Calling All Cultural Experts

Last Updated Jun 18, 2008 12:28 PM EDT

Years ago, an English rugby side came to play a 'friendly' in Edmonton, Alberta. They surprised everyone by losing. As they boarded their plane the next day, the players made the 'V for victory' sign, reported the Edmonton Journal. (Must've been a slow news day.) Er, no, that's not what that sign means...

In Brazil, the American sign for 'OK' means something very rude. And it's not just sign language that differs from one culture to the next. Despite globalisation, there are plenty of cultural idiosyncrasies that mark one nation out from another.

Sometimes the stereotypes are true, too. Visa once did a funny survey about the habits of business travellers from around the world. (It probably wouldn't pass the PC test today.) All I remember is that the Brits were invariably to be found propping up the bar in the airport lounge.

A well-travelled journalist once remarked that you could identify nationalities at a business convention by their suits: Russians (in those days) invariably wore cheap brown ones (she said), Brits wore ill-fitting M&S (this was before Zara hit our high streets) and Americans were rarely without chinos and penny loafers.

Then there are the business decisions that didn't translate: Chevrolet's discovery that its Nova car was a literal 'no go' in Latin America springs to mind.

In China, 'guanxi' is considered essential to long-term business success. "We must take the time to really understand the cultures of partners we work with," says BT's Jeff Patmore.

But where do people learn about the cultural mores of new markets -- what's the correct etiquette for a business lunch? In which country is it considered rude to show your host the soles of your shoes? Why is it a good idea to have your business cards spruced up before a visit to Japan?

What are some other do's and don'ts for doing business in different nations?