Jokes and cultural references do not travel well and are hard to translate and localise to a different culture. Comedians know that jokes are based on cultural understanding, have a familiarity with either local news, local sports, or local politics. When their audience don’t understand these cultural norms, it’s hard to make them laugh. There are parallels in the business world. We travel abroad to foreign countries for work, but somehow in the business world we expect the local party to operate and behave as we do in UK. There is a certain amount of arrogance – a sense of superiority that our way is better. We would achieve a lot more if we are considerate of the culture of the country in which we are working.
As forensic accountants, we work all over the world. In order to better serve our clients, we take account of the culture of the country in which we are working. To do otherwise is likely to cause offence, and will not help our clients case. In my travels, I have observed several basic actions which we would use here but would not be well received elsewhere. Adapting to local customs is important in order to build up a rapport with the client.
I have worked in Israel where one can be surprised in meetings by people shouting, gesticulating, and banging their fists on the table. This is not uncommon and a meeting like this could be followed by a long lunch, and everyone will be getting along as best friends. There is a quick switch between business and social activity, and back again.
Working in Thailand, people usually do not shake hands. They put their hands together in front of their body or face by way of greeting. In Japan, we all know that it is customary to bow to each person in a meeting. However, it is less known that when clients in Japan walk you to an elevator, it is customary to bow to them as the doors close.
Public and summer holidays are protected, and do not expect meetings to take place at these times. Spain, for example, shuts down in August. We once tried to arrange an urgent meeting in mid-July, and were told that the earliest available date to meet was in mid-September!
Take the time to learn and avoid misconceptions about the culture of the country in which you are working. This will lead to a much more productive outcome for clients and for you.