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Cultural facts you need to know when working abroad

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When you’re the newbie in the office you go out of your way to avoid a faux pas. You don’t want to quickly establish yourself as the office space invader or the distracting teammate who keeps forwarding a Buzzfeed listicle that perfectly describes her life. You want to be liked and, above all, taken seriously.

In another country, this can be made more difficult if you are unfamiliar with the office etiquette and culture.
When preparing to do business abroad or move abroad for a job, it is vital for survival that you familiarise yourself with some of the basic traits of the culture you will be dealing with. Here are the top things we think you should take note of:

How to survive a meeting

Meetings are landmines for most people. The buzzwords thrown around are confusing and it’s unclear how people should really conduct themselves – should I voice my concern about this now or in an email later?

To make matters worse meeting etiquette can vary greatly from country to country. In Germany, you will need to have sufficient facts to back up your material. People are not too polite to question your presentation or statements. In Mexico, business people want to be friendly so they avoid disagreeing with colleagues. As a result, you will have to be wary of group think and encourage other means of extracting feedback.  

Building friendships

Cultures around the world befriend their co-workers in different ways. Going for a few drinks after work is the norm in most workplaces. However, in South Korea and Japan, this is taken to a whole new level.

According to a 2014 survey, people in South Korea drink more alcohol on average than in America, Russia and Ireland put together. In Japan, having numerous drinks with a client or colleague is a way of building trust. It provides the platform for sharing feelings and nipping any conflict in the bud, in fact it’s seen as a sign that you can be trusted.

If you’re working in Brazil be prepared for close-talkers. For Brazilians, closeness in conversation inspires trust, and trust builds long term relationships. If you’re working in Finland then brace yourself for a sauna invitation being extended your way. This bathing ritual is an integral part of the Finish culture and a perfect opportunity to build rapport. If this idea horrifies you, it’s okay to let new colleagues know. Being honest will be appreciated and showing curiosity for their traditions even more so.

On time…

You will soon find that being punctual is a very relative term that is either going to be respected rigidly, shrugged off as ‘it’s grand’ or leave you sitting in a vacant room for two hours wondering if you’ve got the date right.

It is one of the most commonly observed differences for people working abroad. The Germans and Swiss, for example, are extremely precise with their schedules. While those in India and the Middle East are very flexible. Being late for a meeting, changing dates or cancelling meetings are not considered rude. Indeed, if you’re able to roll with the changes you are seen as capable, reliable and a worthy person to do business with.

Despite technology bringing business people closer, we are still miles apart in terms of unified cultural habits. How do you make friends in a Japanese office where it is considered inappropriate to engage in personal conversation?

Save yourself from professional embarrassment by getting a handle on the culture before you leave. Talk to those who have travelled or lived there. Otherwise you will have to find out for yourself why you shouldn’t admit to workers in Dubai that you’re homesick for a ham sandwich and a packet of Taytos.