Local Holidays and Customs Prepareness

Many of us can think of a time we’ve traveled to a new place, excited to visit a specific venue or museum or shop – and arrived to discover that the special place was closed that day due to a local Holiday! This happens more than you might think, to clients and travelers we’ve talked to.

A savvy traveler can get annoyed from time to time in these scenarios, but the test of a true traveler is flexibility and preparedness. Travelers also can be surprised by local customs in many regions. Here are a few examples of scenarios that folks we know have encountered, and how they rose above frustration and were able to make the most of it!

  • Looking ahead to online listings and calendars in the locale you’re about to visit is a good practice, always. In Germany, for instance, we recently learned about Reformation Day, a holiday that is typically observed in the southern-most states of the country. 2017 marked the 500-year anniversary of the holiday, and as such it was observed nationally, where nearly every public institution and business was closed. Considering this date also fell on Halloween, many tourists were surprised by the empty streets and closed establishments. Many found beauty and tranquility, however, in the amazing public parks featuring stunning Autumn foliage!
  • Prepare yourself for customs in business, always. In Japan, for example, it is considered rude to display cash in public; using an envelope is strongly preferred. In business, your preparedness to customs like this shows your sense of integrity and may win you deeper business connections as a result.
  • Be prepared to smile and embrace a practice that seems a bit, well, foreign! Take kids in Greece, as well as many children in Bulgaria and Albania. When they lose a tooth, they throw the tooth on the roof of their house and say a little poem to encourage strong adult-tooth return. Embracing this while visiting, especially if you see it happening, will earn you accolades from your host.

Guidebooks, online searches and brief Q&A with friends or acquaintances who’ve traveled where you’re going, are all solid resources to consider before traveling. And just remember – keeping an open mind and a flexible schedule will allow you to see the beauty in everything!

Invitation Etiquette Essentials

About a month ago, I received an invitation (via email) to an intimate wine and cheese party, hosted by a good friend I’ve known for a year or so. I responded quickly (for 2), and on the eve of the event brought my husband along to enjoy a lovely pre-dinner party with the host and a few of her friends. After such a delightful evening, I was dismayed the next morning when said host informed me privately that several invitees had never responded to her invite – and to top it off, that out of nine individuals who registered “yes”, two of them did not show up to the event!

Clients and friends often ask us about what’s proper in these scenarios, so we wanted to share a few basic reminders to help you keep courtesy top of mind, at all times – and for anything special you’ve been invited to.

 

Invitations: Always acknowledge that you’ve received an invitation within 24 hours. If you need a few days to consider or arrange your schedule, that’s ok – but letting your host know that you’re in receipt of the message is the right thing to do.

 

Respond in kind: If you receive an invitation via postal mail, respond via postal mail. If you receive an invitation via phone call, respond via phone call or voicemail. If you receive an invitation via email, respond via email (in the same thread). If you receive an invite via social media it is ok to RSVP publicly but you should always send a private “thank you” to the host, showing your gratitude for including you.

 

Stuck? Need to Cancel?: It occasionally happens to us all – our kid gets sick, we get stuck at work. As soon as you know you’ll be late or have to cancel, reach out to the host yourself (don’t make your assistant do it). And remember, unless a local official has declared a state of emergency, “it’s raining/snowing outside” is never an appropriate reason to skip attending an invited event. Suck it up and head over, just as you’d want your friends to show up for you.

 

Saying Thank-You: Within 24 hours, send a brief thank-you note to your host via postal mail. If getting to the post isn’t possible within a day or so, an email is also acceptable (but not as delightful as receiving a physical, personal thank-you).

 

Relationships take work, and maintaining them requires effort on both parts. Even when you’re in a busy period of life, remembering to take a few minutes out to show gratitude to those who’ve included you will pay off later in life.

Armrest Wars: Who has the right to rest an arm?!

Traveling internationally can generate feelings that are equal parts disappointment and excitement, annoyance and joy. Few things frustrate our friends and clients more than getting into an armrest war with a fellow passenger on a plane or train!

