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10 Ways Food and Social Tradition Influence Culture

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Those who travel or relocate for business know that the customs surrounding food and culture in other countries are foreign and intriguing. New spices, gestures, places, and phrases can be overwhelming to the senses if a business traveler or expat is not properly prepared. For the global citizens who have received appropriate training, they can dive right into enriching cultural exploration, confident in their polished ability to represent themselves and their company properly.

Here, we share a few easily digestible “bites” of information that will help you become a successful businessperson in your destination country.

 

FOOD

On flavor:

Certain flavors and techniques are prominent in regions around the world. Local ingredients and years of historic influence have gradually shaped each cuisine. As a result of this, food trends have occurred since human groups began interacting. Even today, consider how umami, a building block of Asian dishes, was only recently discovered and defined by western chefs as the “fifth taste” (after salt, sweet, sour, and bitter). For further reading, click the links if you’re interested in learning about why some cultures love the tastes you hate or how food preferences are formed.

On foreign influences:

From trading spices along the Silk Road to the development of tikka masala in the United Kingdom, people have been sharing their culinary traditions for centuries. Today, we can observe the role of Spam in Korean food or the confectionary drink-centric menu in Japanese Starbucks. Cuisine isn’t just influenced by other nations though; in large countries, areas with high ethnic minorities or regions near borders, you will likely notice how food takes on elements of subcultures.

When you are sharing a meal with global coworkers, ask about ingredients that are new to you and explain how different techniques are used in your home country. This exchange of knowledge has been an important part of cultural discovery for years, and you can contribute too!

Image of a chef at work in Japan

On ritual:

Good table manners are introduced at a young age and enforced until they become habit. The etiquette surrounding eating and drinking, therefore, is ingrained in a culture. If you are unfamiliar with a major tradition, it will be very apparent and perhaps even offensive to your global teammates. The complex etiquette code must be taught; you can prepare appropriately by receiving Global Workforce Development training prior to your departure.

On taboo:

Typically, we may think of “taboo” in the realm of actions. However, there are also foods that are considered forbidden for religious or cultural reasons. Be sure you are aware if your Muslim coworkers don’t consumer alcohol, if your Jewish team requests Kosher foods, or if your Hindu coworkers avoid beef. You may also notice that there are bans on certain foods in some countries; for example, GMOs are prohibited in European food but permitted in the United States.

 

SOCIAL

On ethics:

Is bribing an acceptable practice in the location where you do business, but not in your home country? Can you give or accept a gift from your international coworker? You’ll generally be required to follow the laws of business in the country where the headquarters of your company is located. Before you depart, be sure to talk with your Human Resources team to familiarize yourself with these policies. You do not want to be caught unprepared in an ethical situation that could result in legal action abroad.

Image of button do you need cultural training

On technology:

Technology has revolutionized the way global teams interact. Virtual teams can communicate with ease and view project progress with a few clicks. For expats, technology can help lessen feelings of homesickness, as familiar faces are just a video call away. For business travelers, they may notice that the ways people use technology differs from culture to culture. It is important to speak to someone familiar with the culture before trying to communicate with technology, which eliminates many important visual cues in conversation.

On history and identity:

Having a basic understanding of local history and regional identities will help you relate more closely to your coworkers. With knowledge of political tensions or historical reasons for certain behaviors, your global team will be able to function more smoothly. Also, consider religious observations; you may be confused if you don’t hear from your partners in Israel until you realize it is Rosh Hashanah.  

Image of a book

On group dynamics and relationship building:

One of the most useful aspects of cultural training is the invaluable insight provided on becoming an effective cross-cultural communicator. As a businessperson heading to an unfamiliar destination, you would want to know if your foreign coworkers expect you to get down to business as soon as you arrive or prefer to get to know you over drinks before talking about work. Should you ask questions during the meeting, or is it better to email a coworker after you head back to your desk? You’ll need to know things like the power distance, or structure of command in the new destination, in order to make your global team feel respected and motivated.

Download our Cultural Best Practices

On communication:

Miscommunication is at the root of many business blunders. Between varying levels of language fluency and non-verbal interpretations, substantial amounts of time and money slip away among untrained global teams. For more details on the challenges of working on a global team, read another blog post here.


If you want to ensure that you or your team have proper conduct while engaging in global business, click the button below to find a cultural training solution that will be the best fit. There is no excuse anymore for cultural blunders in the workplace; news travels fast and can be extremely detrimental to your business. Safeguard your reputation by receiving the proper training. Get started with CultureCloud

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