Posts Tagged table manners abroad
Kimber Crandall, February 7 2012
It’s the inevitable predicament when flying in the winter. Coughing, sneezing, flu-like travelers are abound –and you’re stuck sitting next to them for what seems like a never-ending flight.
A recent online survey by the market research firm ORC International found nearly two-thirds of Americans admit to going about daily activities despite experiencing flu symptoms. “That’s really too high,” said modern etiquette expert Anna Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post. “We need to reign that in.”
The survey also said 45 percent say they would board a plane to go on vacation and 40-percent would get on a plane for business even if they were sick with flu symptoms.
“Flu spreads easily, and because of the proximity to others, traveling raises the risk,” said Dr. Susan J. Rehm, the medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. “But there are ways to limit spread of the virus and your chances of getting sick.
Get vaccinated at least two weeks before traveling. That is how long it takes for the vaccine to take effect. If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, see your doctor for diagnosis and possible treatment.”
Post and Dr. Rehm give additional tips for how to avoid spreading or catching the flu when you’re up in the air.
Sick Seatmate? Post encourages those who are sitting next to a sick traveler to talk with the passenger about the situation promptly. “Stay friendly, stay easy,” Post said. “When you turn to them, smile and say, ‘I can see you’re not feeling well. Would you mind covering when you cough? Thanks.’”
She says it’s better to discuss this early on, but make sure your tone isn’t filled with judgment or disgust. Post suggests showing compassion to sick travelers by saying something like, “‘I’m sure it must be such a bummer to travel while you’re sick.’”
“Let’s face it, it always works better when you approach it from a point of view that shows you are friendly and sympathetic,” Post said.
If you’re not comfortable addressing the issue directly, the etiquette guru encourages fliers to take preventative measures that hopefully give a subtle gesture to fellow passengers.
“Keep some tissues and alcohol-based sanitizer with you,” Post said. “It’s also nice to be able to hopefully offer that to your seat mates, that can help prompt them to try to keep the spread of anything to themselves.”
Go ahead.. give the cold shoulder For the sick traveler, Post reminds you to try to turn away from other people if you are going to cough or sneeze.
“The idea of cold shoulder is to minimize your exposure to other people,” Post said. “Even if technically it doesn’t change anything, it shows people you are doing the best you can.”
Know the FACTS It’s common to confuse flu and cold symptoms, but Dr. Rehm says people need to know the difference. “Influenza is highly contagious,” Dr. Rehm said. “The flu virus can spread up to six feet away when someone with flu coughs, sneezes or even talks. And it can live on hard surfaces for up to two hours.”
The acronym FACTS –fever, aches, chills, tiredness and sudden onset–can help identify influenza. “This is the key sign,” Dr. Rehm said. “Flu strikes fast, unlike a cold, which could take days to come on. If you are experiencing a sudden onset of a fever, aches and chills, you should call your doctor.”
Post and Dr. Rehm also recommend downloading the “Fight the Flu” app, which locates nearby pharmacies and urgent care clinics, as well as tracks flu incidences in the area.
Hands down Classic etiquette is to keep your hands below your shoulders and avoid touching your face, which could provide health benefits as well. “This idea has been around for a long time,” Post said. “It’s still airborne as well, but that can help.” When the flight attendant passes out drinks, Post says make sure you don’t ‘pass’ along the flu by handing a cup to the person at the window if you are sitting in the aisle seat and aren’t feeling well.
Don’t shake Since the H1N1 flu scare in 2009, Post says it has become acceptable and even encouraged to avoid shaking hands if you have cold or flu symptoms. While you may really enjoy meeting the person in the seat next to you, don’t feel bad about avoiding the signature greeting. Post suggests saying, “‘Excuse or forgive me for not shaking hands. It’s nice to meet you.’ “You want to say with words what that handshake would have said,” Post said.
Stay home The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people should not travel if they are sick with flu-like symptoms. Dr. Rehm agrees, but says if you must catch the flight, be aware of others and take precautions.
“If you have flu symptoms, it’s important to act quickly, see a doctor and follow your doctor’s advice,” Dr. Rehm said. “No one wants to be ‘that guy’ who puts others at risk for flu.”
