Using Culture In Everyday Situations


Gaining cultural competence doesn’t just mean being able to negotiate with people from different nationalities or learning how to give feedback to diverse employees. There are many smaller situations that employees encounter for which they aren’t necessarily prepared – even if they studied cross-cultural business norms ahead of time.

Take this situation of a cultural gap outside the office as an example:

Kay’s division has just pioneered an interactive app for training traffic control operators, and Kay was put in charge of the project. Her manager asked her to go to Tunisia to demonstrate the program to a client company there. Kay decided to bring along her laptop, a control board and speakers for the demonstration, as she didn’t know if the Tunisian office would have all the equipment she would need. Although Kay hadn’t been to Tunisia before, her manager assured her that keeping calm and low-key would get her safely from the airport to her hotel.

When Kay arrived at the airport in Tunis, she collected her bags and headed to the customs counter. The official asked a lot of questions about her equipment and laptop, including the value. “Approximately $1,000,” Kay said. He informed her that she should pay a 20 percent duty on the equipment immediately, or leave it at customs overnight until her sponsor could claim it.

Though Kay thought she had been prepared for the cultural norms in Tunisia, she wasn’t prepared for a situation like this.

Kay remembered her manager’s advice to keep calm and low-key, which to her meant avoiding “rocking the boat.” She paid the 20 percent fee in order to avoid any possible customs or police harassment. Later, when Kay told her manager about what happened, they were able to write the fee off as a business expense. The rest of Kay’s trip went well, and thanks to her general preparations for the business norms in Tunisia, she was successful at negotiating a good rate for their purchase of the app.

It is important to prepare thoroughly for a business interaction in a foreign country by studying not only the business norms there, but also everyday situations that may cause problems outside of the office. After all, cultural norms vary on all levels of culture – not just within the workplace.