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Consultant Teaches Protocol for International Businesses

July 30, 1990

BOSTON (AP) _ At a business dinner in Paris, an American executive scoops up a business card from a Japanese counterpart, scribbles his number on it and hands it to a Saudi Arabian on his left.

Wrong, wrong and wrong, Dorothy Manning would say.

Manning is a cultural consultant whose job is to guide globe-trotting CEO’s through the thicket of international customs that can ensnare the best-planned business deal.

For instance, she says, it’s a faux pas to talk business over dinner in France. Do so and you’ll be seen as an oaf, fair game for some cutting French wit.

Similarly, one should never jot down a name or number on a business card in Japan. Such cards are taken very seriously and should not be treated in a cavalier manner.

In Saudi Arabia, it is the height of poor manners to pass documents with the left hand. Why? The left hand is used for bathroom functions.

″Other countries are small, they depend on external commerce,″ Manning says. ″The Japanese thoroughly study us, and the Europeans grew up in a situation where they have to deal with other countries.″

″Up until now we’ve been so big and strong it hasn’t been necessary,″ Manning adds.

No more.

With Europe united, the Japanese economic juggernaut steaming ahead and communism crumbling in the East bloc, American business must compete in an ever-expanding global market. That means plenty of opportunity for consultants like Manning, who charges between about $350 and $750 a day per executive.

Frank Mandicott, an international support services manager for General Electric Aerospace in Syracuse, N.Y., said he has used several such consultants. Although it can be difficult to persuade corporate management to pay for cultural consulting, he doesn’t doubt the value.

″The money is well spent,″ Mandicott said Monday. ″If you go abroad and offend your host and lose the contract, what’s the cost of that?″

Manning says the central problem in doing business internationally is establishing trust.

″People tend not to trust each other because they don’t understand each other,″ she says. ″If you see someone who dresses differently, who has different customs, you’re not sure they’re being open with you until you know that’s normal for them.″

Of course, what’s normal from one country to the next can vary quite widely.

For instance, in many Moslem countries, written contracts don’t exist. And in Korea, contracts are viewed not as a binding pact but a document from which to depart if conditions change.

Other tips for the international executive:

- Don’t send chrysanthemums to a colleague in France. They are a symbol of death.

- Never show the sole of your foot to an associate in Saudi Arabia. Doing so implies you feel you can trod upon someone, and is very insulting.

- Holding up two fingers will get you a cab quickly in the Soviet Union. But think twice before doing so - two fingers mean you’ll pay double.

But sometimes even the cultural consultants can err. Manning organized 8 a.m. breakfast forums on business protocol for international executives.

All was well, until she realized that the timing for some might be off.

″The Moroccans brought it up right away,″ Manning says. ″They said they didn’t get up that early.″

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