As the global economy recovered in 2010, a report from the World Tourism Organization shows international tourist arrivals rose 6.6% worldwide. In Asia, international arrivals increased at twice that rate (13%), a clear indicator that the world is shifting its focus to the East.
Asia is a patchwork of customs and cultures, and the unwritten rules of etiquette are rapidly evolving as tourists and business travellers pour in. Essentially, there are no hard-and-fast rules about paying gratuity in a region that almost always offers service worth tipping. But here’s what to do in a few countries frequented by business travellers:
At one time, tipping in China was frowned upon, but that changed as the country catapulted into the 21st Century and rapidly assimilated many Western customs. In larger international cities like Beijing, Macau and Shanghai, it’s now common for travellers to tip skycaps and bellhops. For taxi drivers, it’s usually appropriate to round the fare up to the nearest dollar. Tipping is much more common in Hong Kong; most hotel porters expect it and a 10% service charge is added to restaurant bills, but it’s customary to leave even more for outstanding service.
The practice of tipping is nearly non-existent in Japan, which is a relief to visitors since it’s also one of the world’s most expensive countries. Hotel personnel, who are almost universally courteous and prompt, are trained to politely refuse tips. Servers in bars or restaurants are known to chase after customers to return money that was “mistakenly” left on the table or bar. When in doubt, don’t leave a tip.
The practice of tipping in the Philippines is a world away from many of its Asian neighbours. In Manila and elsewhere, tips are welcomed and expected, especially in areas frequented by tourists. In fact, it’s appropriate to leave an additional tip, even when a restaurant includes a service fee. Locals advise travellers to tip taxi drivers for simply turning on their meters.
Tipping is explicitly prohibited at Singapore’s Changi Airport and in taxicabs and is discouraged at nearly all hotels and restaurants where a standard 10% tip is always added to the bill. However, for extraordinary help with unwieldy luggage, a bellhop will likely accept a few Singapore dollars.
In most restaurants, a 10% to15% service charge is customarily included in the bill; an additional tip is not necessary or expected. At large, Western-style hotels in Taipei, tips for bellhops or other personnel are never expected, but will rarely be refused. As in most other Asian cultures, it’s common to tell cab drivers to “keep the change”.
Tipping in Thailand is a mixed bag. At most Western-focused establishments in and around Bangkok, tips are frequently left by foreigners, but rarely by locals. At upscale restaurants and bars, a 10% service charge is typically added to the bill, and most Westerners will leave a few extra baht in addition to that. Tipping is uncommon and not expected at smaller neighbourhood or family-owned restaurants. When paying for cabs, which are metered in Bangkok, round the fare up to the nearest 5 to 10 baht.
Financial Express, Mohammad Polash Khan
Jobair Alam works for Mitsui & Co. India Pvt. Ltd., a company that employs personnel with diverse cultural, ethnic and national background. Jobair has to regularly meet, talk, work, exchange mails and even dine with delegates who come from other countries. As these people have diverse cultural heritage and background, Jobair has to adjust to that. To him this is just a part of job. “What kind of cross-cultural differences do you experience while dealing with these people?” I asked him.
“People I have to work with belong to diverse cultures,” he said. “I work with Taiwanese, Chinese, Singaporean and Japanese people. And they’re a lot different from us in many aspects,” he added. As I requested for some examples, Jobair opened up his basket of experiences with foreign people. “Take emailing, for instance…” he said. “…the Taiwanese, Singaporean and Chinese people don’t want and like emails or correspondence that has lots of ornamental politeness. I mean, if you write to them a mail where you used some cautiously polite language to describe the situation, they will just feel lost and chances are high that they won’t at all get the main point you’re trying to make,” he giggled. “Just tell them what the problem is in one or two sentences and say nothing else. Say that this machine is broken and you want a replacement and that’s it. They don’t want to know why it broke and the background of it. They don’t have time for all that. And they don’t understand flattery filled language.”
“The Japanese are used to writing super-short mails. If takes you six sentences to describe a situation or problem, they would like you to explain all that in two, at the most,” he continued. “The Japanese are very straight cut people in a sense that they don’t at all like toiling with words in their emails. They want the work done and that’s it. If something is not possible, just say in your mail that – it’s not possible. That’s it. Nothing more!” I asked Jobair about his experiences as he met these people face to face. “Well, they’re ultra-polite. If you’re proposing something verbally that they won’t want or feel is possible, they have a very polite way to say, NO.” Jobair continued to explain. “When I started my career with this company, my boss educated me that when a Japanese emphasises the downsides of something, this means he doesn’t like, want or support it. So we’re not supposed to insist on that after that.”
