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