Certain cultural standards are universal others are not. There have been a few case were diplomats, politicians, celebrities and dignitaries have acted so offensively that you might think they spent the majority of their time doing illegal drugs and drinking rather than studying up on their destination (I’m looking at you Mr. George Bush Jr.). Like the time he gave the German Chancellor Angela Merkel a back rub during the G8 summit, or the time he winked at the Queen after saying she has been on the throne since the 18 century or the time…well you get it.
OK, this is equal parts cultural insensitivity and overly-finicky Frenchness. A company in the United States flew a French business owner to the U.S. to strike a deal. The American company sent a limo to pick up Picky Pierre (not his name but given to him for comedic effect). The flight landed at 7.30 p.m. which in Paris would be right before dinner-time, so Pi-Pi expected to be wined and dined. For Americans though 7.30 p.m. is already after dinner, so they expected Pi-Pi would want to go to his hotel to relax. The deal was almost lost over a plate of escargot and a bottle of Merlot. You don’t pronounce the “t”s in either of those words…why would you even need them at the end then?
All Work and No Play, Makes you Lose the Deal
Robert Burns,, the American owner of CC Bloom’s Hotel, insulted his Thai business associates when he started to talk to them on an empty stomach. It is considered quite rude in Thailand to start off business negotiations with, well, business. It is customary to ease into it like you would talk to someone on a date. Although ‘Wham-bam-thank-ya-ma’am’ is the way business world works in the States, Thai business is more of a dinner and a movie type of Gal.
George Bush Sr. Flips Off a Whole Country
See the thing with gestures is that they carry very different connotations depending on the country. An innocent rewarding thumbs-up in one country might be an invitation for colonic phalangic penetration. Or more colloquially a thumb up the butt. The Bush’s being no strangers to faux pas, the smarter Sr. version went to Australia and basically gave everyone the equivalent of a middle finger. It is basically a ‘victory’ or ‘peace’ sign with the palm facing inward. It’s also known as the ‘fork’. What a ‘forkin’ travesty.
The Duke of Edinburgh
When he (also) visited Australia, he asked an aboriginal businessman if they (the aborigine) still throw spears at each other. Not surprisingly, the aboriginal businessman said: “No”. Unsurprisingly he didn’t ask if the Duke’s low IQ was the result of generations of inbreeding.
Oh, the Irony!
When former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder visited Israel I’m sure he wasn’t expecting fan-fare (yes I went there, sue me). He was expecting to visit the Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem. I’m sure he wasn’t expecting to extinguish the eternal flame that burns within the moment when he accidentally pushed a button.
Do you know of any other international faux pas that cost people deals, diplomatic relations or business affairs? Let me know in the comment section below.