“You have to regularly dine with people who come from that part of Asia. Tell me something about that,” I said. “Well, they eat using sticks and seemly feel flattered and amazed when you eat with sticks too. They are under the assumption that they are the only nations on earth who are ‘capable enough’ to eat with sticks,” he laughed! “At the dining venue, they will close the palms of their hands and raise it to everyone to show gratitude about the food they are being entertained with. At first I wondered why they’re begging people’s mercy before dining!”
“What about formal business meetings?” I asked. “Well, the use of head and hand is very important here. They keep nodding their head to show that they are polite, friendly and in agreement with you. They feel just flattered if you do the same.” “Is there anything that should be avoided during the conversation?” “Well, whatever you do, don’t put your hands on your waist, as this is perceived by the Japanese as a sign of attacking. They just feel offended when you do that. They feel insulted if you recline back extended your hands to the sides. If you talk too fast, they feel that they’re not given enough importance. You need to talk slowly.”
“What about their business cards,” I asked. “Well, they use both colorful and plain black and while ones. But almost always their cards have Japanese on side and English on the other. They also usually have their photo on the card. When you meet them, they will exchange their cards, shake hands with you, deliver a polite bob or two and tell their name. That’s the way it is. In our line of career, you need to understand and cope with that.”
Jobair is a business graduate from East West University. I asked him whether his academic schooling was of any help when it comes to learning cross cultural business etiquettes. “No, it wasn’t,” he said. “Business schools still don’t educated students about the dynamics of cross cultural etiquettes. I had to train and educate myself in real life situations,” Jobair said. I interviewed Jishu Tarafder very recently, a veteran corporate trainer. He commented that the education system in our country is faulty and it is not career oriented. He felt that the business schools need to work a lot to make their curriculum more career oriented, instead of getting the students go through books written in North American perspective. And we see the real life reflection of Jishu’s comments through the experiences Jobair went through. Business schools could rethink and reshape their curricula to cater to the needs of this era and ever-changing scenario in the highly competitive business arena.
Want more international business etiquette insight? More…
June 15 2011
Traveling for work can be both an exhilarating, horizon-broadening experience and a stressful ordeal. But do a little prep work and follow a few rules, and you can minimize the hassles of business travel. Here are 10 tips that will have you traveling like a pro:
1. Double check your name.
If you’re not booking your own ticket, make sure whoever is has your full name as it appears on your driver’s license or government-issued photo ID—especially if you use a maiden name, nickname, or go by your middle name. If the name on your ticket doesn’t match the ID you show airport security, your trip may end at the security gate!
2. Pack carefully.
A nasty shampoo spill can ruin your carefully-chosen professional wardrobe and shoes for the entire trip. Put all shampoos, body washes, lotions, and other liquids in clear zip-lock bags so they don’t leak over your outfits. And if you’re bringing carry-on bags, remember the 3-ounce limit.
3. Stock up on cash.
Tipping is part of traveling, from the skycap who checks your luggage to the bellhop who takes your suitcase to your room. Travel with a stack of fives and ones in an easy-to-reach place so you’re ready to tip throughout your trip. This will save you the embarrassment of not having cash to tip, needing to make change, or arguing with a taxi driver over whether he’s supposed to accept credit cards.
How much to tip? A few simple guidelines:
- For a hotel or airport shuttle service, tip the driver $1-2 if he or she assists you with your bags.
- If you take a taxi, tip the driver 15-20% of the bill, plus a few extra dollars for extra service such as helping you with a heavy bag.
- When you get to the hotel, be prepared to tip the bell staff $1-2 per bag.
- Tip the housekeeper $1-2 per night (it’s best to leave this daily as the staff may rotate through your stay).
- Tip the concierge if he or she provides you with a special service. No tip is necessary for basic information like a restaurant recommendation.
- You don’t need to tip the doorman, unless he provides an extra service such as hailing you a cab.
