International Events: Cultural Differences

The event industry is going global. Just like More and more event suppliers are working across the borders, and the number of international congresses and events is rising. There are however a lot of cultural differences between continents en countries you need to be aware of. Bart Provost of Expert Academy is my studio guest today. He will tell you how to manage and make sure you won't insult anybody.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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The event industry is going global. Just like More and more event suppliers are working across the borders, and the number of international congresses and events is rising. There are however a lot of cultural differences between continents en countries you need to be aware of. Bart Provost of Expert Academy is my studio guest today. He will tell you how to manage and make sure you won't insult anybody.


Hi Bart!


Thank you thank you for the invitation


How important is it to be aware of the cultural differences there are if you are organizing an international congress or events?


Well it's pretty important, given the fact that lot of people, they assume and assumptions there we go again, never assume, always ask, they assume that other people behave in the exact same way, they share the same set of values, which is absolutely, absolutely not the case of course and other people might react completely different in a very negative way to what you say what you do, if you don’t take into account that they do have a different set of values.


Can you give some examples to that?


Like for instances, if you would go to a negotiation to the Middle East, and you would start by crossing your legs like this, showing the bottom side of your foot, the sole of your foot is one of the rudest things you can do in the Middle Eastern context. You've probably noticed that sometimes at the American presidents have some Middle Eastern journalists even started throwing shoes to the president in order to insult him. And these are tiny little things; they can make a huge difference.


Well in the preparation of this interview you told me about a model. Can you explain?


Dutch professors Farveretson in Hofstede and they have developed a model, a model of five dimensions and let’s say 50% of all cultural differences, they can be explained by using this model, this Hofstede model. So there are 5 dimensions, one of them is more about identity. Who am I? Am I more individualistic? And that’s the name of this dimension individualism, or am I more belonging to a group, so more collective. The second one is more about, is there a different between people on a hierarchical level? Do we appreciate and do we consider the difference of power, the distribution of power as difference? And so on we have five dimensions like this. And these dimensions these can be used to explain 50% of all cultural differences between different people.


But there are lots of differences. How can you know them by heart?


Well, there is a very easy tool. If you are a traveler for instance and you... Let me just check on this Ipad. And so there is something like a culture GPS, that’s been developed by these guys. And what you can do is just look up the country, like for instance if you go to China and you choose China then you have the five dimensions. So the further on you see the more it goes up to 100, the more days score on this dimension, like for instance IDV is for individualistic, you know it’s very low score which means it’s far more a collectivistic culture where is LTO which is Long Term Orientation, they appreciate far more the present and the past than the future.


But how do you translate those bars into actual behaviors?


Absolutely well, you need to know something more about the models so that way you can, you can say like for instance, never go in to a culture where there is the hierarchical difference where the power difference index where it is really high and where people really appreciate different hierarchical levels and they accept the fact that someone else is going to make the call and the decisions. So if at a certain moment let, then again into a negotiation and you started to talk to the exactly wrong person, at that moment there will never be a decision made or that person will not even start having an eye contact at that moment and you can go completely the wrong way if you do not address to the high ranking person in the room for instance. So all these little behaviors they can be derived from this one. Let’s not forget that there is one thing that lot of people thinks that because you belong to a culture that they can predict every single behavior you have and there is always it’s only 50% is being counted for in this model, it’s always the individual himself.


That was exactly what I wanted to ask you. But now we are talking about continents, countries but even within countries there are differences. Look at Belgium, a split sounty, 2 languages, lot of cultural differences. How can you manage that?


Well ok. Within some countries like Belgium, Belgium is a very typical country, where you have 2 very different zones, a North and a South zone that’s even within this model. But even apart from that if you look at US, if you look at China if you look at Australia, I mean there are so many differences between people, even differences between two villages right next door, one next door to another, so it is always important to have an open mind and not to take this like, this is the absolute paradigm that I really do have to use whenever I see for an instance a Chinese person, this person will absolutely react as anyone can predict, that would be nonsense, there is so much more to it than only that.


It would be easy…


It would be easy but it would be boring, wouldn’t it?.


Certainly. Can you give me some additional examples? For example if you look at Japanese people. What will we have to know?


There is a difference between the culture of the Japanese people and their cultural aspects like, and there is a high hierarchical order so power distance index is scoring really high, given the fact that they have a huge difference between bosses and co-workers for instance. So make sure if the person across you, is very important that you bow a little bit lower for instance. But there are so many other things like, suppose you are having a beer...


On a event for example.


Sure, and your Japanese client or colleague or other person that is assigned to take you around Japan and starts giving you some beer, so he takes your own beer bottle and serves you beer in your own beer glass, at that moment it is considered to be very rude if you don't do the exact same thing to the other person. So these tiny little things, Japanese people for an instance, the exchange of business cards is very important, it’s like a ritual, rituals are very important as well. So at that moment you don’t do what we do in the western culture is say, 'Okay. Thank you very much', and you put it in the pocket and you give your own one. No way, you keep it, you admire the title, you admire the structure, the font, you admire the card the paper it’s printed on and you pronounce it with lot of respect, you bow again and you keep it in front of you and then you give your own card. And you receive in return the same ritual. Now these are, these are more of the behavioral stuff about the differences between the cultures but they are equally important.


I do remember a story about an Indian Airline Company. Can you tell me about that?


Well, the Indian Airline Company they reached to an agreement, they had a contract with a ground handler, the party that is handling the suitcases, the checking, the boarding of passengers. And one of their SLA’s their Services Level of Agreements was that their business and VIP passengers should be accompanied by the personal of that ground handler preferably young ladies with their hair in a pony tail because apparently that was very important for Indian businessman and to that Airline Company.


So it is important to be aware of the cultural differences when organizing international events.




I really want to thank you Bart for coming to our interview.


Thank you.


And thank you for watching our show and I hope to see you next time.