• This is absolutely perfect, true, beautifully written, and poignant. I’m obsessed.

    Steph McCusker, The Wellness Glow

    Welcome to the wonderful world of making your mark, making it count, and making it rain.

  • doing-business-abroad

    HAVE YOU EVER IMAGINED RUNNING AWAY TO A DISTANT LAND?

    Leaving behind the mundane, the common, the daily routine you sleepwalk through. Awakening all of your senses with curious tastes, exotic scents, hot sun on your shoulders, sultry sounds of a guitar drifting across terraces, breathtaking beauty all around. And men, I’m pretty sure there are men somewhere in this scenario…

    This isn’t a vacation fantasy. You’re not just dipping your toes in the Moorish bath pool, but plunging in, immersing yourself, making a life in this foreign land, and running your business from abroad.

    LATELY, THE INTERWEBS ARE ABUZZ WITH THE SEDUCTIVE ALLURE OF RUNNING AWAY FROM HOME AND TAKING YOUR WORK WITH YOU. twdrk

    Whether it is through a location independent business that can follow wherever you travel, or a trade that you can ply in different places, we are all, apparently, longing to fly the coop, foxes be damned.

    And there is a plethora of advice about how to pull off this high wire act. Because that it IS. With inherent challenges and complications, such as the damnableness of trying to run an online business where internet access is, shall we say, mysterious and elusive. Not actually as sexy as that sounds.

    IT’S A WHOLE OTHER LEVEL OF INTERESTING WHEN YOU ARE SERVING A LOCAL CLIENTELE, WITH CUSTOMS, EXPECTATIONS, AND LANGUAGES ALL THEIR OWN.

    And, if you’re running a business, it’s pretty much up to you to figure that all out. Lots of learning. Lots of laughing at yourself. It’s that or crying.

    And, so, as I sit here, dipping my toes in an entirely different pool in Costa Rica while playing life hooky, I thought I would share a tale about doing business in a distant and exotic land: Spain.

    MADRID, NOV. 13TH, 2006

    ONE OF THE THINGS THAT CONFOUNDS ME ABOUT DOING BUSINESS HERE IN SPAIN IS HOW TO SPEAK TO MY CLIENTS.

    NO, I am not a complete idiot.

    It’s that in Spanish, there are two ways of addressing a person, the formal usted and the informal tu. It’s the difference between calling someone “Mr. Roosevelt” or “YO, Franky.”

    In Ecuador, everyone uses the formal all the time, regardless of who they are speaking to. Everything is very stately and genteel. You enter a store with a whole languid paragraph of niceties: Buenos Días. ¿Cómo le va? ¿Cómo está? ¿Cómo le ha ido? Good morning. How are things going? How are you? How have things been?

    But in Spain, everyone is rooster proud about how informal they are. Not to mention vulgar beyond your most obscene dreams, but that is a topic for another day. You walk into a store in Madrid and are slapped in the face with a demanding: ¡Hola! ¿Qué quieres? Hi! What do you want?

    AND EVEN THOUGH THIS IS THE SPANISH WAY, EVERY INSTINCT I HAVE, AS WELL AS EVERY BUSINESS BOOK I HAVE INTERROGATED, TELLS ME THAT THIS IS NOT THE WAY TO ADDRESS POTENTIAL CLIENTS.

    Surely, no Director of Strategy or Corporate Development at a massive multinational energy conglomerate is going to be put off by my being formal, right? Not when we are speaking about a subject as highly sensitive and secretive as international competitive intelligence.

    After consulting with professionals in both Spain and France, I chose to err on the side of formality. So I start off addressing everyone as usted, and then I try to just follow my clients’ lead. If I notice them switching over to the informal “you,” I follow suit.

    At least, that’s the plan.

    See, I am usually trying to balance a number of things in a meeting. And, frankly, keeping track of what “you” form I am using sometimes gets away from me. Sadly, this often results in me switching back and forth indiscriminately. Which, undoubtedly, just makes me look incompetent. Drat.

    This also means that I have distinct ways of speaking to different clients. Yes, that DOES get a bit confusing.

    Don’t EVEN get me started on how I greet them physically when I meet them in person. Some shake my hand.  Some kiss my cheek. Some slap my ass.

    No, no, not really.

    But the end result is that I constantly feel like an idiot. I have actually taken to writing in my meeting notes whether we are being formal or informal, kissing, shaking hands, high-fiving, whatever.

    SO, LAST WEEK, I WENT TO SEE A POTENTIAL CLIENT.