4. Alert your credit card company.
Whether you’re traveling with the company card or your own, be sure to alert the issuing bank when and where you’re traveling. Some banks view large charges in new places as a sign of potential fraud, triggering trouble with your account. To avoid any surprises on your trip, plan ahead and make the phone call.
5. Distinguish your bags.
It seems 99.9 percent of travelers have a black rolling suitcase. Make yours stand out so you can keep track of it by putting a colorful, easy-to-identify nametag on your luggage, whether you plan to check it or carry it on. You can get distinctive and tasteful tags almost anywhere. Avoid ribbons and bows—they don’t send a professional message.
6. Give yourself extra travel time.
That means leaving extra early to get to the airport: don’t count on hitting every green light to get you there on time. You also never know if you’ll zip through the security line or stand in it for a half-hour. Worse, you may be the unlucky one who has to step out of line and let a TSA agent give your bag a closer look.
7. Dress for professional comfort.
When you’re traveling , choose clothes and footwear that you could “live” in if there’s an unexpected lay-over or delay. Your shoes should allow you to remain standing when the airport tram jerks to a stop, or walk to a different terminal to catch your connecting flight. If your favorite pumps just aren’t comfortable, leave them at home or in your suitcase.
8. Do your homework before you get there.
Find out the best way to get from the airport to your hotel. Do you need to arrange for a taxi or airport transfer service? Or does your hotel have an airport shuttle? Make your game plan ahead of time.
9. Know your company’s travel policy.
What expenses will you be reimbursed for? Do you need to keep all receipts and turn them in when you return? Check with your office administrators and know before you go. Also, don’t go wild and open the $15 bag of peanuts in your room’s mini-bar unless you’re paying for it yourself. Your company may frown on such extravagance.
10. Before you go to bed, check the fire exits.
Fire alarms can go off in the middle of the night—if you travel enough, it’s bound to happen—and knowing which way to go to find the stairs is a plus. And remember how your mother always said, “Wear clean underwear in case you get into an accident?” Well, pack a decent set of pajamas in case you find yourself in the hotel lobby with your co-workers, waiting just to hear it was a false alarm.
World Class Business Etiquette, August 3 2010
France is home to world-famous fashion houses, a free education system, a fantastic food and wine industry, the finest jewelry, and a workplace culture very different from American’s. Understanding French values and business etiquette can dramatically improve chances of success for any newcomer.
Business manners and workplace courtesy can be confusing for Americans because of the language barrier. Of course, the majority of businesspeople speak English, and fluency in French is generally not required. But there is a clear distinction in forms of address in French, and one needs to differentiate between the two personal pronouns “tu” and “vous.” Confusing one with the other could lead to an awkward introduction and a poor first impression. Tu is the informal way to say “you,” and is used for people you know well or feel familiar with, such as children, pets, friends, and family members. The more formal vousis reserved for authority figures, business associates, one’s elders, and anyone deserving of special respect. It also serves as the plural form of “you.” Learn the difference and use it wisely.
When meeting and greeting, a light handshake is common, but the French don’t maintain eye contact. A simple enchanté (pleased to meet you) is courteous enough in any business or social setting.When meeting with friends, the French give “bisous” (light kisses) on both checks.
Understanding rank and status in French business culture is a big advantage. Normally, their decision-making process is long and bureaucratic. Patience and tolerance are required every step of the way.
When attending business functions after hours, do not get comfortable by sporting “casual attire.” Even in a relaxed setting, you’ll be judged unfavorably if you’re underdressed. Businesswomen need to pay extra special attention to personal grooming and fine accessories.
In France, business meetings are often long, drawn-out affairs, with a strict hierarchy observed. Business conduct is more traditional in France than in America. Therefore, be mindful of seniority and corporate structure. Unfortunately, quick and merciless judgments are made if a newcomer does not demonstrate “fine business skills” such as knowledge of business etiquette and understanding of French business culture.
Being invited or accepted into a “réseau” (network) could open doors to future association and collaboration. Knowing how to socialize with your French business counterparts is a first step in the right direction.
Wall Street Journal
Jeff Mills, May 20 2011
What it’s like: Unlike many Italian cities, Milan doesn’t insist that you fall instantly in love with it and pay homage for ever more. That, as with many successful affairs of the heart, can take rather more time.
At first glance the city can seem rather more style than substance, but get to know it and you will be pleasantly surprised.
