Tag Archives: international

Why Going to Conferences Pays

Or ‘The Remaining 6 Things I learnt at the Washington conference of FIGT’. (For details of the Families in Global Transition organisation, see this website: http://www.figt.org/).  This is Part Two from yesterday’s blog and I couldn’t resist this beautiful image of the cherry blossoms, although they did not quite look like that last week, more like a hesitant pink mist. *

Spring in Washington DC

7.  No matter how many coffee breaks, working lunches and dinners there are, you will never get a chance to meet all the interesting people you want to meet (including all your Twitter friends).   I keep looking at the attendee list and saying: ‘Oh, no, he was there too?  Oh, no,  how could I have missed her?’

8. One group of expats that was under-represented are the academics.  So, Ph.D. students,post-docs and lecturers from different cultures who meet abroad, get married and then move on to the next position.  They do represent a different kettle of fish than diplomats or missionaries or army personnel, because in many cases the spouses want to continue their research careers as well, so the ‘trailing spouse’ scenario is even more unacceptable.  On the other hand, I wonder if there are differences in how these highly-educated parents are talking to their children during these global transitions. 

9. You go there for the big ideas, but you come back with lots of little practical tips.  I now have a clearer understanding of how to add the pesky Twitter button on my blog, where to find excellent stock photos and what refreshments to serve to your international writers’ group.

10. You might even find yourself a job.  Having exchanged business cards and kept in touch, a number of participants at previous conferences were top of mind when companies were looking to recruit specialists.

11. Don’t forget your camera !  I did and was cursing about it daily.  It would have been an excellent opportunity to capture images of all the friends I made, to conduct short interviews with the numerous experts there… and perhaps to have my own pictures of cherry blossoms.

12.  Take a little bit of time off.  No matter how passionate you are about your subject area, the long days in an enclosed space, overdosing on caffeine, will wear you out.  Do recharge your batteries and see something of the town you are in, especially if you are as fortunate with the weather as we were last week.  I used to work a few months a year in DC, so I didn’t feel the need to go to all the museums this time, but I did reconnect with some dear friends, go for walks in old favourite haunts and enjoy authentic Mexican food (which is a bit harder to find in the UK).  It felt like a mini-break and I am sure helped with the digestion of information!

What do you like best about international conferences?  And what annoys you most about them?  Perhaps next time I will talk about that.

*  For the original image and more details about the cherry blossom festival in DC, look at this website  http://chuvachienes.com/2010/03/28/the-national-cherry-blossom-festival-in-washington-dc/

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12 Things I Learnt at the Washington Conference

Just back from the wonderful FIGT (Families in Global Transition) Conference in Washington DC http://www.figt.org/2011_conference and I am sitting in groggy but rapt contemplation of all that I have seen, heard, encountered and learnt.   I feel somewhat like a boa constrictor who has just swallowed a very large animal and now needs a bit of time to digest.

Conference logo

Washington DC. March 17-19

Here are just a few of the small and big revelations of the past five days, in no particular order:

1) American conferences are slick, well-organised and colour-coordinated, even when run by volunteers.  But yes, the air conditioning is fierce…

2) With concurrent sessions, there will always be clashes between two or even three or four sessions that you really, really want to attend.  Resign yourself to the fact that you cannot possibly see them all.  Or, even better, go with a friend, divide up the sessions and ensure both take copious notes.

3) Interculturalists love to talk and meet people!  It was the friendliest atmosphere I have ever experienced at a conference.  The emphasis seemed to be upon collaboration rather than competition (which, having been to some academic conferences, is not always the case).

4) Despite your good intentions, you will come home loaded with books.  Yes, I could have bought them afterwards on Amazon and had them delivered to my house, but what would I have read on the plane?  And how else would I have got the authors to sign them?  Expect some book reviews shortly.

5) You’ll get a lifetime’s worth of memorable quotes.

6) Everyone hates the term ‘trailing spouse’.  Thanks to Jo Parfitt, writer,  publisher and global nomad http://www.joparfitt.com/ ,who suggested that maybe we should refer to this category as STARs (spouses travelling and relocating) and STUDs (spouses transitioning under duress).

Now, excuse me while I settle back to digest some more….

Ah, I hear you say, but where are the remaining 6 things you have learnt?  There will be another blog post later this week about this, I promise!

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Valentine’s Day Around the World

Call me an old grumpy boots, but I don’t like Valentine’s Day.  I don’t see the point of spending a lot of money on overpriced chocolates, flowers and cards, when the best way to show your love is to be thoughtful and helpful the remaining 364 days of the year!

