Be careful not to insult business people from other cultures with comments you mean as compliments

When dealing with people from other cultures be careful you do not insult them – even if you intend a comment as a compliment.


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Things that might be positive in YOUR culture can be offensive in their culture.



In  previous post, I shared about a Balinese guide who called me FAT – meaning it as a compliment. Link at the end of this post.


In this post I share about how I had to “recover” when I risked insulting a business woman from China.


A quick context


I am proud to call myself a down-to-earth, laid-back “Country Kid” who moved to the city.

I come from North Queensland, Australia where life moves at a slower pace – at least it did when I was a kid.


I remember flying “home” to North Queensland when I was a TV reporter covering a visit from then US President Bill Clinton.


I lived and worked in Sydney at the time and the locals encouraged me and my TV crew to slow down rather than rushing around at SYDNEY pace. The locals were laid-back and relaxed.


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Anyway, I was helping a Chinese business woman and she had, in my opinion, a comforting laid-back demeanor. She looked relaxed. She sounded relaxed. She sounded “chilled”.

Her smiling face changed to a frown when I asked if she was “from the country”.


To me, being from the country seemed to be a positive thing.


But as I later found out, to her, the country was for uneducated peasants. She was educated and sophisticated and was from THE CITY not THE COUNTRY!


I had to explain that I meant it as a compliment and that I was originally from a laid-back country area and proud of it –  rather than from a busy, big city.

Her frown DID turn back into a smile, but this experience taught me that what I think is positive and a compliment may not be a compliment to others.


I encourage you to find out about other cultures you are dealing with in business.


I often help “Westerners” dealing with different Asian cultures and Asian businesses dealing with different Western Cultures.


When I first started working with different Asian cultures about ten years ago had to adjust to things like their constant enquiries about age and family. I’ll share more about these topics in future posts.


Here’s a link to the FAT post.

You are so FAT!




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These days, lots of people and organisations need help with how to COPE with too much work, too much information, too many meetings, delivering difficult news, business writing, effective e-mail, e-mail overload, cross-cultural communication, better social media engagement etc. I like to help people COPE.







2 thoughts on “Be careful not to insult business people from other cultures with comments you mean as compliments

  1. I teach ESL in the US. One of my favorite topics of conversation what is rude/not rude in the different countries of the students. They are always surprised. One of the most recent discoveries that I didn’t know before is that Koreans and many other Asians always accept a piece of paper with two hands when it is given to them by someone who either older or in a higher position. I often wonder if they think I’m being rude by just handing things out with one hand. Probably not since I’m both older and in a higher position, but interesting!

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