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The importance of culture in a global environment

Nowadays, communications, transportation and other technologies allows almost any businesses to be global. From simply creating a web-site or physically opening a store in a foreign country, understanding local culture is often overlooked, and caused more business failure then any other business aspect. But what is culture? How different can a culture be? How to understand and adapt to a different culture? We will try to answer those questions during this review. “Culture (from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning "to cultivate,") generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activities significance and importance. Cultures can be "understood as systems of symbols and meanings that even their creashmetors contest, that lack fixed boundaries, that are constantly in flux, and that interact and compete with one another" Different definitions of "culture" reflect different theoretical bases for understanding, or criteria for evaluating, human activity. Culture is manifested in music, literature, lifestyle, food, painting and sculpture, theater and film and similar things. Although some people identify culture in terms of consumption and consumer goods (as in high culture, low culture, folk culture, or popular culture), anthropologists understand "culture" to refer not only to consumption goods, but to the general processes which produce such goods and give them meaning, and to the social relationships and practices in which such objects and processes become embedded. For them, culture thus includes art, science, as well as moral systems.―` Travelling trough different parts of the world will open your eyes and help you see how much different people’s behavior change from one country to another. For example travelling in Europe will show you how within a couple hour of driving you can go trough three countries that are all different: They speak a different language, listen to different music, dress differently, look different, what they conceder acceptable differs from one place to another etc. Unfortunately, US culture is really specific and ethnocentric, and having such a vast country where you can go skiing, go to a tropical island and more without leaving the country, I found that out of all the country I have lived in or been US is the only one where people don’t travel outside their country. Nowadays in a global environment where at one point you will have to deal with a Chinese supplier or a Mexican customer. Another important fact of the US culture is that while at school only few learn

how to speak a foreign language, where most of the countries

educational system will teach all students at least one or two languages on top of the national language. And language is the first barrier to cultural differences. Now why does travelling, being part of an ethnocentric culture or speaking

foreign languageshas anything to do with business?

From a multi-national corporation to a small online store everybody as the opportunity to see the whole world as one giant marketplace and be successful importing, exporting, selling, finding supplier in another country. If you are trying to create an on-line custom dress shirt business, why buy US fabric and produce the shirts locally where fabrics are not the best quality and expensive and local worker will cost you a lot more to produce less of a job? Buy your fabric from Italy, get the shirts done in China, and sell it throughout the whole world! In this case you will have to deal with cultures that are different from each other and different from yours. I realize that if you have been taught since a younger age how to adapt to various culture and environment, learn different language it will be easier and almost natural for you to adapt and be successful in your international business venture. No matter how many classes, or

international business consultant you see in order to prepare you for a meeting with foreigners, there is nothing worst then someone forcing himself and not acting

naturally. Also most of cultures cannot be learned on paper they can only be lived in order to be understood, and the more cultures you already understood the easier the next one will be ( it is like learning a new language). We saw what culture is and how important it is start as early as possible to travel and experience the culture instead of just reading about it, but how different can a culture really be? After working for several years for a consulting firm that dealt mainly with international mergers and deals in general I understood how what you learned from a vacation in Morocco talking with locals and observing them is applicable to doing business with executives or government representatives in Morocco. Here are some example of cultural differences and how to deal with it: When doing business with North African countries you ll be surprised of how warm and welcoming are the people, most business man might kiss and hug to greet each other, always talking with hand gesture, and touching each other like grabbing your hand, shoulder and always talking really close. In the US relationship are cold, a hand shake in the beginning and ending of a meeting, if someone start to touch you or get to close the American will feel nervous (and might think of suing the person). In this case adapt yourself and don’t be shy! Grab your interlocutor’s hand and get even closer when you have an important message to send! They will respect you even more because they know your culture is different. If you are trying to get a deal done with a French company, don’t expect your email to be returned instantly and to do a deal in a day. Everything happens around the dinner or lunch table and a good bottle of wine. Even if in your own company you can get fired for having a drink between 9 and 5, there if you refuse to drink, laugh and be friendly chances are people won’t trust you and your deal will fall apart. Finally one of the greatest examples was when we were representing a German company to help them sell buildings that they owned in Berlin. The prospective customer was a British investment bank. The German executives (like in many other countries) were expecting to receive XXXmillions for the buiding and Xmillion on a swiss bank account. Arriving at meeting in London the British executives told us that they couldn’t understand why their bid was the highest and reasonable but couldn’t get the deal signed. We try to explain them that they could lower their bid but that the rest and maybe more needs to be transferred to a special bank account. The British executives could not understand what that money was for! After explaining them more and more specifically without compromising our German customer they finally understood and told us that there is no way for them to enter such practice, and were almost shock and the deal never went trough although they might have been able to get the project for a better deal. This is to show you that different countries have different values overall and could result in business success or failure by itself even if all other factors are positive. Now let’s study a specific country’s culture to try to understand its cultural differences. India’s culture is one of the oldest and most unique in the world. Indian culture varies throughout the country. People inhabiting the southern, northern, and northeastern areas have their own cultures, and almost every state has defined its own cultural niche. India is a vast country, with a variety of geographical features and climatic conditions. India’s vast history is rooted in some of the world’s most ancient civilizations and has fostered the growth of four major world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Indian culture is a mixture of different styles and influences. In the matter of cuisine, for instance, the northern and southern areas are dynamically different than other regions of the country. Festivals in India have vivid colors, enthusiasm, prayers and rituals. In the world of music, there are varieties of folk, popular, pop, and classical music. The classical tradition of music in India includes the Carnatic and the Hindustani music. India, a place of wide variety, is a fascinating mix of ancient culture, enormous contrasts and architectural beauty. The Indian culture has existed through the ages precisely for the reasons of antiquity, unity, continuity and the universality of its nature. Thus within the boundaries of Indian culture one can identify “Indian type of Music―, “Indian type of Dance―, and “Indian type of Cinema―. Indian culture stresses the importance of treating guests with the best possible manners and taking care of them as if they are part of the family itself. Even if there is not enough food on the table, a family will make sure its guest is full before leaving. The concepts of respecting one another and having a helpful nature are other important aspect of Indian culture. Indian culture strives to distribute joy and happiness as well as sharing sadness and pain. Nowadays globalization has reached the Indian shores creating a culture that has extended globally, adapting to other cultures (dressing, arts etc.) but never forgetting its roots and traditions. Like many other countries around the world, doing business in India requires knowledge of the English language. English is the language of international business and, although the government only recognizes Hindu, most schools