 

Here are a few best practices we follow to avoid such situations, whether we’re traveling for work or not:

 

  • When your flight is full, the person in the middle seat gets both armrests. They are likely feeling the most squished and should be allowed the extra comfort – and this makes things fair for the two passengers on the sides.
  • If you are boarding and see that things may get tight, observe the rest of the plane. If it’s not a full flight, ask your fellow passenger if she/he minds spreading to the sides and leaving the middle seat open. Or, ask a flight attendant to help you move to another row.
  • On a train, where it’s typically 2-seats by 2-seats, the person on the window gets the middle armrest because the passenger on the aisle already has an armrest. If someone isn’t cooperating, try to move to a different row. If seats are assigned, ask the conductor to help you transfer to another car with an officially empty seat.

 

The most important thing to remember is your sense of patience – and if someone is exceptionally difficult, ask an attendant to help you! They are trained in conflict resolution among passengers and can often provide help quickly so that you don’t have to get worked up. And remember to take a deep breath.. no flight or train ride lasts forever; it will be over sooner than you think!

 

In case you are feeling alone in your armrest frustrations – fear not, and for a knowing laugh about what NOT to do on a plane, check out the Instagram account of @passengershaming (not for tender eyes!)

 

How do you share the armrest when you travel?

Mobile Phone Etiquette: How do you stack up?

Nowadays, it seems we are always on our phones. I often see a group of people sitting and eating together – each of them consumed by their smart phone – and I wonder why they wanted to get together in the first place since they aren’t even speaking! As a result of increasingly less direct human contact, I worry that people of all ages are losing sight of critical social norms and interpersonal skills.

 

 

As clients and friends often ask us about mobile phone etiquette, here are a few good tips to remember:

 

Be Courteous. A good smartphone user should be courteous, thoughtful, and always respect of others around him or her. You can do this by controlling the volume of your voice, so no one is forced to listen to your conversation. When you’re in a public place, set your phone to silent or vibrate mode to minimize disturbing others – and do not watch movies or listen to music with the sound up loud!

 

Be Safe. Don’t text and drive! No message is more important than your life. If you receive a call while you’re in a loud place, ask the caller if you can call them back. Because of the noise, your distraction level may make you move about without thinking (and walk into fountains or oncoming traffic!).

 

Be Mindful and Present. When you’re meeting with someone at a coffee or dinner situation, do not text or check social/email updates. Try to be as present as possible, and if you must check, do it briefly and acknowledge it vocally for a moment before you type away. And always remember, it is never proper to make others wait for you to finish a personal call: wait staff, friends or colleagues.

 

Constant multitasking can make our brains feel overworked (because they are), and constant phone use creates a cycle of dependence on notifications, rings and buzzes that provide little more than information.

 

How do you maintain good etiquette while using your mobile phone.. at work? With your kids or parents? Share with us….

Your Flexibility with International Business Norms

When traveling for business internationally, it is not unusual to run into snags and surprises. Some of the most frustrating challenges can come in a business context – yet often, these can become moments where we can learn something new, and shine.

 

Some countries require an unusual amount of paperwork to even consider traveling to the country. Multi-page forms, visa applications, reference letters only accepted via global snail-mail are but a few examples of challenges that business travelers run into when planning visits to countries on nearly every continent.

Other countries have very specific norms with deliveries. Sending a package containing gifts to another business in Brazil is a taxable event for the receiver of the gift! Receiving a package in Germany may be delayed by several days until each item in the package is sorted in customs and a value-amount is declared for each. Some countries’ delivery times are very limited on certain days of the week, which can create unexpected delays around holidays and long weekends.

 

Adhering to business dress codes can also cause a good bit of anxiety for travelers, especially for someone who hasn’t been to said country before. Are white pants on men ok outside of Latin America? Are women expected to wear skirts to business meetings in Japan and the Middle East? For those in the creative industries, when is business-casual “too casual”?  Answers to these questions may vary depending on your industry, meeting purpose, and time of year!

