Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Could Cultural Know-How Have Prevented Oprah's Retail Snafu?

Guest post by Sharifah Masten at Protocol and Meetings By Design, Inc.
There's been a lot of conversation and debate around a certain talk show host's trip to Switzerland and her encounter with a retail establishment. Could Oprah's whole unpleasant experience have been avoided with a little more cultural know-how on both parties' parts? Let's look at the perception of words and actions, and keep one rule in mind: we don't, and can't, control how our actions and words are received.
 As Americans:
  • We consider ourselves open and welcoming, but in some countries they view this as being pushy, loud and intrusive. 
  • We like to celebrate and share accomplishments and successes; others are taught to not boast as not to make others feel inadequate.
  • As professionals, we are told to perfect our thirty-second pitch. In other countries it is not so much what you say and how fast, but the relationship you can build that matters.
  • We are proud of the freedoms that we have and wish for other to have the same opportunities but in other countries we are seen as not respecting their traditions or their traditional way of life.
  • We work hard to play hard and spend money on things we enjoy. In other countries, people are more focused on enjoying life, and not focused on work as the priority.
  • We are brought up to tip those working in service-related fields. However, in Europe especially, a tip is not typically expected and definitely not at 20%.  A generous tip to some means that Americans are trying to show their wealth. Worse, a large tip is sometimes seen as a handout.
  • Our salespersons are normally paid a salary plus commission which means they are taught to try and upsell. In other countries this is not the case.  They are normally paid a salary and whether they make a sale or the amount is immaterial.
What we expect in the US is not necessarily what will be the norm in other countries.  Whether you travel and make it known that you are American or if you are considered a celebrity here in the US, keep in mind that as Americans we are expected to be more tolerant and understanding of others. Not every action is a deliberate slight. Sometimes, it's just a misunderstanding or miscommunication.

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