Yet last night I managed not to laugh as my little sons painstakingly wrote and illustrated their very first Valentine’s cards.  I suppose my ‘bah-humbug’ attitude has something to do with the fact that I grew up in countries where this day was never celebrated.  It was a shock to the system to arrive in the UK at the age of 25 and have to comfort grown women crying on my shoulder because they hadn’t received any secret Valentines…

Of course international florists and confectionery companies have tried to expand the tradition worldwide, but some countries are still bravely holding out.  In China, for instance, the day of love falls on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, and it’s more geared towards the celebration of daughters and hoping they will find a suitable marriage partner.  In Romania and Bulgaria the 1st of March is celebrated, both as a way of thanking women for their contribution to the family and society, and also to celebrate the arrival of Spring.  In Japan, traditionally it used to be the women who were pampered with gifts on the 14th of March, but in recent years women have started giving gifts to their lovers as well.  When?  Well, conveniently enough, a month earlier, on the 14th of February – reciprocity being, of course, very important in Japanese culture.

Although even the above countries are succumbing somewhat to the commercial phenomenon of Valentine’s Day, Brazil is still steadfastly against it.  They have a ‘love day’ in June, but February is just too busy with carnival to worry about anything else.

Symbol of Sprin

Martisor - symbol of spring

So I’ll neither encourage nor discourage my children to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  After all, they have to fit in with their schoolmates.  But I will subtly let them know it’s not important if you don’t receive any Valentines, and that there are other days in the year too for expressing their feelings.  And they’d better learn to give me a Martisor on the 1st of March, or else…!

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Top 7 Cultural Generalisations and Beliefs

There are some pervasive beliefs about cultural similarities and differences that I hear bandied around not only by people I meet casually, but even (bless them!) by some family members who should know better after living with me as an aunt, cousin or daughter for so many years.  While none of them are downright racist or malicious, uninformed good intentions can be just as damaging. 

Multicoloured and multicultural

Variety is the spice of life

1. Live and let live, I always say…

Great in theory, but in practice it often covers the sin of not being at all interested in the Other, and wishing to banish them to some kind of ghetto.  Out of sight is out of mind, but that is not living together in good cultural integration.

2. Underneath it all, we are all human…

Again, beautifully idealistic statement, but how often is this used to deny difference?

3. Everyone travels nowadays, so we all know different cultures.

I’ve written a blog post about this before https://sandaionescu.wordpress.com/2010/09/28/being-made-redundant/ but I will just reiterate that, although travelling does broaden the mind, it depends on whether you travel with an open mind and try to get to know the different countries on a more in-depth level than just the beach, the Hilton, the Margarita…

4. Everyone speaks English, so why should I bother to learn anything else?

Estimates vary (and figures can change rapidly), but indications are that between two thirds and three quarters of the world’s population does not speak English.  Besides, the English that does get spoken in different parts of the world may be quite different from what native speakers might be used to.

5. English is THE language of the Internet.

It certainly used to be, but the percentage of Web content that is entirely in English has decreased dramatically in recent years, while Chinese, Spanish, Japanese and German are catching up.

6. I have nothing against these people in general, but why can’t they be more like us (when it comes to democracy or religion or crowd behaviour or business etiquette or…)?

This is the big one and a source of frustration to many when interacting with different cultures or setting up a business abroad.  All I can say is that my parents, husband or children are not very much like me either… although I have nothing against family in general!

7. I’ll be fine when I move abroad, I don’t need any preparation.

Some will be and some will not.  Those who are fine may be so purely by chance, or because they have a company or spouse or friend who makes life easy for them.  Some may be ‘in survivor mode’, rather than truly enjoying their life in another country.  Some may be counting the days until they move back.  Isn’t that sad?  Aren’t those years too part of your life?

While it is true that no one can prepare you for every single eventuality and emergency of your life abroad, having some idea of what to expect will ensure that you don’t rely entirely on luck to thrive in your new location.

What other generalisations have you heard which amused or frustrated you?  And how do you respond to them?

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International Marketing Mistakes – the Answers

Do your international marketing attempts 'suck'?

Thank you all for some interesting suggestions for the international marketing mistakes described in my previous blog.  A combination of linguistic and cultural reasons, and quite a few of my international friends were spot on!  I am not claiming that any of the reasons below were the SOLE reason for things not going according to plan, of course.  Launching a product internationally is always going to a complex operation with many potential failure points.  But here is my interpretation of events:

1) ‘V’ is pronounced ‘f’ in German, and ‘Fick-en’ is a rude word in that language. LESSON: Don’t neglect pronounciation of words!

2) Indians don’t really like cereal with milk for breakfast.  Kelloggs tinkered with the packaging and flavour, but neglected that fundamental cultural difference.  LESSON:  Don’t make assumptions that there is a gap in the market – the gap may be there for a reason!

3) Pajero in Spanish means ‘w**ker’ and ‘Pinto’ is Brazilian slang for suggesting a man is less than well-endowed.  LESSON: Make sure you know what your fanciful name means in the markets you are targeting.