 

The most important way to de-stressify is to do your homework with plenty of time before your trip.  Before you take off, try to schedule some time to research potential snags in the country you’re traveling to. Having a quick call with a friend or expat who has spent significant time there is a very good idea, time providing. Whatever you do, make sure to always breath deeply and keep an open mind; this will help you to observe the humor, beauty, and processes that make other cultures flow!

 

How do you maintain a sense of humor and de-stress with travel surprises?

Your Gestures: Lost in Translation?

When traveling for business internationally, there can be many challenges. Perfecting your presentation to clients/colleagues, making sure you make your flight on time, remembering the country code when dialing, ensuring you have enough local currency – these being but a few common headaches to figure out.

Photo by Nghia Le on Unsplash

 

While there will be many challenges you’ll have to deal with ad-hoc, there is one area where advanced research is critical before you travel: Gestures. Did you know that in Brazil and Greece, the “Ok” sign is considered vulgar or obscene? Or did you know that in Japan and southern France, the same symbol means “worthless” or “zero”? And, in Australia and the Middle East, the “thumbs up” gesture means “Up yours!”, which isn’t something you’d ever want to say in a business scenario.

 

Style of communication is also important to consider. In Germany, for example, native-Germans speak in a very matter-of-fact style. Unless you are 100% fluent in German, do not use allegories, analogies or coded language as it will not get you anywhere (even when trying to make a joke!). Ask for exactly what you want, and say what exactly you mean. It will be better for everyone

 

Before your trip – conducting Internet searches, picking up a guidebook for the plane, or having a brief conversation with your host/guide can be tremendously beneficial. Doing your research ahead of time means you’ll avoid embarrassing moments with colleagues, potential clients, or those who you meet along your stay – allowing you to focus on your big wins and enjoyment of your experiences.

 

Happy Travel

 

Becoming Culturally-Fluent Before Your Business Trip

For many of us, there comes the point where you need to travel internationally to conduct business. Whether your travels will be for research, sales meetings, conferences, or to check in on partners and suppliers – you should jump to take advantage of the opportunity. International travel can teach us a lot about ourselves, and the planning ahead for the travel is often a fantastic exercise in learning and creative thinking.

Here are a few tips to consider when planning for (and during) your visit.

 

  1. Be flexible and respectful. Consider your hosts’ needs and expectations, and be as open minded as possible. Be careful not to make a constant comparison with your home country. For example, if you are in Italy and order a coffee, be flexible with the cup size that is returned to you (if it’s not enough after drinking it, you may ask for a second cup).
  2. Do not take things personally. Some things people do may be frustrating to you, but try to put yourself in their shoes. An example of this is when you speak with someone, and she does not look back at you, remember that in some cultures this is not a sign of disrespect – it’s their cultural norm.
  3. Be patient. Some country’s foods and customs may be new to you, but “new” doesn’t mean it’s being done “wrong.” Try to eat a portion of the meal that you’ve never tried before, just for the experience. Try not to talk about business while you’re at the dining table; save it for another conversation.
  4. Strive to learn language basics as a sign of respect. If English is not predominantly spoken where you’re headed, try to learn a handful of basics as a sign of respect. “Good morning” and “Good evening,” “Hello,” “How are you,” “Thank you,” “Yes,” “No” and “Please” are most important.
  5. Be a good listener. Your host or colleague will hopefully explain the way things are done early in your visit. Listen closely and openly, and be sure to ask lots of thoughtful questions!
  6. Know that your perceptions are relative, not absolute. You should try to avoid stereotyping and remember that the way you view an experience is always colored by your own upbringing and culture. Try to eat new foods when they are offered to you. Try to go to the restroom when there is one (in case it won’t be convenient again for some time). Finally, be sure to keep your smartphone use to a minimum as much as possible, enjoying the moments and being present in the fascinating space that you’re in!