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Our world is getting smaller and smaller each day. Although good’old memos and even traditional e-mail are taking a back seat to new platforms like social networking, communication is still the only way to negotiate a contract or describe how a product or service is used to an increasingly diverse consumer base.
That’s also the reason why as writers we should pay more attention than before to the cross-cultural differences that can derail the communication process right away.
For example, there are many disputed territories in the world today. Kashmir, for example, is claimed both by Pakistan and India. For Taiwanese, Taiwan is an independent country but for the People’s Republic of China, it’s a province of the mainland China. If in your communication you forget that and mention Kashmir or Taiwan in an “inappropriate” way to the wrong party, you’ll hear about it.
In some cultures, like in the United States, it’s perfectly all right to mention the other party’s family and spouse and to ask how they’re doing etc. It’s part of the totally permissible small talk. But in some other countries like Saudi Arabia you may offend the other person by doing that since in some cultures families, and the wives especially, are totally off-limit when it comes to business communications.
There are other invisible boundaries that you should not cross when writing for an international audience. Quoting hard numbers for pricing is one of them.
Some cultures, like Western Europe, prefer to lay out everything in black and white on paper. Yet in most East European, Middle Eastern and African countries, for example, that would be the worst thing you can do because these cultures love to negotiate back and forth.
There is a great leeway in such cultures for political arm-twisting and influence peddling through all kinds of tribal, ethnic group, and family channels. Patriarchs and party bosses play an important role in cutting deals, agreeing on prices, and signing off contracts.
That’s why when corresponding with such partners you need to be a little vague about hard facts (like price) and leave maneuver room for social actors to move around in the negotiation space.