4) It was thought that Barbie’s breasts were too big for the Japanese market.  LESSON:  Sometimes people want the exotic, but not too exotic.

5) ‘Shito’ – well, we all know what that sounds like in English, regardless of how long or short the first vowel may be intended to be.

6) Hallmark was considered too syrupy by French consumers, who also prefer writing their own messages in cards.  LESSON: Understand your target market.

7) In countries where handmade gifts have been the norm for decades (because there was nothing else to buy), there is a hunger for slick mass-produced goods.  LESSON:  Do not patronise your new market.

8) Dairy products never do well in Japan, partly for cultural and partly for physiological reasons (high incidence of lactose intolerance).  The focus groups should have uncovered that, but researchers had not realised that the surveyed Japanese consumers would consider it rude to make critical comments about the product and therefore were reluctant to admit that they would not buy it.  LESSON: Make sure you are asking the right questions.

9) The Indians felt insulted that Mercedes was producing an older model of their car for the Indian market.  LESSON: Do not make people feel you have made the buying decision for them.  Do not make assumptions about what people are prepared to spend.

10) ‘Sucks’ is a derogative term in the US and could roughly translate as ‘low-quality’ or even ‘terrible’.  LESSON:  Get your translations and idioms right.

Are there any other explanations you can think of?  What about other fun examples of  messages going astray when they cross borders?

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Favourite International Marketing Mistakes

Getting your name, brand, image, colour, strapline and even product right when you go abroad can be a real challenge even to big, established corporations.  It’s often about a lot more than just correct translation – it’s about cultural awareness, doing your research and making sure that you understand what your research results mean (that you are interpreting them correctly).

As a fun Friday activity, here are a few of my favourite examples.  See if you can spot what happened in each case:

1) The company Vicks had to change its name in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

2) Kelloggs breakfast cereals did not take off as expected in India, even when they introduced mango and rosewater-flavoured cereal.

Geneva Car Show - car manufacturers are particularly vulnerable to misinterpretation with their fanciful names

3) Mitsubishi Pajero changed its name to Montero in Latin America and Spain, and to Shogun in the UK.  Ford Pinto also had to change its name in Brazil after disappointing sales.

4) The first Barbie doll in Japan attracted comment but very few sales.

5) Shito Sweetmix will never do well in the UK/US market.

6) Hallmark cards had to admit failure in France.

7) A small but exclusive company specialising in personalised, hand-made gifts and cards could not understand why it was failing to capture the imagination of the Eastern European market.

8) French dairy group organised focus groups and market research in Japan and was pretty sure that yoghurt was the next big thing to an increasingly Westernised palate there.  But their product bombed when it was launched.

9) Mercedes Benz E-Class Sedans were selling only 10% of their Indian-based manufacturing output to Indians.

10) OK, this is a well-known one, but it always makes me laugh….   ‘Nothing sucks like an Electrolux’ did not do wonders for sales of the Swedish vacuum-cleaner in the US.

Answers coming on Monday!

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The Cross-Cultural Wizard

The Times called him ‘the ultimate hybrid’, which sounds rather strange and robotic until you remember that this man does run two of the biggest car manufacturers in the world, Nissan and Renault.  But to me he is a cross-cultural wizard.  Who am I talking about?  Carlos Ghosn, of course!

Carlos Ghosn in Action

So am I just adding to the column inches of all the journalists and even market analysts who have fallen under his spell, even if they don’t quite fall in love with the first mass-market electric car, the Nissan Leaf?  Well, I think he is a remarkable example of that new breed of ‘global leader’ and we are going to need many more of those in the future.

Born in Brazil to a French mother and Lebanese father, he spent part of his childhood in Lebanon, then went to study in Paris and started his working life as a trainee at Michelin.  I remember when he took over as president of Nissan in 2000, my Japanese contacts (and many others) were predicting failure.  There was no way Nissan would accept to play second fiddle to Ghosn’s Renault responsibilities and loyalties.  But ten years later, he has surprised them all. 

He has managed to avoid a full merger of the two companies, and I do genuinely believe that is not because it wouldn’t be good for the stock price or market share or marketing strategies.  Because it might well benefit all of those, at least in the short term.  But I think he has listened to his employees and understood the different cultures and the strong sense of identity that each company has.  There is no point in creating synergy by enforcing sameness.  Instead he shares his time, but I believe above all his listening skills and his enthusiasm, very skillfully between the two companies, navigating easily between the two national and corporate cultures and even languages.  He learnt Japanese, which is by no means an easy language, quite late in life.

What other examples of such leaders can you think of?  Not many.  I am hopeful, however, that the younger generation will think Ghosn’s trajectory is not exceptional, but the norm.

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