Avoiding Cultural Faux Pas









by Catherine Deschamps-Potter, ICD Translation Vice President of Sales and Marketing

Imagine this. You’re eating lunch with a potential customer from a foreign country. You use the wrong fork when eating. You don’t realize it at first, but halfway through lunch, it dawns on you. You hope your potential customer doesn’t notice. You hope you don’t lose the sale because of this silly mistake.

This might be considered a cultural faux pas. The fear that you may damage a relationship with a customer by ignorantly and innocently committing a faux pas permeates the atmosphere of many business meetings. Relax. A faux pas is not the end of the world. Really.

The simple truth is that, if you act in a respectful manner and treat your guests with common courtesy, no one will interpret your mistake as a deliberate act of rudeness. If you are still worried about committing a faux pas, you can reduce your chances by:

  • Researching the country: Knowing basic history and understanding current events can help you steer clear of potential taboo discussion topics.
  • Learning some phrases: Start with hello, please, and thank you. It goes a long way.
  • Determining appropriate greetings: Shake hands? Kiss on both cheeks? Only one cheek? We recommend smiling, inclining your head slightly and waiting for the other person to initiate the interaction. You can then respond in the appropriate manner.
  • Striving for good communication: Don’t be embarrassed to ask for clarification and don’t blame others for your lack of understanding.

These are only a handful of tips that can help you gain confidence when visiting foreign countries on business. Just relax, be yourself and most importantly, be a good person. The rest should come pretty naturally. If you’d like additional professional advice on navigating cultural interactions, many language service providers, are a good starting point. While primarily offering professional translation services, a translation agency, also can provide insights into working through cultural barriers.

Source: Guren, L. (2017, January). Don’t use that fork! – The myth of the cultural faux pas. TCWorld. Retrieved from http://www.tcworld.info/e-magazine/business-culture/article/dont-use-that-fork-the-myth-of-the-cultural-faux-pas/

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