Quoting funky hit tracks from the early ‘70s may be unwise in 2013. But even if you don’t recall the Staples Singers, Joe Cocker, or Jean Knight, the messages are still clear. Actually, the line “Who Do You Think You Are?” is from Ms. Knight’s song “Mr. Big Stuff.” Her question was posed to a roué who had “fancy clothes and a big fine car.”
Evidently, Mr. Big Stuff did not have the qualities that Ms. Knight desired and she moved on. But is there anything really wrong with putting your personal wealth on public display? Driving up in a performance car can electrify prospects in Miami, Monte Carlo and Dubai (the United Arab Emirates has its own Grand Prix and many Emiratis love discussing hot cars). But ostentation can easily send the wrong message in the Netherlands, Sweden and other egalitarian societies. Humility and frugality are coming back into vogue at the Vatican too – under the ascetic new Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis.
Qualities like compassion, courage and loyalty are almost universally admired. But other characteristics, like stoicism, are highly respected in many parts of Asia. Just ask any OB/GYN who has delivered babies for Hmong or Japanese women. Physicians have been caught unaware that a birth is imminent because the mothers are so quiet during labor. Enormous self-control was also evident during the catastrophic tsunami in Japan. Want to be respected in Japan? Be intelligent, humble, thoughtful, a good sport and never whine.
Along with cultivating qualities that are appreciated in different cultures, it is important to avoid behaviors that are considered unproductive or insulting. Here are a few traits that international executives and managers commonly mention when asked “What do you think of business people from the US?” (Please click the link to see more of my "World Wise" Business Traveler Magazine Column.)
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