teachEnglish and a vast majority of Indians speak English (especially in a business environment). One of the most critical factors to understand when

attempting to conduct business in India is the importance placed on hierarchy and the respect Indians pay to seniority. In the United States, elders are not necessarily as respected simply because of their age when compared to many other cultures. Indian society operates within a framework of strict hierarchy that defines people's roles, status, and social order. When entering a meeting it is customary to greet the oldest or the highest ranked person in the room first. Others are not allowed to oppose this decision. For example, manual labor is only carried out by the "peon" (roughly equivalent to a 'runner'). It is not uncommon for the moving of a desk to take hours. This is because no one in the office will carry out this labor-intensive task except the "peon" who, if otherwise engaged, cannot do so. Meeting and greeting etiquette are two very important factors when conducting business in India, which generally requires a handshake. Indians use Namaste where one’s palms are brought together at chest level with a slight bow of the head. A foreign businessperson using Namaste is a sign that he or she understands and respects Indian culture. When addressing an Indian that you know personally, it is important to use the appropriate formal title, whether it is Professor, Doctor, Mr., Mrs. or, if you do not know the proper title, Sir or Madam. Like many other cultures, business cards should be exchanged at the first meeting. It is important to receive and give the business card with your right hand and then put it away respectfully, not to simply push it into a trouser pocket as that could be seen as a sign of disrespect. When conducting business in the United States, it is not unheard of for a deal to happen in matter of hours. In India one’s counterpart must believe they can trust and understand you, even on a personal level, before considering a discussion on business related matters. Indians only deal favorably with those they know and trust, even at the expense of lucrative deals. It is vital that a good working relationship is founded with any prospective partner. This must take place both on a business level (demonstrating strong business skills) and on a personal level. It is critical not to become frustrated if after a week of meetings nothing concrete occurs. This is part of the culture. It is also important to remain patient and not too pushy because the closure process is likely to drag out. Indians do not only base business decisions on statistics, data, and exciting PowerPoint presentations. They use intuition, feeling, and faith to guide them. It is important to always exercise patience, show good character, and refrain from exhibiting frustration or anger. When negotiating, it is a good idea to avoid high-pressure tactics and confrontation. Criticisms and disagreements should be expressed only with a diplomatic approach. Indian society believes that saying "no" is rude due to the possibility of causing disappointment or offense. If terms such as "we'll see― or "possibly" are used in a response to a proposal, then the Indian businesspeople are most likely saying 'no', but are having a difficult time. When negotiations successfully end, always maintain relationships and host a celebration dinner as it is part of their local customs. To conclude, we saw the importance of culture in a business environment and how important it is to “live― a culture instead of just reading about it, and that the sooner you acquire an open mind and a global mind the easier adapting to new culture will become and the more natural you will become. Upon reviewing some of the key aspects of culture and their application to a business environment, it is easily understandable how one can fail when conducting business simply due to cultural differences. Often, people are afraid of differences but you need to know that people from another country know about these cultural barriers and won’t expect much from you and often time as a foreigner you will be gratified a lot for trying, and that will give you an hedge against the competition.