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8 Tips to Understand the Culture of Your Product Sourcing Country

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I was speaking with a friend the other day, and she told me when she went to Thailand, and she had no idea that you could not point your feet at anyone in Thailand. She has pointed her feet at a lady, and the lady got very upset with her and came over and told her to put her feet down.

If she had taken the time to study what was culturally acceptable in Thailand, she would have understood that you never tough someone’s head in Thailand, you do not point your feet at another person, and you never speak ill of the monarchy.

It is important to understand the culture of the country you are sourcing products from you can: 1) check a map, 2) do your homework about the place you are buying from, 3) show a genuine interest in the country and culture, 4) try to learn a few basic words of the local language, 5) see a few of the cultural sites, 6) be adventurous in trying new foods, 7) ask intelligent questions about the country and 8) find topics of conversation that will reach out across the cultural divide.

Here are some of our reasons for our top 8 tips to better understand the country you are sourcing and buying products from.

Check Out A Map

If you are going to buy from another country or even another place in your own country, pull out a map to see where you are buying. This is a straightforward and basic step that many people miss.

Here are the reasons you want to check out a map:

  • Understand the location\ you are buying from – If you are going to buy something from someone you should know where it is coming from. By simply looking on a map, it can help to show you a lot of things about your purchase, such as how far away their location is from a major seaport, major airport, or other major transportation routes.
  • Can help you with logistics – Buying is only one of the steps in the supply chain. Getting the products to you promptly is another important part of the supply chain. Sometimes, transportation to get the product can be the most challenging and costly part of the purchase.
  • Give you general information – I find it is good to know where you are buying from as it will give you some basic general information that could come in handy in the future. This is especially true if you need to consolidate your purchase with other goods.

Pulling out a map is such a simple thing to do. In today’s world, all you need to do is a simple google or internet search.

Do Your Homework

No matter where you are buying from, you must do your homework. Learn a bit about the country or place you are purchasing from.

Here are some reasons you should always do your homework:

  • History & Government – Learn a bit about the history of the place you will purchase from. History can tell you a lot of things about the culture and the people. It can also help you understand a bit about the government of the place you are purchasing from.
  • Legal Systems – When you are purchasing products from overseas, it is important to have a bit of background in the laws you are buying from. In many countries, I have found international, and other law firms may even have blogs filled with legal and other data about purchasing from the country. For China, one of my favorite blogs to read is the Chinese Law Blog.
  • Culture – It is good to know some of the do’s and don’t’s of the culture. This can save you a lot of misunderstandings that could end up hurting your business deal.

Be Interested In The Country

This may seem like a straightforward thing, but many people travel, and they have no interest in the place they are traveling to. If you really want to be successful in sourcing products from overseas, you should show some interest in the country that is producing your products.

It will not only make your time there a lot more pleasant, but it will help you understand more about the place you are visiting or the people you are asking to manufacture your products.

Podcast – Why It is Essential to Understand the Culture of Countries You Source Products From?

Learn A Few Words Of The Language

I have found that Asians are usually quite good at trying to learn a bit of English. So many times, people will see me on the street and shout “hello!”

It does not hurt you to learn how to say a few things in the language you are visiting or sourcing your products. This usually makes people smile. Even if they laugh at you as your pronunciation is wrong, it will still usually put a smile on their faces.

Here are some basic words I try to learn in another language for each place I am visiting:

  • Hello – Learning how to say Hello in the language you are visiting is always a nice thing to know. I learned how to say hello in Korean many years ago, and when I meet someone from Korea, they are always pleasantly surprised that I know how to say hello in their language.
  • Thank you – I find Thank you for being an important word to learn. It is always good to say thank you to someone in their own language, especially if they hold open the door open for you or help you with your luggage.

Take Time To See Some Cultural Sites

If your business schedule allows it, do take some time to see some of the cultural sites of the place you are visiting. Even if it means you need to get up early in the morning to jog around a park or lake. Take the time to see some sites besides a hotel room or factory.

