UK: Would you say that again please?

UK: Would you say that again please? - "Mind Your Manners" by John Mole (Industrial Society Press, 200 pages, £14.95).

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

"Mind Your Manners" by John Mole (Industrial Society Press, 200 pages, £14.95).

Review by Martin van Mesdag.

If you are serious about doing business abroad, forget the assurance that "everybody speaks English there". Mostly they do not. Even if they do, it poses almost as many problems as it solves, since strings of words and their intended meaning often diverge. Speaking the customers' language remains mandatory. Moreover, even the flawless linguist needs to know a lot more about a foreign environment than its mere language. It is with the cultural peculiarities of the 12 current European Community countries that John Mole is mainly concerned. But he also has useful things to say about the Americans and Japanese.

I am not always successful at persuading people that it is in their own interests to conduct business in their customers' language. Mole will persuade readers that the task of bridging cultural gaps belongs to the foreign visitor. If the visitor does not do so, he will offend, mislead, confuse, embarrass, or insult the man whom he is trying to do business with - or, worse, his wife. If the deal is then lost he is unlikely ever to find out why.

Mole writes with remarkable perceptiveness. It is easy for a Briton to assume that Danes, Dutch and Belgians, for example, have very similar codes of behaviour: all three, after all, live in small north European countries close to the sea; all live by trade, agriculture and fishing; and all speak impossible languages. Yet the cultures of these three nations differ markedly. The author details the particular dos and don'ts that are in order in each. He also has a useful section on the UK.

Most readers will find this book full of surprises, because most people - in most countries - grow up with firm preconceptions of what other peoples are like. Actually, these preconceptions have little to do with objective reality. The common preconceptions which the Irish and Dutch, for example, have of the British are so much at variance that you wonder how two such radically different views could be found on the same planet. Travel used to be said to be mind broadening. It is not always. But this book probably will be.

(Martin van Mesdag is a business consultant and writer.)

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