    I was excited, but also a bit nervous, because this was our second meeting for a huge project and I would have to be speaking about things that I hadn’t before. Ie: making shit up on the fly. In Spanish. Did I mention that?

    tu or usted the last time I saw him. But, I decided, I would just do exactly what he did. No matter which he said, I would be fine. I could handle this. I was a PROFESSIONAL, dammit!

    The door opened and he strode into the room with a big smile on his face and greeted me with…

    ¡Hola, guapa! Hey, beautiful!

    So I slapped his ass.

    And I got the project.

    SO WHY AM I TELLING YOU THIS CHARMING TAKE OF THE PERILS AND TRIUMPHS OF DOING BUSINESS ON FOREIGN SHORES?

    Because, there are so many obstacles to hurdle when you try to do anything audacious in this world.

    And it is truly AUDACIOUS to say “no” to what everyone and their mama is doing.

    To refuse the corporate world, to start your own business, to move to a foreign land because everything in you tells you that is where you are meant to be.

    To stop bartering years of your life to accumulate more stuff.

    To decide you want more experiences instead.

    To strike out on your own and declare “I KNOW I can do this,” even when you really don’t.

    YOU ARE RIPE FOR AUDACIOUS, AREN’T YOU?

    You will never know what you CAN do, unless you give yourself that chance to actually do ittwdrk

    You got this. You just don’t know it yet. Go out and prove it to all of us.

    Have you pictured running away to a foreign land? What life or business bumps in the road do you expect? Or does it all seem like a hopeless fantasy, lovely to dream about, but impossible to pull off? It’s not as unattainable as you think. Let’s talk about it.

    Your thoughts

    6 Comments

    1. I’ve not only thought about running away to a foreign land, I’ve done it. From London to Paris. They’re not so far apart, but are different in many, many ways ….

      As you know, French has the formal and informal way of addressing people. Luckily, my mother tongue has the same thing, so understanding this wasn’t so tough.

      Understanding the people, however? Totally different story. It took me months to figure out why they don’t share personal stories with you, or invite you to dinner with their family. It took me longer to get comfortable with it.

      And even though I’ve had more lonely periods than I’d care to think about, the experience has been the most enriching of my life. Wouldn’t change it for anything.

      – Raz

      Reply
      • Raz! You neglected to mention how gorgeous and elegant you look WHILE doing it! Well, I think I have remedied that terrible oversight. If not, I have the pictures to prove how lovely you looked in 95 degree weather while the rest of us sweltered!

        Thank you so much for sharing this. You are right on. There is SO MUCH to learn, language usage is just one part of it.

        And good on you for deciphering Parisians. I have had some really lovely experiences with them. No, seriously. But I cannot say I ever understood the ones I worked for. Though, to be fair, I think they baffled other Parisians as well.

        I hear you on the loneliness. Over the last few years, I have found that having a companion to share with has insulated me from that. But, I think, that also insulates me a bit from the experience itself. Everything has a cost, right?

        Would love to hear more about YOUR adventures!

        Reply
        • Wendy! Both me and my self esteem love you !

          SO many stories to tell. All positive though. Being alone was the worst part for me as I’m quite sociable. Finding people to socialise with wasn’t tough – finding real conversations and actual friends was the hard part.

          But I got there!

          It’s easy to get disheartened, but I can see that you, like me, have a fighting spirit!

          Having a companion to walk with you is THE BEST thing. So what if you miss out on some experiences? You get to share so many more!

          And you and Jamie are simply adorable. People WISH they had a relationship like yours.

          Reply
          • Raz! I would love to hear more. Will have to make it happen on the reunion tour/pajama party in Paris. I agree, it is wonderful to have a companion to share experiences with-especially the ones that make you go: can you BELIEVE that just happened? And sharing meeting great peeps like you! 🙂

            Reply
    2. I can definitely relate to this one! I’ve lived in Chile for four years (and also China for another four). My natural voice is super informal and that does seem to serve me well. Hugs and kisses and questions about families. But I also teach college students and they sometimes expect a clearer “power distance” than I create for them. I’ve stopped worrying about it, especially in person, since the face-to-face context provides other forms of communication, beyond just the words being used.

      Reply
      • Leslie-so glad it spoke to you! Thanks for your comment! I agree-worrying about it can drive you mad! I am curious-I have never been to Chile (though would love to go), are the interactions always formal? Or do they tutear? I would imagine China would be a whole other level of complicated!

        Reply

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