During the opening ceremonies of the Olympics two weeks ago, it was remarkable to see how many countries London is playing host to during the summer games this year. Watching the diverse international guests wearing their flags clearly displayed all the different customs and cultures that the English hosts must acknowledge during the athletes’ visit.
What does it mean to be a good host for international guests? In London, it is important for both the Olympic organizers and the city officials to accommodate the different traditions of the visiting athletes. In a business context, it is equally as important to recognize the customs of a foreign guest, whether a current client, potential client or partner. It is also beneficial to ensure that your guest has an enjoyable stay while in your country, as well as a productive one.
The first step is to research the cultural background of both the guest’s home country and their personal traditions. What are the dominant religions of their country, and what do they practice? Are there significant cultural differences in timing and punctuality for business and social functions that you may need to consider when planning schedules? Finally, will your guest need an interpreter during their stay? Considering these questions will help you to structure the visit and avoid surprises – and simple acknowledgment of the guest’s personal and cultural habits will reveal your graciousness as a host.
One particular area with substantial differences is in dining etiquette. Of course, your guest will recognize that in Canada, dining practices may be different than in their own country. Also, business dining has more regular standards of dress and behaviour than more casual dining settings. However, accommodating even subtle differences in dining practice to suit your guest’s needs could work to your advantage, and may make all the difference if you are trying to win over a client or secure a deal. Some dining points to consider:
– Dietary restrictions of the guest’s culture and of their personal practice: consider this when choosing restaurants and in what is ordered. For example, don’t choose a restaurant famous for its wine selection if the guest does not drink alcohol
– Timing of the meal: a concept especially important if religious restrictions are involved. For example, a Muslim client would fast until sundown during Ramadan. If timing allows for adjusting schedules based on needs such as this, it would be a sign of respect to a guest.
– Dinner conversation: In some cultures, it is considered very inappropriate to talk business during the meal – business chat should be left in the boardroom, small talk should happen over dinner. If you plan to discuss business affairs at the dinner table, be sure that it won’t offend your guest.
Finally, when playing host to an international business guest, plan to schedule a few events unrelated to business. Especially if it is their first time in your country and they are visiting for an extended period of time, give some thought about what to see and do during off hours:
– Offer to show your guest various destinations around town. Not only will this give them a more personalized sense of your home city, but they will also see that you are willing to invest more time than just the standard work hours to ensure their visit is worthwhile. This could be beneficial for building a professional relationship with your client or partner, while in a more relaxed setting outside the office.
– Give suggestions and schedule some outings, but don’t overbook their schedule: likely they will be jetlagged and exhausted from a busy schedule. Outfit the guest with a guidebook and a list of your personal favourite spots, but avoid booking back-to-back events.
All in all, the key to being a good host is simply to listen to your guest! Ask about their preferences and traditions, and be willing to adjust accordingly. Such gestures could help to build a lasting professional relationship, between both companies and individuals.
Share this blog post with others!