"Why can't they just speak English here?" I heard another American exclaim at a conference abroad. I sighed and reminded them that they were in another country with a different culture and should leave the entitlement at home.
Sadly, this is not a once in a lifetime occurrence. From criticizing the culture to whining about the lack of at home luxuries, I have seen many business travelers make huge faux pas while traveling.
Here's are three things you should keep in mind when traveling across borders.
1. Attempt to learn the language to network.
When you go to a new country, don't expect locals to speak your language. I'll be the first to attest that learning a new language is hard. Though it's difficult to master a new language in its entirety before traveling, it's always necessary to learn basic phrases to show respect. Even just learning phrases like "hello," "goodbye" and "thank you" can go a long way while trying to navigate a foreign city.
When I was in Korea, I used a mobile app to learn the language basics with ease. Before your next business trip, search YouTube for tutorials that can quickly help you learn the basics. Apps like Duolingo or Memrise can also help you learn basic vocabulary with flashcards and quizzes.
2. Keep an open mind and learn from those abroad.
It's okay to note the differences between your home country and the one you are visiting. While traveling for business, refrain from complaining about why things can't be done like back home. Not only is it rude but also can hurt the relationship with your foreign colleagues. When traveling abroad, you are traveling to a different country with its own set of customs. It won't be like home and you have the unique opportunity to see how other people live and work.
If you're looking for events to meet local professionals, look to sites like Internations and Meetup where you can find dozens of events happening weekly. Often times, business travelers get stuck in their hotel rooms and don't get to experience local culture. Instead of drinking at your hotel bar, head to a meetup to connect with professionals in your area.
3. Research customs and etiquette to prepare for business meetings.
Before I went to Korea I went down a Google rabbit hole and learned about how business was conducted before setting up any meetings. From exchanging business cards with two hands to bowing when saying hello, there were many differences that a quick Google crash course helped me discover.
Before heading abroad, take a few hours to read articles about the history, etiquette and customs of the place you are visiting. What is normal back home may be considered rude in another culture. In Arab countries, accepting a beverage with your left hand is considered rude. And is France blowing your nose in public is a taboo.
Before you take off on your next trip, it's helpful to not only Google, but also speak with a local. Ask friends and colleagues for an introduction to someone in the city you'll be traveling to. Many times, I've asked locals the business etiquette as they know their culture best. Especially when working abroad, it's vital to note how business is conducted.
Traveling can be an amazing experience. By empathizing with others and being respectful, you'll have an even better trip.