There are people — some of them remodelers — whose attitude toward doing business with people from other cultures is essentially: “They're here in America. They should follow American customs.” To that, multicultural sales and marketing consultant Michael Lee says, “remember that ‘they' is ‘us.'” The term “ugly Americans” is used worldwide to describe a group of people who, when arriving in a foreign country, expect the natives to speak English and the food to be similar to what's available at home. “As Americans, we have difficulty adjusting to different cultures, but our culture is only 200 years old,” Lee says. Other cultures are thousands of years old, so it's even more difficult for people to leave their cultural practices behind.
It's also getting harder and harder to survive in business without serving customers from different ethnic groups, particularly in the remodeling industry. “Minorities tend to buy older homes, because they are more affordable,” Lee says. “It's a huge, and growing, market.”
What follows are five sample questions from quizzes on Lee's Web site. To take a quiz yourself, or to get more information on becoming more culturally aware, visit www.ethnoconnect.com, or call 800.417.7325.
Editor's note: The questions themselves are taken directly from the EthnoConnect Web site. The other material is a composite from the quiz answers, interviews with Lee, and information from his seminars.
Question 1: Which group believes it treats women with the most respect?
Answer: E. Middle Easterners. Got your attention? It will come as a surprise to most Westerners, but men from the Middle East believe that their culture is much more respectful and honorable toward women than America's is. Americans, on the other hand, generally believe that Middle Eastern women are oppressed and have no civil rights.
It's a powerful example of the differences between two cultures. Never take anything for granted.
Question 2: When exchanging business cards with a multicultural customer, you should be sure to:
Answer: C. Present your card with both hands. Even the simple act of trading information with a customer can be troublesome if you aren't thinking about differences in culture. In many societies, the left hand is believed to be “unclean,” so you should always accept another's card with your right.
The business card is representative of the person in many cultures. Don't put it in your shirt pocket, and don't staple it to a customer's file — doing so is symbolically equivalent to shooting them in the head with a nail gun. Use a paper clip instead.