8 Tips to Understand the Culture of Your Product Sourcing Country

8 Tips to Understand the Culture of Your Product Sourcing Country
Vietnamese Flags Flying in a small alley in Hanoi, Vietnam

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 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 in Thailand you never tough someone’s head, you do not point your feet at another person and you never speak ill of the monarchy.

This example shows why it is so important to take the time to understand the culture and country you will be sourcing and purchasing your products. Some things you can do are: 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 for helping you to better understand the country you are sourcing and buying products from.

Check Out A Map

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

Here are the reasons you want to do this:

  • 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 in a timely manner is another important part of the supply chain. Sometimes the transportation to get the product to you, 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 areas I always search:

  • History & Government – Learn a bit about the history of the place you are going to 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 of the place you are buying from. I have found in many countries there are some international and other law firms that may even have blogs filled with a lot of legal and other data about purchasing from the country. For China, one of my favorite blogs to read is 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 very simple thing, but there are many people who travel and they have no interest at all 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.

Learn A Few Words Of The Language

I have found that the 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 for you to learn how to say a few things in the language of the place 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 of where 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 to be 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 to learn a bit more about their culture. I have found that when you ask intelligent questions, that show you have some kind of 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 at that point we did not have much to talk about as far as Asia or China was concerned. She did not understand the simple fact, that China and Japan are not the same countries, and the Chinese do not speak Japanese but they 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 what they are 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 very strong 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 you already have a very good rapport, I will stay away from more controversial topics as 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.

This why 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 so that you can understand a bit about the country and what is culturally acceptable. If you do this, you will not make culturally careless and costly mistakes.

Conclusion

Traveling to another country and to source and buy products from them can be a really exciting 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.

Related Questions

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, there are some basic steps you can take to find a dependable supplier. This process to locate this dependable manufacturer can include things as 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 usually, you need to be able to hit the ground running with very long workdays. There are some very simple things we can do to make sure you stay healthy during your next business buying trip. Everything from getting enough sleep, to taking Vitamin C, to 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.

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