Associate professor, PhD at the Department of Diplomatic Service and 
Communication of the Faculty of International Relation of YSU, YEREVAN

If discussing politics is like playing with matches, transgressions in the areas of religion and sex are like playing with live hand grenades. Still, neither area can be ignored. Religion is often an important part of a culture. For Westerners, who are usually Christian-oriented, a respectful conversation about some of the other great religions of the world can be both illuminating and ingratiating.

As for sex, while Americans are slowly learning to change their vocabulary from businessman to businessperson, that change is not occurring as rapidly outside the U.S. In most other countries business is still largely synonymous with men.
Thus, both subjects should be dealt with head-on. Here goes.

Where religion is a religion

When a prosperous international advertising agency opened an office in Bangkok, the manager was warned it would never succeed. But why not? All the agency’s other Far Eastern branches were having great success. "Ah,” it was explained, "you never put yourself above Buddha before!” After a year there, business was still zero. In spite of himself, the manager decided to be philosophical about it and moved the office to where there was no Buddha, and business has been thriving ever since.

All Buddhist images, even the famous tourist sites, are holy and never to be photographed without permission. Other Thai sensitivities lurk where you would never expect to find them. Doorsills must never be stepped on, for Thais believe that kindly spirits dwell below. But to open a window at night is to let evil spirits in. And to touch the head of even a close friend risks ending the friendship, so sacred do they consider the head.

In Hong Kong the key word is joss, which loosely translated means good luck but is more akin to a blessing.

In Muslim countries, proper dress and proper decorum between the sexes are as important as observing any civil laws. It is no more quaint social custom to stop everything five times a day for prayers. While you are not expected to kneel or face Mecca, you must let those who do do – without interruption or impatience. Whenever it can be done gracefully, making a religious gesture toward an Arab is the sincerest form of flattery. It can be as simple as saying Inshallah, which means :God willing: and is used as commonly as "okay” is here. As in "See you tomorrow, Inshallah,” or "When does your flight leave, Inshallah?” It is easy to pick up the habit – and a nice compliment to your host.
Also remember that every culture has its own holidays, which are considered truly holy days. To schedule a business trip during Ramadan, Carnival in Rio, Chinese New Year, etc., is like a foreigner’s asking you to attend a meeting on Christmas morning. For the holidays and their dates, contact the consulate or tourist bureau or check with a travel agent.

Whether you are a man or a woman, it is advisable to mention your family life as assurance of your stability as a business associate. In Eastern cultures family ties are extremely important, and for those who come from a less family-oriented part of the world, it does not hurt to refer to hearth and home. Of course, replays of Little League games and snapshots of the barbecue and the hamster can put anyone to sleep.

Lecturer and writer Anna Chennault, a consultant on the Orient declared, "Chinese women do not worry about liberation. They have been liberated because of necessity.” Perhaps, but few women are noticeable in the upper reaches of the People’s Republic’s officialdom, although they do comprise 60 percent of the labour force. But in the Philippines women seem to be in charge of many things. Filipino families educate their daughter in U.S. universities – and not necessarily to be wives, but also bankers and lawyers.

Women have also a very strong role in Africa both in the home and business. Yet, visitors should remember that in Muslim and Buddhist nations, the religious stricture against mixing the sexes socially still obtains. A woman travelling as chief emissary for her Fortune corporation was surprised after meeting with men all day to be placed at a table with their wives at dinner. The wife of the chairman emeritus of a multinational advertising agency had found this to be an advantage. After countless tours of her husband’s worldwide advertising empire, she says she learns more about the country and the company from the wives. Their eye for detail, their slight remove from office politics, and their candor bring a different perspective to the conversation. And when an office manager won’t admit to a problem or to a daring idea, often his wife will admit it for him.

In Latin America as well, women are smoothly accepted into business and governmental hierarchies. But in a land where machismo is every man’s birthright, it does not pay to come on like Superwoman.
13400 reads | 05.04.2014

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