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Hospitality Cultural Competence – “Why am I looking at the soles of your feet?”


Hospitality management professionals are in a unique position to develop culturally correct strategies that will support their brand’s international business plan. Nothing builds both teamwork and business better than leading the way!

While you would never give a second thought to crossing your legs in North America, in many countries this sends a negative message of premature familiarity. Worse still is draping one foot over your knee, exposing the sole of your shoe. Middle and Far Eastern cultures find the bottoms of feet or the soles of shoes to be terribly offensive. Crossing your legs and showing your soles is certain make you look disrespectful. I suggest that you keep both feet planted firmly on the ground while conducting international business.

The rules of touching vary from country to country. Your Arab business counterpart may take your hand as you walk along. This is a sign of respect and friendship between two men. Do not pull away as this would be a tremendous insult to your client or guest. Many other countries are “touch friendly.” Examples are Latin American, Italy, Greece, Spain, Russia and some Asian countries. Don’t even think of touching a business acquaintance in Japan, the United States, Canada, England or Scandinavia. This especially includes pats on the back for a job well done.

North Americans stand about 12 to 15 inches from one another when conducting business. Your Asian guests and clients generally stand much farther apart. Latins and Middle Easterners stand so close that North Americans often find themselves stepping backwards to maintain a comfort level. Just hold still and let your global guest set the ground rules. Remember to keep your hands at your sides and avoid any unnecessary gestures.


Avoid the “O.K.” and other gestures while abroad or receiving international guests. This sign may signal an unspecified obscenity in Russia, Germany and Brazil. Avoid the “thumbs-up” sign; this is very, very bad in Australia, Nigeria and other countries. Think of it as advising your international guest where that thumb might fit. Former President George Bush flashed what he thought was the “V” for victory to Australians in 1991. Had he been out and about he would have been inviting a fight. Try not to gesture at all. Keep your hands at your sides and for goodness sake, don’t touch anyone! Unnecessary touching is insulting. Never pat a child’s head. In most countries only dogs are patted on the head.

There is so much to know about working in the international hospitality arena: international dining skills, global communication styles, gift giving protocol, eye contact and more, worldwide. The information needed to be competitive in this industry is extensive.

Be prepared to lead the way in this great business! Hospitality professionals are members of the best team in the world! Research your guest’s country or, before the visit, have a certified international protocol professional brief you. Go ahead and showcase your leadership skills by becoming the culturally knowledgeable “go to” person on your property!

Excerpts of blog taken from the book: Hospitality Management – People Skills & Manners on and off the Job. Copyright © 2015 Lyn Pont, PhD

— Isadore Sharp, chairman and founder, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

“Pont’s book is a must-read for anyone considering a career in hospitality.”

See the book at: www.HospitalityManners.com

Visit Lyn at: www.MannersForBusiness.com

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