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Cultural Faux Pas

by Doug Pitorak

People who relocate to the U.S. from foreign countries have much to adjust to. Climate, clothing and food are a few items that readily come to mind. In an unfamiliar land, clients need Realtors they can trust; however, gaining that trust with an international buyer, requires more due diligence from the Realtor than working with domestic buyers does. Here are some tidbits that will help prevent cultural clash and mixed signals, leading to a healthy – and worthwhile – agent-client relationship.

• The (No) Peace Sign •

Working with clients from the United Kingdom, Australia or South Africa? Don’t throw up the peace sign; depending on how it’s gesticulated, such clients might interpret it as Americans do the middle finger. Much of Brazil views the “A-Ok” in a similar manner

• “Yes” Means “No” •

There can be a difference in meaning “yes” or “no” – be sure you’re not saying one when you mean the other. In Bulgaria, shaking your head side to side means yes, and nodding your head means no. That is crucial information for anyone relocating to Bulgaria, as it might take some practice to get his or her signals straight.

• Keep Your Chopsticks Slanted •

Realtors might think they’re being smooth by taking their East Asian clients to the finest Asian cuisine in town, but their guests could leave them at the dinner table due to an unflattering arrangement of chopsticks; upright chopsticks are a symbolic gesture reserved for funerals in many parts of Asia. When presented in the wrong context, such chopsticks can be quite insulting.

• Put ‘er There •

In the States, handshakes are typically acted out quickly, but don’t pull away too quickly when working with a client from Fiji. There, hands remain locked for minutes at a time, often throughout the duration of a passing conversation.  

• Chewing Gum in Singapore •

Trying to connect with a client from Singapore? Ask them for the lowdown about chewing gum in their homeland. Contrary to an Internet myth, it is legal to chew gum in Singapore; however, one cannot sell it or smuggle it into the country. Bringing up this interesting and often misconstrued topic will open up the conversation.

• Talk to the Hand •

We don’t advise you to ever employ the “Talk to the hand” gesture, even in the silliest of situations. But do it to a Greek client, and that could spell trouble. Greeks consider it extremely insulting to face the palm of your hand toward someone; best to just keep your palms
facing yourself.

• Don’t Pat-ronize •

In Thailand and Laos, patting someone on the head is a huge no-no. While such behavior is already considered patronizing in America, in Southeast Asia, the head is considered holy. Therefore, don’t pat or touch your Thai client on their head.

• Odd Bunch of Flowers •

Giving flowers is widely considered a thoughtful, cheerful act. In Russia, however, even the most beautiful, exotic bouquet could give the gravest of impressions – and it all comes down to the count of flowers. An even number of flowers should only be presented at funerals; if given at other occasions, even-numbered flowers are thought to be a call for death. Count carefully when picking out that lovely, housewarming arrangement for your Russian clients.

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