Cultural Faux Paus and How Companies Can Avoid Them

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One of the most memorable cultural miscalculations in recent memory happened during the first few minutes of President Richard M. Nixon’s visit to Brazil. After landing in Brazil, for whatever reason, Dick decided to express his pleasure with the “A-Okay” hand sign. One can only assume that the leader of the free-world did not intend to “flip-off” or give “the bird” to a friendly nation, but that’s exactly what his gesture meant in Brazil. Perhaps the Brazilian people understood its other meaning in the United States, realizing that Nixon didn’t know better, but it certainly left a negative impression, and it was a BIG deal. (Wade, 2004) Cultural differences need to be considered in international business just the same as politics. In this study, well explore cultural miscalculations made by two international businesses, then we’ll examine one approach toward managing cultural issues in foreign markets, and finally, recommendations for businesses trying to understand cultural differences and avoid mistakes.

Business Cultural Miscalculations

Dominoes Pizza was unable to succeed in the Italy. According to a company spokesperson, their sauce was too bold and their toppings too heavy for Italian pallets. Furthermore, in Iceland, Dominoes was forced to make changes to their “cookie-cutter” business model by extending store hours. This was necessary to survive because Icelanders prefer to stay up late, and consequently, expect restaurants to be open late. (Gibson, 2006) Subway fast-food chain is another company that learned valuable lessons about cultural awareness. Their Director of International Operations was once quoted as saying “while we want (our partners) to be really aggressive and believe in the brand, we don’t want them to reinvent it.” (Gibson, 2006) Reinventing the brand is exactly what Subway’s franchising partners Manpreet and Gurpreet Gulri had to...
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