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June 27 2013

6 Tools to Help Understand New Cultures

By Michelle Crowley, Manager, Global Development



After a great meeting with PCMA's Global Task Force in Denver during PCMA's Education Conference this week, I got to thinking about how different we all approach working with various cultures. The task force was working on digging deeper into two of the sessions we are developing for Convening Leaders 2014.  One session we discussed is focused on culture and dropping your assumptions to allow yourself to be more aware of local customs and nuances.

As we all continue to grow globally, we frequently work with many cultures and are not always aware of the local norms. Before working in a new market, I try to do some research about the city and country, so I can understand the basics. It doesn’t matter if you are a planner or supplier, being aware of cultural nuances can raise the level of trust and respect and improve the relationship.

Here are some of the steps I take in order to understand more:

  1. Review region/country specific articles from a global news resource.  I enjoy BBC or The Economist for my reading. By doing this, it allows me to understand what the locals might be talking about and what the current state of politics and business are in the destination.  I can use this to information when speaking to local partners, so I can ask (and avoid!) the right questions.
  2. I purchase the country’s CultureGram. CultureGram is a company that puts together short profiles of every country. You can have a subscription to the database or just purchase an individual country profile for a few bucks. The profiles tend to be between 4-6 pages long. By reviewing it, you get a broad view on a number of issues including, population, government structure, food norms, traditions, etc. It is an excellent resource to use as a briefing document. I specifically take a close look at the major industries section, to understand what business and trade sectors currently have the most influence and impact on the local economy and where the growth is.
  3. Trave.state.gov is an excellent resource if you are looking for information regarding entry/exit requirements (visas, entry fees, etc), as well as travel warnings and crime notices.  For most of the countries, there is also information about medical insurance and health concerns. It is published by the United States State Department, so it is built from the American perspective.
  4. The local CVB or Tourism Authority website is another place to look for information. This will naturally be targeted to tourists, but many tourism sites provide tour examples and this can be helpful to understand where the local hot spots are and the historic sites that helped shape the destination and its culture.
  5. I also try to learn a few words and phrases in the local language; just the basics that would be helpful to get by. I recommend trying them on your first taxi driver and see how he/she responds. This will help ensure your pronunciation is correct. I also use a free app that I downloaded to my smartphone called Google Translate. It allows you to type or paste the words or phrase in, as well as speak into it for translation. You can star words you frequently use, allowing for quicker searches. You can find this app by searching in the App Store on your phone for Google Translate.
  6. Finally, TripAdvisor is a website that is used by travelers to review sites, hotels, tours, restaurants and other experiences while traveling. I always search the city on TripAdvisor and have had very good luck with it. The reviews are brutally honest and timely. One of the best things about TripAdvisor is that the reviewers come from all around the globe. I believe this makes for a better assortment of opinions and viewpoints.

I realize there are tons of resources out there that allow for better understand of cultures around the globe. I am interested in understanding some of your tips and favorite sites.  Please share them with me on PCMA’s online community, Catalyst or email me directly at mcrowley@pcma.org.

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