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When conducting business in a foreign country, a failure to adequately understand the language and culture of that country will likely lead to lost opportunities. American corporations climbed a steep learning curve after World War II, when U.S. business began to spread beyond our borders in greater numbers and on a much greater scale. Particularly in Asia, where customs and cultures are often vastly different than in the United States, the potential for costly blunders was there. Very simple, mundane mistakes, like misuse of chop sticks in China or crossing one's legs and exposing the soles of the shoes in Asia and the Middle East can leave a bad impression.
The requirement to understand the cultures and to know the languages of the countries in which one's company hopes to do business is the reason American Chambers of Commerce have sprouted up in virtually every country in the world, and why American expatriats spend much of their lives representing U.S. businesses in those countries. This educator has traveled widely in the Middle East and in Asia and routinely met with such organizations and individuals for the purpose of better understanding the bureaucratic and cultural hurdles their companies often face in attempting to compete against companies from other advanced countries.
One of the biggest hurdles often confronting American businesses are U.S. laws, specifically, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, that prohibit bribing foreign officials to attain contracts. While certainly admirable and worthy, the fact remains that bribery is a major part of doing business in much of the world and most U.S. competitors have no such legal or moral reservations about transfering money and favors to officials of the countries in which they hope to do business. Bribery is considered a part of doing business in much of the developing world, and American business executives often complain that U.S. anti-bribery laws weaken their competitiveness.
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