Milan may be best known on the international stage for fashion, particularly twice a year, in spring and the fall, when fashionistas, designers and supermodels arrive for the fashion weeks. Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Prada, Pucci, Versace and the rest may manufacture their clothes elsewhere, but Milan is where they choose to put them on show.
But don’t forget the city is also one of Italy’s main business centers, home to the stock exchange and plenty of corporate headquarters. And then there’s the dramatic cathedral, La Scala opera house and, of course, two of Italy’s top football teams, AC Milan and Inter Milan.
It may be fashionable to dismiss Milan as lacking the cultural masterpieces and splendor of cities such as Rome and Florence, but when it comes to doing business in Italy, with a little fun and entertainment thrown in for good measure, few places can beat it.
Getting around: If you are staying in the city center, you can, of course, walk to many of your appointments. But if you tire of dodging motor scooters, there is a comprehensive transport system operated by Azienda Trasporti Milanesi that allows you to swap between the metro, buses, trams and trolleybuses using the same tickets.
Alternatively, taxis, which are usually white or yellow, can be hailed on the street or hired at taxi ranks outside train stations.
Best hotels:If you want to stay at what many consider the best hotel in Milan, opt for the 400-room Hotel Principe di Savoia Milano at Piazza della Repubblica 17 (www.hotelprincipesavoia.com, tel: +39 02659 5838) in the center of the city, where facilities include a business center and WiFi throughout. There’s also a fully equipped fitness center and swimming pool.
An alternative is the 118-room Four Seasons Hotel Milan at Via Gesù 6-8 (www.fourseasons.com/milan, tel: +39 (02) 77088), which is housed in a fabulous building that began life as a convent in the 15th century.
Best bar for after-work drinks: Best bet is to head to the Navigli area to the south of the center, where there’s a superb selection of bars, many serving free “aperitivo” buffets of antipasti with the drinks between about 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. And with plenty of restaurants and clubs, this area is also a good option if you want to make a late night of it.
Best restaurant for business entertaining: Follow the lead set by Milan’s mover and shakers and make a booking at Cracco at Via Victor Hugo, 4, (www.ristorantecracco.it, tel: +39 (02) 876774), whose dishes include pasta with sea urchins and coffee.
There’s also an exceptional wine list. Alternatively, if you fancy joining the fashion set you could head for the Italian version of Nobu in Armani World at Via Pisoni, 1 (www.armaninobu.it, tel: +39 (02) 6231 2645).
Business etiquette: Just as in other major Italian cities, good manners are important at business meetings, though timing can be flexible. Always remember to shake hands when arriving and leaving and don’t be surprised if you also get a hug. Italians tend to be much more tactile than northern Europeans and Americans. Business hours are normally 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m., with some businesses, including banks, closing for around at hour at lunchtime. After-work entertaining is the norm.
What else you need to know: It is often possible to get tickets for football matches involving Milan’s top teams. Your best bet is to ask your hotel concierge, who will almost certainly have an inside track. Use the same source to get hold of tickets for performances at La Scala.
Where do meetings take place? Meetings usually take place in offices, bars or restaurants. Don’t surprised, though, if you also get invited to visit your contacts’ homes for a family supper; in which case, be sure to take a suitable gift, such as flowers or chocolate.
How to get your laptop fixed: Computer repair companies in Milan are few and far between. One that has been recommended, however, is Computech at Via Luigi Pulci, 14, (firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: +39 (02) 6428258).
What to do in your time off
In a whole afternoon: Explore the Navigli canal area, a very old district of Milan made up of winding alleys with tiny shops and boutiques selling almost everything. If you are lucky, you may be there on the last Sunday of the month (except July and August) for the Mercatone dell’Antiquariato, when hundreds of antique dealers line the canal towpaths. When you’ve had your fill of shopping, head for the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie to see Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”
In three hours: Head for the Duomo, the cathedral, which took more than 500 years to complete and which dominates the city center. If you feel up to it, climb the medieval spiral staircase, which brings you out onto a roof terrace with an unforgettable view.
In one hour: Choose a table outside almost any city-center bar to enjoy a predinner Campari and soda as you watch a the start of the evening parade of beautiful people window-shopping.
