Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to travel to a number of countries to give etiquette seminars and talks: Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Singapore, and Vietnam among others. Business travelers within the United States quickly learn tactics to navigate the travel hassles of getting from one place to the next with as little disruption as possible. Those tactics are helpful for the overseas traveler as well, but the overseas traveler has some additional issues to consider.
Before leaving, do your research and be sure you are prepared for going to another country and culture. Check country websites, the CIA website (it has information on many of the countries you might visit), and any of the many travel books available on your destination. Ask colleagues who have been there before for advice. And if your company has an office in the country you are visiting, ask for advice about the customs and culture. In addition consider:
• Generalizing vs. stereotyping. As you do your research be careful to understand the difference between generalizing about the members of the society you are visiting and stereotyping them. While most of the people in that society typically behave a certain way, that doesn’t mean everyone does. Respect the individual.
• Time considerations. While Americans may be focused on the importance of being on time, other cultures may place less importance on arriving on time. By knowing this difference in approach to time, you can relieve frustration that you may experience when the person you are meeting keeps you waiting.
• Laws and customs. Find out about laws relating to alcohol and drugs, personal behavior, and gender issues. Possession of even a tiny bottle of alcohol in Saudi Arabia could land you in jail. Prescription drugs that may be okay in the United States may not be elsewhere. Holding hands, displays of affection, even the taking of photographs may cause you problems.
• Decision making. In a more individualistic society, the individual solves problems and makes choices. Responsibility for decisions rests on his or her shoulders. In a more collectivistic society, the individual defers to the group. Even though you are meeting with the individual who seemingly agrees with you, no decision is really possible until the group agrees.
Even if you don’t have a trip planned, get a passport if you don’t already have one so you are ready. Check visa requirements well ahead of time. It can take weeks to get a visa for some countries. Prior to leaving for Vietnam, I had been told I could easily get a visa at the airport. What I didn’t know was I needed to have a passport photo for the visa. Panic until I found an enterprising individual who, for a fee, would take a photo on the spot. Now, I carry extra passport photos with me when I travel overseas.
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.