Cultural Considerations

America is a melting pot. Or is it? I’ve also heard it described as a salad bowl, because all of the unique things that make up this country still manage to retain a flavor of their own, much like nuts, cheese or fruit does on a salad. Think about it. If you’re looking for a restaurant, you can choose Chinese, Indian, Thai, Mediterranean, Mexican, French, Italian, Ethiopian or Greek. You can even choose Cajun seafood, low country casseroles or Memphis barbecue. If you’ve narrowed it down to pizza, you’re only halfway there. Will you eat Chicago deep-dish or Brooklyn-style? And this is all just in your hometown. 
If you have all of these choices when deciding what to eat, think about all of the other businesses out there. Many businesses thrive by marketing to a specific cultural group. Truly successful businesses have figured out how to market to everyone. And, they don’t do it by treating all Hispanics or all Asians the same way, for example. While there are a number of things to consider when working with different cultures, here are a few key considerations:
Arabic/Middle Eastern Cultures
  • In many Middle Eastern countries, shoes and the bottoms of feet are considered unclean, and showing them to someone can be very insulting. If you advertise in Saudi Arabia, it would be a bad idea to show an executive with his feet propped up on his desk! 
  • Historically, it is only appropriate to use your right hand to shake in many Middle Eastern countries. This is because the left hand is reserved for wiping your bottom, cleaning your feet and other tasks considered unclean. Meeting with an Arabic client in the U.S.? Extend your right hand. Whether your client follows the custom or not, you can’t go wrong when you go right!
Hispanic/Latino Cultures
  • Families are very important in most Hispanic cultures, and most Hispanic families are larger than the average family in the U.S. According to a 2008 survey, the average Hispanic household has 3.47 people, compared with 2.62 people on average in the U.S. 
  • On that note, children are very important in this culture. According to the U.S. Census, 62 percent of Hispanic households in the U.S. have at least one child younger than 18. 
  • Traditionally, Hispanic cultures follow a patriarchal structure, in which the father or oldest male relative holds the most authority. 
Asian Cultures
  • Many Asian cultures find it offensive to touch someone on the head. Although it’s unlikely you’ll be touching your clients’ heads, it’s important to note when marketing to these cultures. 
  • “Yes” does not always mean yes. Many Asian cultures are very polite and strive to honor and respect their colleagues. To avoid conflict, some Asian cultures may use yes to avoid saying “no.” Yes can mean “I’ll consider it,” but no is often communicated through hints that your request is unlikely to be fulfilled. It is a good idea to treat your Asian clients and colleagues with the same respect they show you.
In General
  • Take note of personal space. In some cultures, gestures like hugging are considered too intimate for casual or non-family relationships. 
  • Understand that language barriers will always exist. Sometimes words do not translate, and it’s important to find a way around that before just going with whatever seems closest to the right one. That goes for other English-speaking countries, too! It wouldn’t make much sense to you if a British company advertised reliable lorries for sale, would it? 
  • Do your research! There are hundreds of cultures out there. You may want to market to “Asians,” but you should really know whether you’re trying to reach Koreans, Japanese, Thai, Chinese or persons of another specific nationality.  And if you’re trying to reach Chinese consumers, do they speak Cantonese or Mandarin? 
Did I miss any important considerations? List them in the comments below. Meanwhile, I’ll be driving my Japanese-made car, eating my Chinese lunch and maybe capping off the day with a German beer or a French wine at my favorite Irish pub, where I play trivia on Tuesdays. 
Adios, amigos!