The company’s good news is that entry into four countries has been approved, which will be a help in increasing sales and profit growth in the long-term. However, the four countries, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Mexico and China, are culturally, politically, socially and economically different from each other. In fact, in a couple of instances, the differences are so sharp as to be threatening. Yet, bringing them all together in one location at our U.S. headquarters is the most efficient and effective way to acquaint them with the company and to begin the process of training them to operate and grow one of our franchises.
Israel is a small country on the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. It has a population of 7.8 million people, 75% of whom are Jewish. The per capita income of Israel is $36,200, with an economic growth rate of approximately 3.3%, and 1.7% unemployment rate. Israel is 97% literate, and the three most common languages are Hebrew, Arabic and English (infoplease.com, 2014). As a country, Israel is almost 70 years old, and is populated by people who have migrated back to the country after centuries in exile around the world. As a consequence, there are several different layers of customs and traditions overlaid on the one dominant cultural tradition – that of an ethnic Jew.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the youngest of the four countries having been established in 1971. The location is in the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula along the Gulf of Oman. The land is very barren and sandy, consequently it is not much good for growing things. The UAE has a population of 5.6 million people, 76% of whom are Arab Muslims. The per capita income of UAE is $29,900, and the economy is growing at the rate of 4% per year. The unemployment rate stands at 2.4%. The literacy rate in the UAE is 90%, and the predominant language is Arabic, with Persian and English also spoken (infoplease.com, 2014). Oil is the chief economic product in UAE.
Mexico is a developing country that borders the United States on the south. Mexico has a population of 120.2 million people. It also has the largest metropolitan area in the world in Mexico City with approximately 30 million people. Mexico’s per capita income is $15,600, with an economic growth rate of 1.25%. Its unemployment rate is 4.9%, and its literacy rate is 93.5%. The predominant language is Spanish, and the main religion is Roman Catholic (infoplease.com, 2014).
China is by far the oldest of the four countries the company is entering. China is a rather large country most of which is mountainous terrain. China’s population is about 1.4 billion people, most of whom live in rural areas, which are still quite poor. The per capita income in China is $9,800, and 4.1% of the work force is unemployed. The economic growth rate is 7.7%, the highest of the four countries. The official language of China is Mandarin and 95.1% of the people are literate. Han Chinese is the largest population segment at 91.6% of the population, and the principle religion in an atheistic country is Buddhism (infoplease.com, 2014).
In preparing for the meeting, it is important to keep in mind that the four countries are quite different in their values, cultural orientation and traditions. The most obvious issue is the dislike between Jews and Muslims. Israel and the UAE are likely to be somewhat unfriendly to each other because of their religious values and their long history of conflict. Even though the two countries will have little to do with each other when the businesses open, they will be in close proximity during this project meeting, and at any future meetings. We do not want to call attention to the conflict, but we do need to make sure the two delegations do not confront each other or disrupt the meeting.
While English is the universal language of business, we cannot assume that everyone in the delegations from the other countries speaks English. Since we do not plan to have interpreters available, this may be a problem for them in understanding the information provided. In addition, we will need to choose our words carefully and avoid the use of slang when giving them information. Language carries two types of meaning, denotative and connotative, which can vary greatly across cultures (Cateora, Graham and Gilly, 2012). What might be an innocent phrase in English may be translated as an insult in Spanish, Arabic, Chinese or Hebrew. We need to find this out before we finalize our wording.
Finally, tastes in food and what different cultures eat varies greatly across cultures. For example, people in Mexico and China eat pig often in their various dishes and recipes; it is a staple in their diet. However, neither Jews nor Muslims will even entertain the thought of eating pig. To both of these cultures, a pig is an unclean animal that is not fit for the table (Cateora, Graham and Gilly, 2012). Consequently, we cannot serve dishes with any hint of pork in them, and for the Israeli delegation, the food may have to be kosher, depending on the degree of religious orthodoxy of the members.
The members of the presentation team come from a low-context country – the United States. All of the members of the countries coming to hear the presentation are from high-context countries (“High and Low,” 2014). For these cultures, communication is less verbally explicit and less written with formal information. There is more of an internalized understanding of what is communicated by these high-context people, and they emphasize long-term relationships rather than the task at hand. For them, knowledge is situational and important only in relation to what is being done now, and there are strong boundaries concerning who belongs and who is an outsider (“High and Low,” 2014).
This is not how the presenters think or communicate because their emphasis is on rules and written instructions with specific information; knowledge is for edification and should be public and easily accessible (Hall, 1982). However, for the purposes of this presentation, the information should be presented visually as much as possible using generalized concepts and ideas without a lot of specific information. It would be good to emphasize the building of relationships for participants in the project and how those can be projected into the future of the franchise in the individual countries. Long, detailed, written instructions or information will not be welcomed by the project members.
Finally, the U.S. presenters should be on the lookout for non-verbal messages especially with respect to time and space. For the most part, high-context cultures are not clock watchers. While we may schedule meetings at specific times, we should not be disturbed if no one is actually in their seats when the schedule says a presentation is supposed to start. Keeping time is not an important activity, nor is being on time an absolute must. While this will drive low-context culture members crazy, high-context cultures are more concerned about the relationships around them than the time that keeps on ticking away (Cateora, Graham and Gilly, 2012).
Similarly, our U.S. team should not be too taken aback when one of the high-context cultural members stands too close for your comfort or seems to get in your face when you do not even know their name. What we consider as “our space” is open, public space to them. Their cultural context emphasizes closeness and personal interaction rather than standoffish social distances that preclude getting to know someone. These cultures also tend to be very hands on, which will tend to unnerve a low-context culture member. But, if we can keep our minds wrapped around the fact that they see the world differently than we do, and their vision is just as good as ours, we should be able to accommodate their information needs and set the stage for any future meetings we may need.