I recently took my kids on vacation to London, filled with all of the wonderfully touristy things you have free license to do when accompanying a nine and 12-year-old to a city for the first time. Our usual practice is to rent an apartment where we travel as a way to have a bit more space, have the ability to make our own meals at odd, jet-lag driven times of the day, and to feel like a part of a neighborhood.
One afternoon, as I was about to heat up some leftover Indian food (note: London), I glanced at the microwave in our rental’s kitchen. Like most microwaves of recent vintage, it had a few buttons you could press to quickly heat things up.
At first, I was amused by the listing of assumed-most-popular British foods to reheat. I stretched my brain to think of what was on mine at home; it turns out this is popcorn, only. (This commentary on U.S. culinary habits is a whole other blog post, waiting to happen.)
In addition to being able to use the perfectly matched “curry” setting to heat up… well, curry, it made me think a bit about what we tell U.S.-based organizations about going global. One of the first things our MCI teams warn against is taking an existing program, document, website, etc., essentially hitting “Google translate” and then launching it on a new geographic market.
We spend a lot of time working with our local offices around the world to ensure we are culturally competent. For our clients who hold events in India, we have found that there are some cultural differences in how we approach start times for events so we work to set clear expectations. This extends to print deadlines for event collateral and even what time our guests show up for dinner. Also, it’s important to pick-up on the niceties of different cultures. For example, people from Great Britain like to sign-off an email with a double positive such as “Thank you, best wishes.” Or in Sweden, many invoices are mailed through the postal service, so if you need the invoice fast, you’ll have to specifically request an electronic version.
We also work with our Geneva-based company to remind them that “organization” is spelled with a Z in the U.S. and that Americans view the word “Congress” as synonymous with our government, rather than a large meeting. It is important to speak to people truly where they live – using language, images, and examples that make current and prospective stakeholders feel comfortable and welcomed within a community.
For more of MCI Group’s great work on this topic, please see https://www.mci-group.com/~/media/Files/Thought_Leadership/GEI2016.ashx.
Although I was in an English-speaking country, it seems the U.S. need for quickly cooked popcorn wouldn’t fly in the U.K. – just as I know cooking fish in any shared microwave is an absolute taboo here. It was a great reminder of both how important and relatively easy it is to serve local markets using local insights – and how my curry emerged piping hot.
Erin Fuller is the president of association management and consulting at MCI USA. Her favorite moment during her trip to London was spent on the Tea Bus, having high tea on the top of a double-decker while driving around London.