Cultural differences and how to deal with them

In internationalization of companies there is always a layer of cultural behavior that affects business and personal relationships. Many times we don’t speak about it because it’s difficult to assign general rules. This is because each person is different, because it can be politically incorrect, and because it’s also really easy to drop into stereotypes or clichés.

Approaching this topic is not easy. Being different could be a value, but feeling different is usually a barrier we ourselves create. My own personal approach is to be natural. Do whatever you think is right…. Afterwards you can analyze your environment. Understand what is happening and make a decision about your behavior.

Being natural means understanding who you are, where you are, respecting everyone (that deserves it), and keeping your personality. Make conscious decisions about what to do. This cultural diversity is what makes Europe interesting… and business complicated. The differences mean different customers groups, different products, design, support, language… and what’s worse, different legal and tax frameworks.

I think stereotypes are statistically true. This means not always, but regularly: Germans are close-minded, Spaniards know how to solve last minute problems, Italians are friendly… and Germans are efficient, Spaniards waste time, and Italians are chaotic. The mastery is how to deal with the stereotypes, and take the best of each one.

I have some personal ideas about how to manage:

  • Understand that languages are used for communication, not for exams: Speaking in a new language is always complicated and frustrating, and can decrease self-confidence. Think about how you communicate with others, accept mistakes and keep speaking. Enjoy it!
  • Adapt yourself to the local scene: that means don’t break the rules. Do what’s done where you are. It’s not about resigning your own personality, it’s about being polite. It’s about understanding and respect.
  • Improve your weakness: be very kind if you’re German, be very organized if you’re Italian, be very punctual if you’re Spanish. People expect you to act according to the “stereotype”. Breaking this thought pattern adds respect to what others think about you. People appreciate when you make an effort, going out of your comfort zone.
  • Keep your own DNA: don’t try to be what you’re not. Don’t resign your own ways completely. Be proud of them and be aware of when they may add value in a different environment. You can also keep some “local color” in this way. For instance, I like how waiters in Italian places continue to use “buona sera” and “grazie” despite knowing the local sayings.

Enjoy these differences. Being exposed to different cultures is a privilege. Taking the best of each one is an enriching experience, taking the worst is the hidden evil behind it. Probably the most difficult part of this is deciding what are the “right“ behaviors to keep: what are the non-acceptable ones that you should remove versus what are the ones that are effective and you can incorporate. Just remember that when you take the best of each one, everything is possible.

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