Understand your audience
The first step in communicating effectively with people of another culture is to gather as much information as you can about their culture, so you can:
• Know how to greet people
• Observe correct behavior
• Respect local customs
Know how to greet people
It’s hard to overcome a bad first impression. To ensure that you make a good initial impression when visiting another country, find out beforehand how to greet people. Should you nod, shake hands, bow, or exchange kisses?
Getting it wrong may offend. People of other cultures are generally more formal than Americans, so it’s important to do your homework. While you’re at it, learn how to greet people on occasions subsequent to your first meeting and how to address your coworkers. Is it appropriate to use first names? If not, find out the correct form of address.
How to greet people?
Formalities vary from country to country. In Europe it is customary to shake hands when you first make someone’s acquaintance. In many European countries, such as France, you will also be expected to shake hands when you see an acquaintance for the first time that day. Neglecting to do so will offend.
Generally, people of non-Western cultures are aware of our habits and will shake hands; but watch for variations. The Japanese traditionally greet by bowing: the more senior the person they are greeting, the lower they bow. When in doubt, observe what others do and wait for them to greet you first. For a fairly comprehensive briefing, covering a range of different countries, refer to Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands by Terri Morrison, Wayne A. Conway, and George A. Borden.
Correct Form of Address
While Americans tend to be informal and use first names readily, this is not the case worldwide. You’re safer to address someone formally till he invites you to use his first name.
Pay attention to titles. In Italy, you address people according to their educational background or profession – dottore for someone with an advanced degree, ingegnere for an engineer, avvocato for a lawyer, and so on.
Remember, too, that the order of names does not always follow the American practice. People in some Asian cultures place their family name before their given name, and Mexicans use a double surname—their father’s family name followed by their mother’s.
It’s important that you observe correct behavior in both speech and action. You cannot always know in advance what behaviors will be appropriate, so keep your eyes and ears open! People of other countries may see your direct American style as rude, so you’d better err on the side of formality.
Types of Correct Behavior
There are many types of correct behavior you may be expected to display. You may be expected to:
show deference to your seniors irrespective of their job status
remove your shoes when entering a house
keep your suit jacket on when visiting the boss
use formal language, especially when speaking to a superior
Respect Local Customs
Customs are an important aspect of culture. Ignoring them can ruin your chances of communicating well with local people. Here it really is a case of “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Many customs have a practical rationale. Others are rooted in religion. Religion often dictates acceptable gender roles, dress standards, conventions regarding which hand to eat with, and so forth.
Many Customs Have a Practical Rationale
For instance, the long lunch break generally taken by workers in Latin American and Latin European countries allows the workers, many of whom have no air conditioning, to rest and keep cool during the hottest part of the day. They return to work when the worst of the heat is over and work till late in the evening. They adopted this custom out of practicality, not laziness.