Best gift to take home: Milan being fashion-central means clothes are probably the best gifts to take home, provided you’re sure of the sizes. Check out La Rinascente or UPIM department stores, where the quality is high but prices are reasonable. If you want to give your credit cards a workout, there are plenty of designer boutiques to help you on your way.
Mary Mitchell, May 16 2011
Rudeness is epidemic all over today. And I’m not even talking about cyber-rudeness.
People steal each other’s cabs. Telephone receptionists are nasty. Sales clerks act like they’re doing you a favor when you buy something. Waiters exhibit an attitude. Vicious gossip sells newspapers. Decency is considered boring.
Look outside and you’ll see litter everywhere except in trash cans. Sit down in a restaurant and you’ll find gum is underneath every table. Go into an office and you’ll see bosses who don’t treat their teams like human beings – foregoing simple little things like acknowledging their presence with introductions to visitors and clients.
The list could go on forever. I know because I pay a lot of attention to these things. I also know because any number of people call or write to tell me their latest manners travesties.
And all of it begs a question.
Hasn’t anyone noticed that if we want to change anybody else, we first must change ourselves?
Books can be written. Speeches can be made. But I ask you: Who ever learned to ride a bicycle by reading a book?
The point is that any significant, lasting change must come from within, not from without. I can rattle off information about etiquette skills, but they ring hollow if we don’t honor some very basic principles for success. 1. Every living thing deserves respect. 2. A person’s wealth really is determined by the quality and integrity of his relationships.
Or relationships are the most important and significant components of our lives. If, in fact, our relationships with our Higher Power, our self, our spouse, our family and friends, and finally, our career – in that order – are healthy, then the material trappings believed by most of us to be “wealth” will more likely become ours. Think about it. What are the qualities and actions that really help in attaining success and sustaining it throughout a business career? 3. Our relationships are smoother and more satisfying when we understand and use the basic etiquette skills that make sense for our individual lifestyles. 4. Manners and etiquette are not the same thing.
Manners have to do with our basic attitude and approach to life and the people in it. Kindness is the essence of good manners. Etiquette, on the other hand, is a set of rules that govern our relationships in various situations.
Etiquette is different from country to country, city to city, company to company. For example, in the United States the handshake is an essential part of greeting. In Japan, however, a bow takes the place of a handshake. Is one better than the other? Certainly not. 5. Honesty and a sense of humor about oneself are essential to a successful, prosperous life.
To illustrate: One of the most genuinely well-mannered people I’ve ever met is a fellow named David in Barbados.
He is a diver and a fisherman, and certainly makes no effort to present himself as a suave sophisticate.
Inevitably, David is likely to appear at the door of tourists, uninvited and unannounced, bearing a just-caught fish so fresh that it fairly quivers. He will then proceed to take over the kitchen and prepare a memorable meal.
I’ve enjoyed several such feasts. Never have I been presented with a fish knife, fish fork, a trio of glasses, or any of the implements that I instruct my clients how to use when dining for business and pleasure. Yet I’ve never missed them, not once.
Because David — although he often breaks all the etiquette rules — exudes so much enthusiasm for life and the people in it. He knows with every fiber of his being that life is all about sharing our experience, our very selves, in the kindest, most joyful, most pleasant way we can. What David knows (and needs no etiquette guide to tell him) is that people are much more important than the rules.
I have no interest in putting myself out of business with this writing. On the contrary. All of those unspoken prejudices about behavior and etiquette are as pronounced in today’s business arena as they ever were. But people who do business successfully realize that the essence of productive business relationships is the people in them.
Try this out for yourself with this simple test the next time you have the pleasure of that harassed, apparently surly waiter or waitress:
Instead of sounding irritated, try saying in a polite and sympathetic tone: “You really have your hands full, but the next time you come by, may I please have some more coffee?”
You will get your coffee with a smile — I promise.
Ian Mount, April 21, 2010
After Ethan Siegel’s wife, Lalenya, returned from her law office to their Manhattan apartment covered in soot from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the couple decided to find work that would let them spend more time together. And so, in 2003 Mr. Siegel and a friend started Orb Audio, a maker of high-end home theater systems.
When the value of the dollar dropped in 2008, Mr. Siegel noticed a boom in calls and Web visits from abroad. He began marketing with Internet ads and country-specific Web pages aimed at consumers in Britain, Australia, Finland and Canada.
