How to survive (and thrive) living abroad Familiarize yourself with the various modes of behavior

The growing tendency of deploying employees abroad, as well as the global interconnections among firms, means more and more workers travel abroad each year.

With any trip abroad, there are new customs, traditions, modes of behavior and communication standards, all of which must be observed.

If you interact with international business partners or head up an international team, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the various modes of behavior.

No matter where a professional assignment abroad takes you, being well prepared is essential to better understanding the country, culture and its people. Between greeting someone and seeing them off, there are a myriad of social pitfalls afoot as values and conduct standards can vary widely from country to country.

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Be it with time, quality, hierarchies, respect, communication or etiquette, your own expectations can differ greatly from the reality of country-specific conduct norms.

The right greeting unlocks many doors

A cordial greeting is always essential. While your own greeting customs are familiar, you will encounter unfamiliar greeting rituals in many countries. Typically, it is normal to approach the host openly and amicably, no matter how detailed a country-specific greeting seems.

Dealing with unfamiliar situations in a calm and relaxed manner aids you in establishing a solid contact. In contrast, intrusive and overbearing behavior can cause misunderstandings.

Openness, attentiveness and curiosity are helpful traits to unlocking the proverbial door in any situation.

A guest among strangers

No matter the position abroad, you are always a guest. When speaking with foreign partners, it is always appropriate to conduct yourself in a cordial, direct, yet friendly manner.

This helps you discuss your position, the tasks and goals required to ensure the success of any project. It is of little help and indeed oftentimes counter-productive to comment on or judge the politics, religion and society of the country you are in.

Characteristics from East to West

If you have been to Russia, for example, you have surely encountered the warm and enthusiastic joie de vivre. Mirroring the intensity of a typical Russian greeting and its firm handshake is the intensity found on the job itself.

Russians can be a loud bunch at work, so it is no surprise that they often speak loudly and clearly about the job itself. In Russia, on-the-job performance is what counts.

Americans like to speak about success. If they can, they'll flaunt it, too. In the job world, specialists are highly sought after. A friendly exchange of experience with a difference of opinion is commonplace.

In Asia, rules and customs can differ from country to country, but while feasts abound, modesty and cordiality remain typical throughout, from India to China.

It is especially important to not only familiarize yourself with the customs of your host country, but to accept them as well. Not talking about your feelings at work is as essential as it is to be diligent on the job.

Even in Europe is it not the same everywhere. The French, for example, place a great deal of importance on friendly and open interaction, but are very casual when it comes to work and free time.

Punctuality is not as important as it is in Austria or Switzerland. For the French, external appearances are more important—from fashion and fine food to classy social interaction.

Greetings and goodbyes are typically warmer and a peck on the cheek is standard for close confidantes—which also applies to most Mediterranean countries in Europe and many regions in southeast Europe.

More and more countries have clients or suppliers abroad and must adjust to their international partners. The global economy requires internationally active employees to deal with other cultures, to tear down prejudices and to know the customs of a given country, in order to interact appropriately, efficiently and successfully.

Author: Rebecca Morton

Rebecca Morton is Key Account Manager at Berlitz Language Schools, Switzerland. Berlitz consults expats and their families individually to find the right language learning solution, whether in one of our many Berlitz schools, in the work place or virtually via one of our eLearning programmes, enabling the whole family to work and thrive in Switzerland.

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