The Web allows us to transcend borders and touch hearts on the other side of the world … but be careful, not all sensibilities are the same.

So how do you avoid the following pitfalls?


This little story perfectly illustrates the type of blunder that we can make when it comes to intercultural communication:

During one of my trips to India, I stayed with a friend from that country. She lives with her family and they were very happy to have me. Because I intended to spend a few months in that area, I decided to rent an apartment so that I would be more independent. This wasn’t easy, since there are not many apartments available to rent.

However, my friend’s father knows lots of people. I found out that he was in contact with some apartment owners who were wiling to sub-let them during the tourist season. I asked for his help. He seemed to agree and told me he’d keep me informed.

Time passed and I heard nothing. Also, whenever I raised the issue, he didn’t say no, but seemed to be avoiding the question. I felt increasingly frustrated. Clearly, there was some hiccup in our intercultural communication.

From my European point of view, his attitude was a sign of lack of cooperation. I felt very angry with him. I saw his avoidance of the question as a refusal to help me.

Fortunately, he was an intelligent, honest man and a good judge of character. One day, having noticed my annoyance over this matter, he finally confessed: “I think you may have noticed that I haven’t really put much effort into finding you an apartment. The truth is: I can’t do it. You’re my guest and if I found you an apartment, it would mean that I was driving you out of my house. I would like you to feel at home for as long as you like. ”

 I was stunned. My anger against him disappeared. I had clearly completely misunderstood his behaviour. But I’d discovered something of great importance about intercultural communication: there are different worlds and the way of interpreting things is specific to each culture. What I saw as a lack of cooperation was, to him, a desire to welcome his guest and make her as comfortable as possible.

But that isn’t all. Many frustrations later, I discovered that Asians do not like saying “no”. They will say “yes”, but will dodge the question later. They will make you an offer that they know is unacceptable, in order to force you to refuse it. Once you understand this you can avoid placing them in a situation where they feel trapped.

You can anticipate their reaction and decode whether or not they have really accepted your request. This was the case with my friend’s father. His evasiveness every time I raised the question was a sign that he didn’t want to find me an apartment.

Action : Take into account the way of thinking of other cultures. Find out about their peculiarities. Seek advice from someone who belongs to the culture you wish to communicate with!


You have probably been well-trained, through extensive and expensive advertising, to pronounce the brand name of a certain type of training shoes like an American: “Naike”…but let’s take a step back and pronounce that word purely in the French way. What do you get? Oops! Not such good intercultural communication!

Imagine the surprise of the brand representatives when their first meeting with French-speakers was met with laughter or astonishment, even outrage. The brand was not about to succeed in international communication. It made up for it, but at great cost.

Action : If you intend to reach out to other countries, find out about the meaning and pronunciation of your brand name, as well as the language of the country you are targeting and the 6 most widely spoken languages in the world: English, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, French and Portuguese.

Visual intercultural communication | Wearing a kimono the right way


90% of westerners get it wrong when it comes to showing a kimono. Do not confuse the inner and outer sections of this garment (see below, worn according to the rules) because, for the Japanese, the side of the heart placed on top means life, whereas if placed beneath, it would represent death.

Even modern-day Japanese city-dwellers might be offended by such an image, which for them represents a garment worn by the dead.

Action : If you are displaying an image that represents another culture, check with someone from the area that everything is correct according to best practice. You never know! Before creating a logo, remember to have it checked by people in the country concerned, so you can be sure to succeed in your intercultural communication!

Author: Administrateur F&C