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Cinthia Douglas – Experiencing New Cultures

Our international trip was actually an EMBA course that included a pretty extensive amount of work, including preparation of cultural nuances prior to our travels.  It is one thing to study a subject, but it’s quite incredible to actually live it.  Here are a few of my most fun and memorable moments that really showed me the cultural nuances of SE Asia:

1. Our first night in Taipei, Taiwan, we had a big welcome dinner at a traditional Chinese restaurant in Taipei.  Chinese culture teaches people to “save face” where face is described as your reputation, your honor, and people aim to behave in ways that build up their reputation and honor.  During our lovely dinner, we had a nice server that accidentally overfilled a glass of beer, and the foam spilled over.  Several folks on our table clapped, well clapping was not enough for me – you see, being a native Brazilian, beer rules and messing up of any kind is reason to celebrate, so I shouted out a big “Woo Hoo!”  Our waitress bowed her head, apologized and right away left our table – off-course probably feeling very badly, having not “saved face” with our table.  When she returned, she apologized and bowed again, and our table quickly recovered by assuring her it was ok.

Having dumplings in Taiwan

Having dumplings in Taiwan

2. Pork, pork plus more pork!  As it turns out, Taiwan imports very little beef and chicken is also not a common protein so pork is everywhere.  We learned from the American Institute there is a strong push from the pork business in Taiwan with strong political influence affecting the importation of beef.  Almost every single one of our meals involved pork – chopped pork over rice, pork dumplings, pork soup – an endless supply of all types of cooked pork.  Having a lack of variety was an interesting cultural change.

3. Thailand showed me gentleness and kindness at its deepest level.  In all they do, from raising children to having a disagreement on the street, being gentle and kind is an integral part of the Thai culture and it is evident among all social economic levels.   As I compare with the US culture and how deeply we value competition – we play to win, second place is the first looser, and so on… sure, there are benefits to having a strong drive but I realized how meaningful it is to hold gentleness and kindness as core values.

4. Doing business in Thailand, even for big brands such as McDonalds, means using very little legal advice and services.  The power of building and fostering a relationship with your business partner is the most important.  Even if contracts are written up, they have little repercussions with the actual government.  Culturally, this is drastically different than doing business in the US and probably would make business investors very uncomfortable.

In all, there are many cultural nuances I experienced during our trip to trip to SE Asia , from funny faux-pas to lack of legal involvement, there is no comparison to the power of learning from a real experience.

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