"Remember, this isn't America; we do things differently here in Europe."
If I hear that phrase again on the job, I'm likely to froth in a fit of fury. After working for three years across six different European countries for three different companies (two in the past six months), that's one phrase I've heard more than a few times. But the truth is, it's true. The frustrating thing is, people assume I don't know that.
Believe it or not, the European business world doesn't think much of "the American manifest destiny." Yes, the United States is the world's economic and military powerhouse. Indeed, Europe does thank America for its assistance in WWII. And, when Bill Gates speaks, the world does listen. When you're outside of U.S. borders, however, those feats don't hold much relevance. Unfortunately, most Americans working abroad don't seem to be aware of that fact. Thus, I continue to suffer from my compatriots' missteps.
I'll never forget the American systems planner visiting our Brussels office for a mere three days who insisted on bringing her own Starbucks coffee. Her European colleagues snickered in the back smoking room, saying something like, "Americans don't know coffee. We've been brewing the best beans for centuries. Then along comes a retail fad, and they think they know it all. The least she could have done was try the exquisite beverage from our 10.000 euro Italian espresso machine."
Was such a small thing really an issue? Indeed it was. It served to alienate the woman from many colleagues at the outset of her brief stay, potentially threatening the success of her project.
I could go on with other stories, some in which I'm the buffoon. On the other hand, I've participated in numerous projects in which the American perspective was just right.
My best advice: If you're working abroad, prepare yourself for the adventure. Don't just read a few travel articles on the Web; learn the region's history. Find out what the locals like to do and eat, and their biggest peeves. Once you're there, open yourself up to the experience. Listen to what people have to say, wait, and listen some more. …