This summer I was privileged to travel with a businessman who has had decades of experience in cross-cultural business across Ireland and Africa (from North Africa to years living in South Africa). My eyes were opened more and more to what doing cross-cultural business looks like, as he told stories, ran training sessions and spoke informally as we travelled the road together to diverse settings and met with other business owners and managers.
But all in all, cross-cultural business is getting harder to achieve, even for those willing to put themselves out on a limb, learn and seek to culturally understand the setting they are in. One such young family from the USA recently tried to come to Ireland, and yet despite the fact they were not taking anyone’s job from here (we wouldn’t have employed someone), they still found the Visa system too hard to gain easy entry. Similar stories are coming back to me from Pakistan to America and beyond.
Here are just a few of the hurdles (hilarious and sensible) in some of the countries I was in this summer:
- you come from a country with no reciprocal tax agreement, so have to pay 68% on every income and property you have in the whole world.
- you must do business with 60% of its income from outside the country
- you must meet all the necessary requirements, even when the officials themselves do not know what the legislation says.
- you must not employ another western person, without first employing 7 local people.
- you must build a warehouse for your business, even when you do not need a warehouse to function
And perhaps a few of the corresponding reasons below:
- people cheat in their taxes and pretend they are paying them in another jurisdiction, so you must assume they are not, unless proved otherwise
- you want to expand the economy from rich nations and foreign investment
- leaving arbitrary laws means you can act how you wish in certain situations
- you don’t want to take away jobs from local people but to empower them
- you want every business to also grow the construction industry locally
Doing cross-cultural business is hard, and that’s without considering the language as well, and how a business may need to culturally adapt from another part of the world.
Controversial as it has been, Mr Trump’s policy banning certain nationalities (mostly Islamic) from America, is nothing new at all, as many other countries will ban people who are different to them from working in that country. I think of Christians friends thrown out of Muslim countries, despite the good work they were doing in that land. I think of LGBTQ rights campaigners thrown out of Russia and atheists from the Middle East.
Quite often the motive that it takes to move to a foreign culture and live in such difference, must be a strong-willed one. And therefore it often is something contrary to that culture’s values or beliefs that people travel to promote. Particularly when the individual is moving to the third world or developing world, few locals can understand why they have come, and forthright answers often can’t be given for fear of their lives or livelihood!
All in all, I wish it were as easy or simple as all the scenarios below in this famous advert series! But to anyone who has managed to cross significant linguistic and cultural barriers to run a business, I take my hat off to you!