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Business in Asia – A Userís Guide   (continued)

In Japan, there is a similar saying which is interpreted as meaning that if you are constantly moving from one thing to another, you fail to accumulate the moss of connections, commitment, and experience! Accuracy problems are exacerbated when there is a lack of familiarity with Chinese script. Playboy magazine, well known for its rabbit-eared logo, once ran a full page newspaper ad, wishing its Chinese-American readers a happy “Year of the Rabbit.” Unfortunately the Chinese characters were out of order and made no sense.

Although there are cultural similarities between the different countries that make up Asia there also are many rivalries which may not be obvious to an unsuspecting foreign company more concerned with its own relationship with the individual countries. A large insurance company ran an ad in a Korean magazine several years ago showing a family in what they thought was traditional Asian dress. Unfortunately, the style of dress chosen by their ad agency was Chinese, not Korean and caused the whole advertising campaign to fail. QUALCOMM, a San Diego company, experienced a similar problem when they tried to market their Korean-made telephones in China. Although the delegation of Koreans and Americans was warmly received by the Chinese, in follow-up discussions between the American sales team and the Chinese, it was made very clear that purchasing Korean-made goods was not an acceptable proposition.

It has been suggested that the source of many misunderstandings in Asia is ethnocentrism, that is, the belief in the inherent superiority of oneís own culture. Of course criticism for this trait can be placed at the feet of Westerners and Asians alike. We are all guilty of dismissing an alternate way of doing things just because it is different. This is a concept of which I am well aware, having struggled to understand unfamiliar habits and customs in Asia for the past few years. I now am going through a similar process trying not to dismiss everything American as being wrong! For example, timing in some Asian countries can come as a shock to the new business traveller. Punctuality is not a priority in Indonesia in particular and offense must not be taken where events do not start on time. Similarly it would be a mistake to dismiss someone as disinterested in your business, or as being unreliable merely because they arrive an hour late for a meeting. In Indonesia that would be considered quite normal.

I am not suggesting that to be successful in a new business venture in Asian you must first obtain a Ph.D. in Asian Studies, become an expert in Tai Chi, or speak fluent Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean. However, an appreciation and respect for the different ways of another country combined with being prepared for unexpected and seemingly irrational attitudes and reactions can only help smooth the way for a new venture into the Orient.

Whether you are part of a huge multinational company that is constantly dealing with the interaction of different nationalities and cultures, or a small business looking to expand into the vast consumer market of Asia, only those who have made a genuine attempt to absorb the practices of different cultures become truly multicultural will survive and prosper in the Pacific Century.

Sue Dockstader is an Asia Pacific business consultant assisting a variety of businesses looking to expand into Asia and helping Asia based enterprises enter the U.S. market.

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