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Why manners and culture are important when it comes to localisation

Why manners and culture are important when it comes to localisation [Photo: iStock/PamelaJoeMcFarlane]
in Retail and Ecommerce

Companies making the decision to move from their native nation into new areas are faced with a number of challenges when they take that bold step. From the language barrier that creates a need for effective and timely translation, to logistics problems and the interpretation of international consumer behaviours, there are many hurdles that companies will need to overcome to make their international growth successful. 

However, one issue that is easy to overlook is that of cultural differences and manners. The way we act, portray emotions and put ourselves across in general differs greatly from country to country, and when doing business cross-border, it can be a costly mistake to not be aware of these differences.

According to Deloitte, more than 60 per cent of the world's largest 250 companies now operate in more than one country, and it's similar all the way down the chain. This means there are likely to be millions of meetings taking place across the globe between multinational and local companies every year.

When working overseas as a global company, chances are that you will, from time to time, have to do business with people from another nation. This can have complications for those who go in unprepared, and it's about more than just language. Different nations have different cultures, as we know, and this brings with it manners that can be completely alien to outsiders. 

Manners across the globe

For example, according to Business News Daily, in Russia, the single most important thing is that you are on time for any meeting, but only if you are the guest. Russians themselves will turn up when they want, as a way to test the resolve of their business partner. Meanwhile, in China, it is customary to bring a gift to a meeting with you, which is not something that most people from the west would do, and in Japan, a simple business card, which we may think of as a throwaway item, is to be treated, at all times, with the utmost respect and care. 

It's a similar story across the globe as well. Not only does it matter that you get the language problems resolved between yourself and a potential business partner, but those who are moving into new nations might even need to take a microscopic look at even their simple day-to-day behaviours. 

For example, those who are left-handed might want to take great care in the Middle East. While you might not think twice about writing or eating with your left hand in a meeting, in this part of the world, your left hand is considered unclean, and you might just discourage whoever you are meeting with by doing something that is only natural to yourself.

Getting it right in terms of manners is incredibly difficult, largely because they change wildly across the world, but also because business owners might have to make large changes to the way they act simply to make sure they are not offending. However, it is important to make that effort, and those who do will be more likely to find success when working with people across the world. 


One reason that it's so important to make sure that you take culture and manners into account when dealing with companies across the globe is that it can have a definite impact on the outcome of your business relationships. For example, in China, there is little more important than gaining the trust of someone who you are going to be working with, and not doing so can mean losing out on important deals. 

According to Raconteur, Erin Meyer, associate professor of organisational behaviour at INSEAD, a Paris-based business school, said that companies struggling to build this trust can fall short before it even comes down to discussing numbers and deals. In fact, trust can be even more important in China than price or a good deal. 

“It does not matter how low your price can go,” Ms Meyer said. “If a Chinese businessperson does not trust they can do business with you, the deal will not happen.”

Making sure you comply with manners and cultural quirks from across the world can be more than a little difficult to execute correctly. There are so many international variants to consider that it's easy to let one slip by, but it's important not to fall into this trap. When translating materials that may be used for business deals and meetings, it's important to remember that although this is important, it's not everything – you also need to take some time to think about who you are meeting, where they are from, and the little things you can do to impress them. 

After all, when it comes to culture and manners, it's the little things that can make a big, big difference.

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