In a world of 7 Billion living souls, differences are abundant. From one continent to another, or from a country to the next, down to the same city, people behave differently, and signs mean various things in different contexts. This could mean, for an entrepreneur or frequent travelers, a lot of awkward situations if you’re not fully aware of the meanings or intents you’re displaying. To be on the safe side, it’s better to know at least what could be seen as offensive in other cultures, that way you don’t screw up the deal you’re about to land, or terminate the connection you made at that networking event.
The V Sign
Almost everybody uses the thumb up as a sign of approval, support or congratulations. However, in several countries such as Iran and West Africa, it is taken as an insult. The victory hand with two fingers held up as “V” is likely to have the same issue, as some take it as peace while other countries like UK, Australia Ireland and New Zealand recognize it as an insult or act of defiance if your palm is facing inwards (commonly known as the finger, or the Rods).
If you are on a business trip and you just met with a Japanese businessman, manager or executive and he hands you his card, handle it with care and consider it before you put it in your pocket. You should probably read what’s on it carefully with a friendly smile along the way to show sympathy and friendliness. It is a sign of disrespect towards that person if you toss the card in a discarding way in your wallet or pocket without considering it first. Who knows, that might cost you the whole deal!
How To Drink That Soup
A lot of us like soups right, and chances are, you’ll have one during one of your trips or dinner meetings. The issue is that consuming soup is a bit diverse in certain nations and will determine your load of civility accordingly. In fact, when you slurp your soup at a dinner table in western countries you will be seen as a rude person who didn’t pay attention during his manners and ethics class as a kid, whereas in japan it is a usual etiquette to show the welcoming home or host how much you enjoyed your bowl, reflecting politeness, gratitude and even charm.
Ink Matters More Than You Think
Another astonishing way to act rude in Korea is to write someone’s name with a red ink pen. In numerous countries, the color of the ink doesn’t actually matter but rather the content of the letter, card or whatever piece of paper you are sending to that person. On the contrary, Koreans take it as your way to tell them or hope for them to die soon. As superstitious as it may be, you still don’t want to risk a major deal in South Korea just because you didn’t have the time or decency to go find a black or blue pen. This shouldn’t be a problem with email though!
How A Forefinger Can Land You In Jail
Last but definitely not least is a hand gesture that could put you in jail even though it is considered natural in several places. If you go to visit the Philippines, do not beckon someone with your fore finger to call him or ask him to come no matter his age. It is considered fit for animals especially dogs and is punishable by arrest. The lack of knowledge about this sign has resulted in a great deal of prison detentions by as governed by the local laws of the country.
Doing business around the world and building networks from Taipei to Casablanca requires a certain level of cultural and religious consideration that is as valuable as your knowledge of different cash flow models or private equity trends. Some countries, cultures or civilizations value ethics and etiquette far more than rigid black on white contracts and bylaws. If you want to be a true cosmopolitan entrepreneur or businessman, better start reviewing your ABCs when it comes to cultural and religious differences.
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