In the last 18 months, international sales at Orb Audio, which brings in more than $5 million annually, have risen to 35 percent of total sales from 10 percent, offsetting a 10 percent domestic slump in 2009. Total sales in February were up about 75 percent over last year, almost exclusively on foreign orders from as far away as Zimbabwe, Nigeria and — three times in the last six months — Easter Island.
“Somehow, 10 percent of our business is in Finland because a couple years ago someone got our speakers and wrote a nice review in an Internet forum,” said Mr. Siegel, 39.
For many small companies, and President Obama, Mr. Siegel’s experience is one to be emulated. During his State of the Union address, the president announced the National Export Initiative, a program aimed at doubling American exports in five years. As part of the initiative, the Obama administration increased the budget of the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration by 20 percent to $540 million to help advocate for American businesses abroad and called on the Export-Import Bank of the United States — which provides export financing when private banks cannot or will not — to increase financing for small- and medium-size businesses to $6 billion from $4 billion over the next year.
Today, although the United States exported $1.55 trillion in goods and services last year, it is still isolated. Fewer than 1 percent of America’s 30 million companies export, a significantly smaller percentage than those of other developed countries. Of the companies that do export, those with fewer than 20 employees, like Mr. Siegel’s, represent 72 percent of the exporters and 14.2 percent of the value of goods exported.
Here are some ways to take advantage of the opportunity.
CHOOSE A MARKET “You can’t do a thing until you find customers,” said Laurel Delaney, founder of GlobeTrade, an export consultancy based in Chicago.
But most small businesses do not know how to do that abroad, so exporting often comes from serendipity: an entrepreneur makes a chance friendship with an overseas importer or someone calls from abroad with an order. “It sometimes works out,” said Cliff Paredes, director of the International Trade Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “But the first contact may not be from the right market or from the right partner. If you’re reactive, there’s a risk.”
To be proactive, direct-to-consumer sellers can follow the model of Mr. Siegel, who used Google AdWords, the Internet advertising platform, to direct keyword ads to people in specific countries. For products that go through a foreign distributor, Mr. Paredes advises exporters to classify their products under the internationally standardized Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System, then look at trade data to determine which countries are importing those products.
Once that has been done, industry trade shows are often a good place to find foreign importers eager to carry products in the exporter’s country of choice. The Commerce Department’s U.S. Commercial Service and the Small Business Administration’s network of Small Business Development Centers also help small businesses find markets and customers.
BUILD RELATIONSHIPS While Americans are used to getting straight to business — often over the phone — most foreign countries require serious relationship-building.
“Relationships are the holy grail of cross-border businesses,” said Duncan J. McCampbell, president of McCampbell Global, a Minneapolis small-business export consultancy. “As Western business people, we’re the product of a stable legal system. Someone cheats you, you sue them, you get your money. It’s not like that in other countries. If you don’t spend time with people, you will fail.”
About five years ago, Glenn Williams, president of Bell Performance, a 17-employee fuel additive company in Longwood, Fla., began a big push into overseas markets. Attracted by opportunities in China that he had discovered through Alibaba.com and the Commerce Department, he went to Asia to meet potential customers in 2000 — but not before enlisting a friend who was familiar with Asian markets.
“He said, ‘Whatever’s put in front of you, eat it with a smile.’ I ate eel, fish eyes, pickled heart of monkey, or something like that. We learned to use chopsticks before we left, though I probably lost a few pounds from food jumping out of my chopsticks,” said Mr. Williams, 34. “And we learned that in Japan you’re supposed to introduce yourself to the top person first and then move down the line.”
Today the company is in almost 30 countries, and last year 40 percent of its revenue came from exports.
CUSTOMIZE YOUR PRODUCTS Not every product has a market outside the United States. Those that do meet certain criteria. “They’re targeted to a narrow segment of the market that no one’s serving and that pays a premium and isn’t subject to local low-wage competition,” Mr. McCampbell said. “The first thing you got to ask yourself is, ‘Can someone make it cheaper in China, India or Vietnam?’ ”
Even then, exporters need to do thorough market research to modify products to fit local norms. When Peter Cole took over Gamblin Artists Colors, an art-supply company in Portland, Ore., in early 2007, international sales accounted for less than 5 percent of revenue. So, flying about 80,000 miles in 2009, Mr. Cole built relationships with stores and distributors in Israel, Australia, Mexico, Britain and Spain. And he found he had to tailor his products. “In Australia they want larger sizes of paints — sizes we haven’t contemplated for the U.S. market — particularly for printmaking inks,” Mr. Cole, 37, said. “People tend to paint bigger, and thicker.” International sales at the company, which brings in almost $5 million annually, rose to 10 percent of revenues last year.
