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The cultures of Slovakia and France are very interesting to compare and contrast. Despite of seemingly same interests in good food, nice suits, ties or watches, the culture of both countries differs in many important details, communication and customs.
Despite of fact that the meeting happened three years ago, IÂ was thinking about this meeting many times . IÂ replayed that meeting in my head over and over, trying to find out what went wrong... Over time by doing some research on internet, IÂ came to the conclusion that our failure to close that business deal successfully, lied very much in our cultural differences and communication.
The way to look at this topic can be by a simple comparing: eating and drinking good food and drinks is very important for French people, more important than for Slovaks who tend to sacrifice their lunch time in order to finish their work and leave home early. The French would miss their lunch only in critical situation. For them, the lunch is not only about eating...
Explaining Cross-Cultural Communications
"The term "cross-cultural" implies interaction with persons of different cultural, ethnic, racial, gender, sexual orientation, religious, age and class backgrounds. Cross-cultural communication is a process of exchanging, negotiating, and mediating one's cultural differences through language, non-verbal gestures, and space relationships.Â It is also the process by which people express their openness to an intercultural experience." (Clarke and Sanchez, 2001).
The cross cultural communication as aÂ field encompassing many other fields as cultural studies, anthropology, communication, psychology and linguistics. In these days of globalization, to speak some other language like our own for example Spanish, Chinese or Arabic is a necessity. English is anÂ absolute must. Not less important in cross-cultural communication is to understand the way of living, thinking and acting of other cultures which are based significantly in one's nation past, customs and religion. With the globalization, especially with expansion and enlargement of global trade and therefore travel, we are witnessing the need for, and interest in, information's about other cultures.
There is anticipation that with continued globalization the different cultures will meet, collide and blend together. There are same history based predictions about what will probably happen, who will dominate the globalized worldâ€¦ The main parameters for determining who has the best chance to lead the globalized world seems to be the parameters of long term cultural coherence, nation's largeness and economical progress. So, to learn Chinese may be a good thing to doâ€¦
French and Slovak culture and behaviour
Slovakia is a very relationship based culture and has a small business community. People are informal and usually working on a first name basis. They enjoy good humor and charm, tend to be direct in public but reserved in private. Quoting Archbishop Giovanni Cappa Vatican Ambassador to Slovakia 1993 "tried and tested but newer broken over long centuries of adversity; humble and simple people, clever, bound to their land and traditions as expressed in their poetry, their music, and the colors of a rich folklore; a people as hard and tenacious as their Tatra Mountains, as serene and optimistic as the green expanse of their valleys and forests; a people, above all deeply attached to the values of their European civilization; honesty, hard work, family..." (Edwards B. 2011). Slovaks in general, are considered to be friendly. Despite of this, it is appropriate to call them by their family name, including aÂ academic title as Engineer or Doctor. It is very common to use only the Mr - Pán or Mrs - Pani extended of their academic title. To use personal names whitout the invitation is considered indecorous. An invitation to use aÂ personal names is proposed by senior person, usually at the first personal meeting, along with aÂ toast of Slovak alcohol - commonly "Slivovica".
The French are very proud of their heritage and culture, aware of their presence and their long history and important roles in world affairs, which others can consider exaggerated. "Foreigners looking at France from the viewpoint of their own cultural values often misunderstand French reactions and preceive contradictions in the collective behavior of the French"(Steele R. 2004).
The social adhesive of France is the family which provides financial and emotional support and where each member has certain responsibilities and duties. For French, the education is of great importance .Â This is demonstrated by the fact, that the education for French citizens is almost free of charge. French people have great passion in food... French meals are carefully prepared, highly refined with attention to detail and most importantly - use of fresh ingredients. Meals are heavily influenced by what is grown locally, and they vary by region. French will more likely drink Cognac than Slivovica...
French and Slovak appearance
The French are always enjoyable to meet. Our business partners came exactly on time and were very well dressed. It was obvious that they care very much about their appearance. The French dress conservatively and they like to were well-tailored clothing. French usually wear white, colored or striped shirts and trendy but serious ties. They prefer quality watches and shoes.
Our French business partners were dressed in dark blue, quality suits. One of them had a white shirt and dark red tie with delicate pattern. The other French had patterned blue colored shirt, and plane, dark red tie. The third person had an black suit, grey shirt, black tie and big but modern, black colored glasses (he was German).
