Everyone wants to be respected. You do. Your clients do. We all do. As an experienced salesperson, you may think you’re safe from social faux pas. After all, you talk to people every day and pride yourself on your courtesy and professionalism. No doubt, you try your best to relate to your customers and make them feel comfortable. But what if you were being rude or inconsiderate without even realizing it? When you’re not aware of cultural differences, that’s much more likely to happen.
These misunderstandings don’t only happen between Hispanics/Latinos and non-Hispanics/Latinos. They can occur any time two cultures meet, whether they’re groups or individuals.
Chilean-born Gregorio Billikopf, a professor at the University of California, issued a survey between December 2007 and June 2009 as part of the research for his book, Party-Directed Mediation: Helping Others Resolve Differences. In the intro to the survey, he wrote about an embarrassing episode that happened when he visited Russia in 1993.
When Billikopf was out to dinner, the wife of his host asked if he’d like a banana. He said “no, thank you.” Trying to be polite, Billikopf asked the woman if she’d like a banana. She said “yes,” but didn’t grab a banana from the fruit basket in front of them. So Billikopf asked which one she wanted. She pointed, he picked it up, peeled it halfway, and gave it to her. She and her husband smiled. Billikopf thought the smiles confirmed he’d passed a sort of Russian etiquette test. It was only later, when he told the story to other Russians that he found out this truth: When a man peels a banana for a Russian woman, it means he’s romantically interested in her.
“How embarrassed I felt,” Billikopf wrote. “And here I had been proudly telling everyone about this tidbit of cultural understanding.”
If you’re not careful, the same types of cultural mix-ups can happen to you as you try to sell promo products to unfamiliar groups. Save yourself the embarrassment and learn who your customers really are. That’s how you’ll gain cross-cultural respect.