SOURCE: Cartus


July 09, 2012 08:00 ET

Is Cultural Harmony on an Olympic Scale Possible?

As Olympic Athletes From 205 Countries Prepare to Descend on London, Cartus Offers 5 Tips to Help Bridge Cultural Differences

DANBURY, CT--(Marketwire - Jul 9, 2012) - Later this month, more than 15,000 athletes from 205 countries -- and distinctly different cultures -- will converge on London for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. With so many athletes, not to mention hundreds of thousands of spectators converging on London, thrown together into one giant cultural melting pot, are cultural clashes on an Olympic scale inevitable?

Not necessarily, says Jo Danehl, who directs in-depth cross-cultural training for Cartus Corp., the world's largest provider of global relocation services for firms that send employees on assignments.

The key, she says, is remembering that there isn't a right or wrong culture, just differences. And the Olympic Games are one of those few things in life that bonds people of all cultures, ages, races and religions, together like no other.

An expat herself, Danehl relocated to the U.S. from England, where she was manager of the company's EMEA Intercultural Services business unit based in the U.K. Last year, Cartus delivered more than 2,200 cross-cultural training programs in 79 countries, providing a intercultural and language services to 24 percent of the Fortune 100.

"Global interactions are complex and the list of cultural do's and don'ts can seem endless," said Danehl. "In Japan, varying shades of red signify a wide range of emotions; if you're meeting with a Brit, you'd best be on time; never take food with your left hand in the Middle East. And on and on."

Since cross-cultural training on such a grand scale as an event like the Olympics is virtually impossible, what's an athlete, or a spectator, to do? With a nod to the five Olympic rings, which represent the union of the world's five continents, Cartus offers five top-level tips. They won't prevent all cultural differences from occurring, but perhaps in some small way they will help the XXX Olympiad live up to this year's theme, "Inspire a Generation."

Cartus' Top 5 Cross-Cultural Tips for Travelers to the London Summer Olympics:

1. Since the British are our Olympics host, here's something to keep in mind about them: Though British nationals can sometimes come across as a bit dour, they aren't necessarily so. With a "stiff upper lip," as the saying goes, the British are just more reserved than some Mediterranean nationalities or Americans.

2. Cheek kisses, anyone? Cheek-kissing when greeting can be a cultural minefield. In many cultures, particularly those in Eastern Europe or Latin America, light kisses on the cheek are common as a sign of greeting or affection beyond familial relationships and regardless of sex. So how to handle it? Let your greeter take the lead. Although the number of kisses can be up to four in some countries, two is probably enough. Remember: kissing isn't an Olympic sport, so don't aim for the gold.

3. Can't hurt to smile a lot, can it? Well, maybe. Did you know that even a simple smile can mean different things in different cultures? In some Asian cultures, a smile might be masking another emotion such as discomfort. For Russians, smiling at a stranger can be perceived as impolite; Americans, meanwhile, are quite comfortable smiling at everyone. As with all cultural interactions, look to the context for cues on how to respond appropriately.

4. A coconut or a peach -- which are you? Sharing the Olympic experience will open the door for friendships that had never been imagined. Some cultures (like the British), tend to be coconut-like with their tough exteriors. Other cultures, such as the Americans, are more peach-like, with a seemingly softer exterior. They bond quickly with many people based on commonality; but they hold part of themselves back for only their nearest and dearest. So keep these traits in mind, and you'll be bonding with your hosts in no time.

5. Food, glorious food! Food and the ritual of eating send huge cultural signals and, not surprisingly, a smorgasbord of foods from around the world will be served this summer in London. For some cultures, the concept of "fast food" is, well, foreign. A meal is a time to build relationships, not just share food. In Indian culture, and in Islam generally, it is taboo to take or pass food with your left hand, which is associated with personal hygiene. In China, leaving a little piece of food on your plate indicates that you are full. If you clear your plate, you will be served more food. A lot to remember, so perhaps clipping this cheat sheet before you sit down at the table will help you be "good to go"!

Above all, though, remember that no culture is right and no culture is wrong. At the end of the day, this event will be a spectacle to be savored.

About Cartus
Cartus provides trusted guidance to organizations of all types and sizes that require global relocation solutions. In 2011, Cartus served over 70 percent of the Fortune 50. We provide service in more than 165 countries, applying our more than half century of experience to help our clients with their mobility, outsourcing, consulting, and language and intercultural training needs. Cartus is part of Realogy Corporation -- a global provider of real estate and relocation services. To find out how our greater experience, reach, and hands-on guidance can help your company, visit and; read our blog at; or click for more information.

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