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How to Avoid the "Ugly American" Label
Manners matter-especially in today's competitive business arenas.

by Amy Mills Tunnicliffe

Each country's unique culture requires an understanding of specific codes of behaviors. What our country defines as acceptable behavior is viewed as disrespectful, offensive and unacceptable in other cultures. An executive who travels extensively will greatly increase his chances of success by following these suggestions:

  • Be observant and reserved.
  • Avoid comparisons or reference to "how we do things in the States."
  • Don't ask questions of a personal nature-especially regarding money or family.
  • Show respect toward people and customs.
  • Be especially aware and observant while dining.
  • Never criticize the food-the ultimate insult to a host.
  • Appear interested in your surroundings-never show signs of boredom.
  • Learn about a culture as a whole in order to understand certain behaviors.
  • Gifts play an important role in most countries. Be prepared to give the appropriate gift and receive gifts graciously.
  • Practice and learn ten or so key phrases in the language of the country you are visiting. Even if not perfect, your effort will be appreciated.
  • Dress appropriately. If you are traveling for business, you should dress in a conservative and businesslike manner at all times, even if you have extra time to see the sights or if dining alone.
  • Respect clothing customs when visiting holy shrines or sacred spots. Cover your head or remove your hat as custom dictates.
  • Ask permission to take photographs.

Researching the country in which you plan to conduct business will be time well spent. Here are three general resources worth checking out:

  • Culturegrams: Available about specific countries. Brigham Young University, 1-800-528-6279
  • International Business Culture Series, by Peggy Kenna & Sondra Lacy, 1994, National Textbook Company, 800-323-4900. Practical, pocket-sized guides to Japan, Mexico, France, Taiwan, China and Germany.
  • Trade Information Center Hotline, U.S. Department of Commerce, 800-USA-TRADE. A telephone call will connect you with government trade specialists.

Amy Mills Tunnicliffe is the Director of The Proper Manner, a Boston-based training company. Her seminars specialize in business communication skills, corporate etiquette, international protocol and executive dining skills. Programs are held at companies and fine hotels across the country. For more information contact The Proper Manner at 877-399-3636.

2004 Amy Mills Tunnicliffe