For Kyle Schroeder, president of the Cremo Cream Company, a Los Angeles shaving cream start-up, customization occurred for legal reasons: To sell in Canada, he needed to put his tubes in a box so that he could include the required French documentation.
REMEMBER TO MAKE A PROFIT Because of shipping costs, import duties, compliance requirements and added middlemen, profit margins are usually lower in exporting. In Mr. Schroeder’s case, adding a box increased his cost by more than 20 percent.
New exporters often make the mistake of signing a contract before they understand market regulations or nail down how and when they will be paid. For protection, it can be helpful to demand advance payment for small transactions or, for larger ones, to draw up a letter of credit — a contract that requires payment before the delivery of goods — between the buyer’s bank and the seller’s. And it is essential to bone up on Incoterms, the internationally standardized system that defines when a product passes from the exporter’s possession to the importer’s and who has to pay for what part of shipping.
The lag time between export orders and payment can tax a small business. To handle this, the Export-Import Bank offers financing that allows small businesses to borrow against their receivables as well as receivables insurance that lets them offer payment terms to foreign clients.
Jim Townsend, April 21 2011
In today’s global recession, China and India are among the best places for job hunters to seek employment, according to the new Asia Employment Report from Going Global www.goinglobal.com, the leading provider of country-specific employment information. China and India, two of the world’s fastest growing economies, welcome expats and returning nationals with millions of jobs across all employment segments.
Hiring expectations are more than twice as high as last year across all sectors in China, with most new jobs in the banking and financial services sector. The information technology sector is also booming with an increased demand for IT specialists. Hiring opportunities in China include production operators, technicians, management/executives, sales managers, sales representatives, restaurant and hotel staff, engineers and IT professionals. There is also great demand for talent to fill new energy jobs in wind and solar businesses.
Employers in India, the world’s fourth largest economy, are hiring in the engineering, Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), manufacturing, hospitality, insurance and IT fields. Opportunities also exist for skilled trades, accounting and finance staff, doctors and other non-nursing health professionals in India.
The 10 to 15 million expected new hires in India this year are being fueled by much-needed infrastructure projects and expansion of manufacturing capabilities. Other contributing factors to the increased demand for labor in India include rising exports of pharmaceuticals, engineering, electronics, yarns and man-made fibers. India’s rapid economic growth can be attributed in part to its highly entrepreneurial and rapidly globalizing private sector.
“If your dream is to work abroad, you should consider China and India,” says Mary Anne Thompson, founder of Going Global. “An international job experience not only looks good on the resume but it can also be a stepping stone to future job opportunities. Working abroad is especially valuable to recent college grads who are having trouble finding employment in their home country.”
Business etiquette varies from country to country so it’s important to understand local culture and business etiquette before the interview, Going Global advises.
Tips for finding employment in China:
- Punctuality is extremely important in China. It is considered a serious insult to be late or cancel an appointment. – Formal dress is required at the interview. – A light handshake in greeting is to be expected, although it is best to follow the lead of the interviewer.
- Clothes and accessories should be stylish but discreet. For men, traditional dark business suits in subdued colors are appropriate. Women typically wear suits or more formal dresses. Shoes should be flat or with very low heels, especially if one is taller than the host.
Tips for a successful job interview in India
- Men usually dress in Western attire, although a full suit and tie is not usually expected except when the weather is cool. Women may wear either Western business clothes (trousers are preferable to skirts) or Indian attire, whichever is more comfortable.* *
- The interview process in India usually includes one or more interviews and, increasingly, psychometric testing which consists of verbal, numerical and language testing, as well as personality profiling.
- Shaking hands, especially between a man and woman, is not a universal greeting in India. Allow the host or Indian associate to take the lead in either offering a hand and saying ‘hello’ or using the more common ‘namaste’ accompanied with the palms joined together as in prayer and a nod of the head.