“There are observable

behaviours to consider, such as attitudes. For example, attitudes to timekeeping. Also how we dress, the gestures we use, and customs, the way we treat food, the way we eat, and the things we eat, the money we use. “When BA and Iberia merged,

I took my team to Madrid for the first time. We got there at midday, did two hours’ work, then had a two-hour lunch, which brilliantly ended up with brandy and cigars. To us, that was totally alien; to the Spanish it was absolutely what they should have done. This shows the different ways we treat food. In the UK, we tend to take a sandwich to our desk.”


Kinship and nuclear family models also need to be factored in, the panel heard, and delegates were asked to consider whether the country they are dealing with is a capitalist or socialist society. “For example, in the US – a capitalist country – calling one person out and rewarding them for being the best they can be is completely normal; it’s acceptable. But for somewhere like Sweden, it’s about calling out the team. Calling one person out doesn’t go down well. They don’t like the recognition. It’s a collective society,” Tams said. Meanwhile, he said the “nuclear family” model was prevalent in the Far East. “They have a methodical view of their relationship. In the nucleus, the family is the centre; it’s the priority. Outside, it’s friends, then outside that your network. Then outside of that, the rest. Out of that, you’re nothing – outside of that, don’t try and do business. “The kinship model is linked

with Western culture, like the US. At the centre of the circle is you and your friends, the family could come in the next circle,


but beyond that is a

recognition you can contact people you’ve not met before. In the US,

you can go up to someone and present your business card, and that is the beginning of a conversation. “In Korea and Japan, you must first develop a relationship, without an agenda, without trying to get something from them. When I was in China I spent the first year drinking green tea with government officials. Gallons of it, talking about nothing, to build political capital. Then 18 months later I could start calling on these people to get stuff done.” But can characterising cultures lead to unwelcome sterotyping? For Tams, “cliches are cliches because for the most part there are truths in it. They are a guideline, but not a definitive”. John Lee, co-founder and chief operating officer of



CultureMee – a platform that aims to connect travellers with the destination they are visiting by providing practical, cultural and travel advice – agrees: “We don’t believe in stereotypes. CultureMee is based on data and cultural models. You can have mean trends.”

CultureMee platform

A more real danger lies in thinking of cultures in the same way as geographical regions, according to Nina & Pinta’s Lloyd: “Most of us operate in geographical clusters, like EMEA, Americas, APAC, but within that there are so many cultures. People tend to talk about Africa like it’s a country; there are 54 countries.” After recognising the need to

be aware, how do buyers access the right information and react accordingly? For the panel buyer, find someone you can trust to test the waters: “Having to run new projects with new nuances, you need to know who your cultural touchpoint is in your market. I have specific people I go to, to ask if my approach is going to work. Factor it into your planning… things are going to take time. My first fall in India was giving myself six weeks to implement something, then getting to week five and realising that we’d not set the right touchpoints.”

CONNECTING ABROAD Technology also plays its part and platforms, such as CultureMee, are useful for travellers once in destination as cross-cultural communication is equally important on the move. Lee of CultureMee, which is currently being piloted by Gray Dawes Group, says: “I find it fascinating how the whole business travel industry has been set up to get people from A to B, yet totally underestimates the impact we can have once people get to B. “For example, I have rarely if ever met a business traveller who said it was the comfortable

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