For other ideas on how to add sightseeing to your business trip, you can read our blog on 7 Tips to Adding Some Sightseeing into Your Next Business Trip by clicking here.

Be Willing to Try Some New Foods

No matter where you travel, the chances are that you will need to try some foods you are not used to eating. Some of them you may actually not like, or you may find the food to be quite disgusting.

I know from personal experience when you are trying to show someone around a new country, it feels goods if they are willing to try something new. It makes the person who is hosting you feel good about the food choices they are offering you.

Ask Questions

Do not be afraid to ask questions to learn and understand the country you are traveling to and learn a bit more about their culture. I have found that when you ask intelligent questions that show you have some understanding or knowledge, most people are willing to answer your questions.

But if you are constantly asking really stupid or dumb questions, many times, people will usually just shut up and not say very much. The reason is they are not sure what to say, or maybe they do not want you to look stupid.

It was like the time I was on a United Airlines Flight, and a flight attendant sat next to me, and we got talking. I told her I just flown in from China, and she turned to me and asked me if I spoke Japanese? Her question was so off the mark that I knew that point; we did not have much to talk about as far as Asia or China was concerned. She did not understand that China and Japan are not the same countries, and the Chinese do not speak Japanese but speak Mandarin Chinese.

Find Ways To Connect Across Cultures

Try to find ways that you can connect with other people from another country and culture. I have found that usually talking about these kinds of topics will usually help to bridge the cultural gap:

  • Children – Usually, talking about children and grandchildren can be a way to bridge a cultural gap. Asking someone about their children and how old they are or studying in school are usually safe bets to talk about.
  • Family – Also, questions or comments about family can help to bridge the cultural gap. Spouses, parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and cousins. Many cultures around the world have solid familial ties to not only their immediate family but also their extended families. In some places, they may still live near or with their extended relatives. If you come back time-and-time again and you ask about how their children or family is doing, most people remember that and like the fact that you took an interest in them and their family.
  • Cultural Events or Festivals – Asking about a specific holiday, event, or festival is usually safe to talk about. This is also a great way to find out more about the country and the place you are visiting.

Unless you know the person really well and already have an excellent rapport, I will stay away from more controversial topics like politics, government, history, and religion.

In some parts of the world and with some governments, a person could get in a lot of trouble if they were known to be speaking badly about their government, royalty, or other government officials to a foreigner. That person could get called into a local police or government office after you had left and interrogated as to why they spoke badly about their government or country to a foreigner.

At the very beginning, I said one of the most important things you can do before you travel to visit a country you are going to source products from is to do your homework. Read up on the place you are going to visit to understand a bit about the country and what is culturally acceptable. If you do this, you will not make culturally careless and costly mistakes.

Traveling to another country and source and buy products from them can be a fascinating thing to do. If you can remember some of these 8 basic tips, it will help you to have a more enjoyable and fruitful experience.

How Do I Find an Overseas Manufacturer to Produce my Product Ideas?

Though it is not always easy to find reliable overseas manufacturers to produce your products, you can take some basic steps to find a dependable supplier. This process to locate this dependable manufacturer can include finding a reliable buying agent, attending trade shows, doing some online searches, talking to some trade organization, and getting a referral from someone from the industry.

You can read more from our blog How Do I Find an Overseas Manufacturer to Produce my Product Ideas? by clicking here.

How Can I Stay Healthy When I Am Traveling Overseas?

Staying healthy on your overseas business buying or sourcing trip is very important as you usually need to hit the ground running with very long workdays. We can do some straightforward things to make sure you stay healthy during your next business buying trip. Everything from getting enough sleep to taking Vitamin C, eating right, and taking the time to exercise.

You can read some more tips about staying healthy on your overseas trip by reading our blog Stay Healthy on Your Overseas Buying Trip, What You Need to Know by clicking here.

Anita Hummel
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