We British may well see ourselves as polite, tolerant with a good sense of humour, however the global perception of the ‘typical’ Brit is not quite so positive.
Dirty, drunk, arrogant and lazy are just a few of the adjectives used by our overseas’ neighbours to describe us.
Sheelagh Mahoney, Head of Intercultural Training at Farnham Castle Intercultural Training, outlines why it is business critical for UK SMEs to understand how the world sees us and offers some tips on being culturally-savvy.
Travelling to a new country for business is a completely different experience to going on a two week holiday in the sun. Understanding how we are viewed by our potential customers globally can be vital to clinching a major contract.
According to the Italians, we don’t wash – while the Germans think we are idle. The Belgians view us as boring with no imagination and the French say we wear awful clothes. As for the Americans they believe we are wishy-washy and live in the past.
Unfortunately it becomes worse – the Spanish think we are arrogant and enjoy getting drunk!
These views may be stereotypical; however they have all been formed from personal experience. The Italians gained their impression from attending language courses in the UK and staying in British houses – having a spotless home in Italy is hugely important.
The Spanish stereotype is easier to grasp when you look at sensitivities over Gibraltar and the behaviour of some British people on the Costas. Also, we may understand the American view of the British as in the States people prize straight talking and focus on the ‘here and now’ and the future.
British companies trading overseas need to cultivate cultural awareness and to understand that the way of conducting business is very different in other countries. For instance, our business practice is task focused, while in other nations, such as China, it is more relationship based. The Germans and the Swiss place great value on keeping to time while the Arab World is more relaxed.
When trading in a new country, it is vital to find out how a different culture regards your values. The best way is to ask people – while it may take time before you receive an honest answer, or even an indirect answer, listen carefully and take on board what is said.
Ask the question, “How do they see us?” Carry out some research by talking to colleagues within your organisation who have experience of that culture, or chat to local contacts and people in regional offices. Trawling the internet for information is useful; however cultural training or briefing can be most valuable.
It is important to do your best to minimise any negative perceptions by making the most of the positive attributes of being British. Equip yourselves for the international business journey ahead by finding out as much as you can about any pre-conceived ideas about you and your company stands a better chance of winning that coveted business.