather then outright asking.
Anyway, I tell this story only in a round about way to telling you about the best reference tool I received when at school. Our school used a reference book called “Kiss, Bow, and Shake Hands”. This book talks about doing business and the intricacies in each country, as indexed by the country. I would recommend if you do international travel or international business picking up a reference copy.
International Business and the Workplace
When I entered my first job post-grad school (not my first job in my career) I ended up in a global role. In the ten years since then, the amount of work I have done where the people on the other side of my communications are solely in my country I can count on one hand. In each case that book has helped me.
One of my large projects early on was managing processes in logistics centers worldwide. I did things like open a site in India, and adjust the size of a site in China. One thing that took some adjusting to in both countries was the lack of an outright no to a question. Everything was a subtle statement of yes, but in China, or a head bob and no outward acknowledgement of “Yes” in India. Yet in each case these meant no and the only way I knew was by reading about it before hand. My projects would have gone nowhere without that understanding. Had I traveled there for fun I would have potentially needed similar knowledge when buying something or asking directions. And speaking of directions, in some Latin American countries directions are given based on what landmarks are in or used to be in a location. So, if you ask someone how to get to the restaurant you might get directions you have no way of understanding as a non local. Understanding that before hand makes a big difference.
International Finance and Travel
It has helped me greatly in the travel space as well. One place I’ve gone to frequently is Germany. The German culture is very direct, and it shows in business. Its easy to get offended at their directness if you don’t understand that. So, the first time I landed Germany for work I forgot to check my book, even though I had used it for teleconferences in the past. I was greeted to a world where stores closed during daytime hours and credit cards were not accepted. Sadly, I had no cash on me and all the banks were closed as it was Sunday. I also didn’t know the pin on my corporate card. Needless to say, I had a very uncomfortable weekend. Germany has changed a lot in the last decade. This situation is no longer the case in Germany, but there are other countries where it still is true. It was a shock to me the first time I showed up in country not having checked the book. That was the last time I forgot to check the book before traveling.
Benefits of Understanding International Culture
I have a million other stories from other countries where I ran into cultural differences. In each case knowing what to expect eased my path in travel and for work. However, even beyond those outward cultural experiences understanding cultural differences has a lot of benefits. Budgets are sexy had a great post on this a while back, but essentially other countries approaches to money, finance, and even interactions to others can provide interesting opportunities for introspective. As noted previously we have the subtle pause option. But even beyond that subtle pause there are other opportunities. Take the lack of the usage of credit cards in the German culture a decade ago. The root of that cultural distinction was an avoidance of debt. If you have a debt problem, perhaps like them going without cards is a good idea.
Life Lessons and International Finance
Even more interesting is their concept of having stores only open during daylight hours. Living on the east coast I can tell you all we ever seem to do is go full throttle from one thing to the next. Everything seems to be open and operating 24 x7. Yet, maybe the Germans have a point. Taking it slower and not running 24×7 gives us the opportunity to enjoy life, have less stress, and be happier. Making money is not the end all goal in life. Enjoying life to it’s fullest is the real goal. In the United States we all too often live to work. Some of us go so far as to make work the only point of our life. It’s the complete opposite of many other cultures where they work to live. It is a much better approach to balance your life between work and other things. Work after all can not love you back. But many things in your life outside of work can.
We live in an ever increasingly connected world. Each year other involvement with other cultures and money approaches deepens. Even if you do not travel internationally or work in international business, consider reading up on the topic to improve your opportunities and life.
How do you prepare for experiencing other cultures? Have you learned anything from other cultures?