What’s a mountain range got to do with it?

By March 1, 2017Uncategorized
Richard Gere kissing Shilpa Shetty

The great mathematician, Blaise Pascal, did a lot more than create units of measure (otherwise I would’ve never heard of him…).  He was also an esteemed philosopher.  I am thrilled that Pascal was such a versatile guy.  One of his many “pensées” (French for thoughts.  I was a French major, most definitely not a math one…) often provides me with a perfect opening for my trainings. Anyone who has traveled between France and Spain quickly realizes that Pascal was absolutely correct when stating,

“There are truths on this side of the Pyrenees that are falsehoods on the other”.

The French, with their high regard for privacy and their belief in precise language, require a much different social skills approach than their less formal neighbors across the mountain range.  Spanish people tend to have a more relaxed way of communicating and behaving, even in business settings.  Realizing these differences, studying them, and adjusting one’s behavior appropriately will allow a traveler to feel confident and comfortable in either country.  You can bet that the hosts will also feel more comfortable, respected, and ready to do business.

Within our increasingly global world (whether interactions are virtual or in person), taking the time to acknowledge and study differing cultural expectations, especially the more subtle ones, is a must.  The actor, Richard Gere, for example, sparked protests and death threats for his 2007 kiss of Indian actress, Shilpa Shetty, at an Aids Awareness rally in New Delhi.  Public displays of affection, even between husband and wife, are still largely taboo in India.  Who knows?  Maybe Mr. Gere was making a protest of his own.  If, however, he was looking to create a positive experience for traditional Indians, as well as Ms. Shetty, he missed the boat…maybe even the dock.

These cultural differences are certainly not only among countries.  They exist within countries, among states and provinces, towns, even within families.  While running for the spot as Republican presidential candidate in 2016, John Kasich had his own “not quite right” moment fitting in at a Brooklyn pizzeria while campaigning in New York.  As you will remember, Governor Kasich ordered a slice of pizza (good move) and then went on to eat it with a fork and knife (not so good).  While there are plenty of places in the world where diners eat pizza with a fork, a pizzeria in Brooklyn is not one of them.

As you can see, memorizing one set of etiquette rules is never going to get you far—literally or figuratively.  The ability to be a gracious guest or confident leader, who is comfortable in many different settings, is dependent on your ability to bend, stretch, and even break the rules.