(From "New Hampshire International Traders' Journal"; Fall 1998)
| What do you call someone who speaks 5 languages? Answer: Call them Cambodian. Lee
Leap is the owner of the thriving Asian Market Center (AMC) in Manchester (550 Elm Street;
603-669-2183). The languages are English, Cambodian, Vietnamese, French, and Chinese. As
an international businessperson, how can you develop the cultural sensitivity Lee Leap
employs daily with her customers?
Here's a suggestion. Airline tickets to Asia and hotel rates are at an all time discount (see Dan Hussey's article in this issue). Grab your family and hop a flight to Asia. Experience the Asian culture of Bali, Beijing, or New Delhi. But, if you're a "time pressured", wage slave like me consider something more modest. Something a little closer to home. Lee Leap welcomes you to pick, pinch, smell, and kick (softly) her products from every nation in Asia. She'll even teach you how to prepare a delicious meal. Plus, you might meet someone at the store who could be a valuable business contact for you. The AMC's customers include Vietnamese, Filipinos, Indonesians, Chinese, Cambodians, Haitians, Sudanese, and Americans (the latter may have been stationed in Asia or have intercultural marriages). My last visit there I met an Ethiopian who had worked in Cambodia on a humanitarian mission.
On your field trip to the AMC try to identify (discretely!) customer's cultural preferences. How close are they to each other? (personal space or "proxemics" to an anthropologist) What is the extent of emotional expression? (low or high voice volume i.e."affect displays") What is the intensity and extent of eye contact? ("oculesics") What touching behavior ("haptics") do you observe? Is most communication verbal (using words i.e. "low context") or nonverbal (a wink, a glance, silence i.e. "high context")? I'm sure you'll find yourself mentally recording other personal observations. A wonderful resource is Aaron Wolfgang's "Everybody's Guide to People Watching" (available from Intercultural Press-1-800-370-2665).
In the movie "Wall Street", "greed is good." Don't be greedy and enjoy the cultural field trip all by yourself. Take your family or some friends along to learn, locally, about Asian culture. Did you know that many Asian cultures, in addition to being group oriented, do not make rigid distinctions between family and business? A deal may not be a deal until grandma or grandpa approve. So, in this case it's OK to bring your spouse/significant other and children along to learn about Asian culture. Your children may surprise you with their sense of adventure. My daughter has developed a fondness for Chinese shredded squid. So have my cats! By the way, the word for daughter in Cambodian is KON SREY. Cat is CMAA.
Language is culture. Take the time, be brave, and learn a few Asian words. Nothing breaks the ice as much as your willingness to learn a few expressions in another language. This indicates to Asians that you have a sincere interest in learning about their culture. At a minimum ask Lee Leap how to say "How are you"? (SOK SEBAAY CIE TEE in Cambodian) That's enough for now. You'll need a few minutes to slow down your heart rate.
Once you've mastered the grocery store field trip you're ready to move on to Phase Two of Asian cultural immersion. In this regard, one of the finest deals around is an $18 a year membership in the Chinese Cultural Society of Greater Nashua. First, allow me to disclose that as secretary of the Society I'm biased! The Society is composed of a fascinating mixture of 110 families mostly residing within a 20 mile radius of Nashua. At the Society you will hear a mix of Chinese dialects including Cantonese, Shanghaiese, Taiwanese, and Mandarin. English, of course, is also spoken. We meet four times a year at Christmas, Chinese New Year, at a summer picnic, and, for October elections. If you are interested in joining or attending one of the events contact me. I will introduce you to some of the membership and otherwise do my best to facilitate your visit.
By the way, in Mandarin Chinese "How are you?" is NI HAO. "I'm fine and you?" is WO HAO. NI NE? "Daughter" is NU ER and, to continue the language lesson, "cat" is XIAO MAO. A brief comment on culture and pets. Conversationally, don't wax eloquent about your cute cat Whiskers or faithful dog Spot (dog in Mandarin is GO). Recall that in most of the world, including Asia, pets do not occupy the special place in the household as they do in the U.S. Don't go there. Change the channel. For example, isn't the foliage beautiful? Or, I just love Chinese food! A final topic for sports fans and eternal optimists-How do you like the Red Sox next year?
Zaijian (Chinese), Lihai (Cambodian), Selamat Belajar(Indonesian), Sayonara (Japanese) means "till we meet again." May you have an interesting field trip!
Mark Friedman, president of Third-Culture, teaches and consults in business and culture. He speaks Chinese, Malay/Indonesian, French, Italian, and Czech and is learning Cambodian. email@example.com