Cultural etiquette – Do you speak tourist?

How a city treats its visitors can determine how many of them decide to come back. Word of mouth publicity can also result in others planning to visit the city. Such factors could be behind Parisian officials’ initiative. The Paris Chamber of Commerce and the regional tourism committee have launched a six page cultural etiquette guide for city residents.

Tourists in Paris

Tourists outside The Louvre in Paris. [Image by zoetnet]

The handbook, called “Do You Speak Touriste?” is a potted guide on the characteristics of 11 nationalities. 30,000 copies have reached taxi drivers, waiters, hotel staff, salespersons, and others who interact with tourists daily. There is also a website.

Use of stereotypes

Some might argue that in the quest to make it easier for Parisians to deal with foreigners, the writers of the guide have resorted to stereotypes. The handbook calls Americans “very direct”, says Brits “are waiting for personalized advice,” and that the Japanese are “demanding.”

Tourist with Camera

Parisians often know tourists by their cameras. [Image by zoetnet]

Nathalie Clement Solal, the Chamber of Commerce marketing and communication services head, explained that the guide would enable Parisians to “know the nature of expenditure, consumption patterns and expectations” of visitors from different countries.

The need for cultural etiquette

Such knowledge could help Paris to ward off competition from other European cities which may seem friendlier. Parisians have their own stereotype- of rudeness. Studies have supported this perception. An Ipsos poll found that sixty percent of respondents cited a “lack of manners” as their primary stressor. Another survey by Parisian transport authority, Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens, revealed that 97 percent of underground and bus passengers had seen rude behavior.

The economics of cultural etiquette

Considering the large number of tourists Paris alone attracts- 29 million just last year- Parisians have every reason to be polite at least to visitors. Almost ten percent of jobs in Paris depend on tourism. They have been a valuable cushion even during recessionary times.

Solal points out, “by 2020 an additional 10 million tourists will invest in the capital region.” If Parisians actually use the guidebook, the number of tourists may increase even further.

Business visitors need to be culturally polite too

What about cultural etiquette blunders by visitors? Business visitors need to be even more careful to avoid faux pas. It could negatively impact a business deal. As Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor for Lonely Planet says, “A potential mistake in business ultimately has higher stakes, and perhaps more sensitivity, than a traveler who flubbed an interaction one-on-one with a cafe worker or Laundromat attendant.”

Ann Marie Sabath, author of Business Etiquette: 101 Ways to Conduct Business with Charm and Savvy says that North American business visitors with little experience make etiquette goofups over seventy percent of the time while conducting business outside their country.

Frequent faux pas range from neglecting to bring a ‘Made in the USA’ gift when meeting a new client, to not greeting others with a “good morning, good afternoon or good evening.” Other blunders include not showing an interest in a country’s culture and history or talking shop over lunch with a foreign client.

Delegates Having Lunch Together

Talking business over lunch is a no-no abroad. [Image by US Embassy Canada]

Reasons for cultural gaffes

Michael Soon Lee, author of Cross-Cultural Selling for Dummies, says that Americans “tend to assume that others around the world do things the way we do. We automatically try to shake hands with people who don’t want to, and we look for eye contact from those who find it offensive.”

While those who depend on tourists for business may overlook cultural gaffes, the ones doing business with Americans may react differently. Lee points out, “People serving tourists are much more forgiving, whereas business contacts may decide not to do business with us if we offend them.”

Author and speaker McKain says, “It is remarkable how wonderful people can be when you have a humble and sincere desire to learn more about their culture and are not reticent about doing things their way.” An open attitude helps. What might be seen as rude in the U.S. might not be in other parts of the globe.

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