Our "Slovak side" came one by one. The city representative who's presence was critical for the meeting, came 20 minutes after the meeting startedâ€¦ We were all dressed in suits. But our suits were of different quality and colors. I was dressed in dark grey suit, had plane white shirt and dark red tie. The other persons of our team were dressed in light colored suits with patterned ties, harmonically not tuned in with the rest of clothes.
While doing research on the internet I found difficult to find something like "Slovak business dress code". It is maybe due to the fact, that Slovaks understand the dress code as something simple - if there is a need to be dressed by the "Dress code" or decently, Slovaks usually understand that there is a need to wear suit. Slovak woman are usually better dressed than Slovak mans. They care very much about their appearance. Food is a different storyâ€¦
"The importance of eating and drinking in France can not be overstated. Don't raise business concerns before the end of aÂ meal" (Mulholland L., Owen D., 2007).
Well, in retrospective, it seems we did everythink wrong...
French and Slovak business meetings and communication
French written communication and communication in person are different. French are not afraid of asking probing questions. They are very direct in person. On the other hand, French are very polite in writing. Having a business meeting with French business partners, formality and courtesy in French behaviour can be noticed. Respect and mutual trust is expected. Trust can be earned by establishing a wide network of personal business alliances, and thru proper behaviour. "The French like to have a réseau de relations - a network of people who are always ready to help each other in personal and professional affairs" (Brame, 2008). I found out during our business meeting in KoÅ¡ice, that French consider meetings as an occasion to discuss their views, not as a place to take decisions. We were discussing and discussing and discussing, but somehow couldn't get to the point of making a decision...
Business by French is conducted slowly. Usually, it is counterproductive to use high pressure tactics. French, as in our case will take time to make decision on important issue. They not appreciate over statements or exaggeration. French can be impressed by good debating skills. Prepare for, that French will analyse and debate even minute details. Business in French is very hierarchical. Decisions are usually made by the top management of the company. During our business meeting, we noticed that our business partners where trying to figure out who in our group is the person with decision-making power. They were very well prepared for this meeting, and they knew, that decisions in Slovakia, even the minute ones, are made by most senior person in the team - not necessarily by reaching general agreement. We can say that this approach is fairly similar in both cultures. When an agreement is reached, the French usually insist it be formalized in a precisely worded, extremely comprehensive contract written in French language.
We agreed that all our contracts will be written in English, not in French or Slovak.
It seems that the culture of individual nations and it's understanding, can play a significant role in achieving a better position in business negotiations. If you want a do business with French, to know their language is very helpful. If you don't speak French, learning few key phrases in French can help in attempt to demonstrate your interest in establishing a long - term relationship. If you are planning to have a business meeting with French, dress well. French are taking the matter of dressing very seriously. They consider dressing as expression of someone's status. If you meeting your French business partners for the first time, welcome them by using few French words. Then exchange business cards. If you want a make an impression, secure that one side of your business card will be translated in French. If you plan to have a meeting in the restaurant or to invite your French business partners for lunch, let them choose the restaurant, or invite them to your country's traditional restaurant. Never start talking about business, before finishing the lunch or a diner. French can be very direct in person and they are known to analyse even minute detailsâ€¦ - so be prepared.
Before meeting the French, especially if meeting for business, learn about French culture and use this knowledge to your advantage. If you think French are just another European nation same as Germans, Spanish or Italians, you are heading for a big surprise. - They are NOT. I read somewhere that a business meeting with Arabs would be probably less complicatedâ€¦
Edwards B. (2011), Slovakia - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture, first published in Great Britain 2011 by Kupererd, an inprint of Bravo Ltd.
Steele R., (2004), The French Way : Aspects of Behavior, Attitudes, and Customs of the French, Copyright 2006 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Brame G., (2008), Living and Working in France, first published in Great Britain as Chez Vous en France - Living & Working in France by Kogan Page Limited in 1999.
Mulholland L., Owen D., (2007), FRANCE BUSINESS CULTURE REPORT, UKTI East of England, Retrieved September 20, 2012, from website: www.misco project.eu/France_Culture_ Field_Re
Clarke G., Cull R., Peria M., Sanchez S.M. (2003), Foreign Bank Entry: Experience, Implications for Developing Countries, and Agenda for Further Research. - Washington, Retrieved September 20, 2012, Gotland University, from website: mainweb.hgo.se/amnen/interkommunikation.nsf/