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Multiculturalism: The New Reality
by Susan Dunn

Multiculturalism is a reality in the US and for those of us who do business globally. The US has more legal immigrants yearly than all the other countries in the world combined.

Also there are vast cultural differences among "native" Americans living in the US for several generations, as you know if you've done business with a New Yorker (better be quick!) or bi'ness with a Texan (better stand at a 90% angle to your male companion). Culture is neither ethnic nor racial. It is learned and each culture is different. Treat everyone like a unique individual, as you would like to be treated, don't get hung up on stereotypes, and develop your emotional intelligence so you can be more intuitive about how to communicate with, negotiate with, and provide services and products for people from cultural backgrounds other than your own.


In South Texas, if you're talking to a male, he will stand at a 90% angle to you.

If you move to reorient, a "dance" will begin. This is a markedly non-intimate position (macho), and often the eyes are cast down at the floor or out across the floor, not at the other party.

South Texans generally say "Pleased to know you," while Mid Westerners say, "Pleased to meet you" or "Pleased to make your acquaintance."

More from San Antonio, Texas – in a strictly social setting, it’s not customary to shake hands with women. In society, there’s the haute hug – two women will parody a hug with no part of their body touching, just tapping each other on the back. Often with an older, respected person, or to express affection with respect, you shake hands, then cover their and your hands with your left hand, patting or stroking while maintaining eye contact.


People from Asian cultures bow in greeting, but the bows are different.

People from Cambodia and Laos bow with their hands in the prayer position in front of the chest. In Japan, the depth of the bow signifies the level of respect for the other party. Many Koreans prefer bowing and if they shake hands, the right hand is supported at the wrist by the left hand to show respect. Thais bow with palms together about chest-high with their fingers outstretched. And, there are exceptions. The Taiwanese usually nod the head in recognition rather than bow.


Native Hawaiians hug each other, exchanging breaths in a custom called “aha.” Mexicans use the abrazo (hug).

If your Cuban male client kisses you on the cheek, you know you've made the short list. Immigrant men from the Middle East often shake hands with a slight nod or bow and then exchange kisses on both cheeks. They don’t shake hands with women, or introduce the woman they’re with. Men in Eastern Europe, Portugal, Spain and Italy will often kiss male friends on the cheek.


Pakistanis greet with salaam, the equivalent of our "hello" – bowing with the palm of the right hand on the forehead.


Ready to settle in with your Middle Eastern client? As an American, you’re likely most comfortable sitting back in your chair and crossing your legs. Well, don't! In the Middle East, one of the most insulting things you can do is sit with your legs crossed so the bottom of your foot is pointed in the other person's direction. The foot is the dirtiest part of the body and the sole of the shoe is the dirtiest of the low. To show someone the bottom of your foot means you're looking for a fight!


Even hand-shaking cultures such as England, France, Germany, Italy and the US do it differently.

Brits prefer a brief but firm handshake. The French prefer a light grip while sharing one gentle single shake that is quickly withdrawn. Germans will give a very firm handshake -- just one "pump" then quick withdrawal. More than one shake with Germans or French is considered aggressive. Italians will shake hands and then hug friends or kiss them on both cheeks. In many southern US states, it is not customary to shake hands with women.


Bear in mind the other person may be trying to accommodate to your culture, so don't assume they will use their traditional greeting.

For example, if you start first, for instance bowing, and then see a hand extended for a shake, and switch to that, the other person will then have switched to a bow and this becomes awkward. For many cultures such "awkwardness" will kill the deal early on.


Different cultures have different preferred distances for interacting. If someone moves in closer than you’re accustomed to, or comfortable with, stay the ground, because if you automatically draw back the other person can be offended.

The Chinese tend to stand closer than Americans because of the crowded spaces in China. Middle Easterners typically stand barely a foot away. They operate on the principle “I want to feel your breath on my face.” The more formal Japanese tend to bow at about 3’ away, and then step back another foot. Don’t advance into their space if you want to build relationship. India has some complex rules of distance because of the caste system, so hold back and observe what the other person plans to do. Germans are perhaps the most guarded of their personal space.


Begin with a polite word or two, such as "Mr. and Mrs. Taekwondo, it's such a pleasure to finally meet," and then wait to see what happens. When they make their move, mirror it, by bowing, shaking hands, giving the abrazo, or nothing! Use your intuition! When in doubt, err on the side of conservatism.

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International Success Tips - Business Meeting Gifts
Preparing for a business meeting requires a working knowledge of the information to be discussed or presented, careful attention to all details on the printed material to be distributed, and perhaps a gift. This gift is a social gesture that may be expected in some countries, and could be considered a bribe in others. Knowing the gift guidelines for the country you’ll be visiting will help make your meeting a success.

Some information is from Michael Lee's, "Opening Doors".

Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach, GLOBAL EQ. Coaching, EQ culture programs for business. Founder of EQ Alive! - training emotional intelligence managers, coaching and counselors. She is the author of numerous ebooks, is widely published on the Internet, and a regular speaker for cruise lines.

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