Cross-Cultural Do's And Don'ts Between Israel And US
handshake: smile, eye contact,
reach in and maintain physical space.
Israel News Agency
Israel ---- May 12, 2007 ...... There are
many smart and innovative companies in Israel. But even with the
finest minds, products and services, quite often business people
in Israel trying to penetrate the US market run smack head-on
into walls. Cultural walls.
(Israel), a full service, worldwide business to business marketing,
media, Internet SEO and e-commerce consultancy organization, has
been providing the doing business - the do's and don'ts of cross-cultural
business training in Israel in dozens of seminars and workshops
over 20 years. At one point this author served as the director
of cross-cultural programs for Berlitz Middle East.
at Berlitz Israel, I was once quoted by TIME magazine:
"Israel is very "civilized" within the framework
of a struggling and pressurized Middle Eastern nation that strives
very hard to be Western. Israelis have perceptions of time, space
and values that are completely different from those of North Americans.
Those in Israel see Americans as artificial and square, when they
are actually just showing respect. Americans think Israelis are
arrogant, rude and pushy, when in reality they are being direct
and honest. Israel is a very small country whose population is
one big family. In a family people can be as direct and honest
as they want. But now that family members are selling their goods
and services outside the clan, Israelis are adapting."
several requests from both governmental and commercial organizations
in Israel and as a public service to develop more successful commercial
relations between Israel and the US, Leyden Communications will
now provide some critical cross-cultural business advice for those
in Israel wishing to work with US businesses and governmental
percent of the problems which arise in developing and maintaining
commercial relations with Americans, comes directly from differences
we share in cultural perceptions - not rates, services or products!
is good or bad - just different!
Americans, Europeans and Asians all view space, time and values
from a different place. If we are all to expect the Israeli, or
the Japanese or the French to act, to behave in the exact manner
- then we will be greatly disappointed! Many business people from
the States come to Israel, expecting to do business, as if they
were still in New York, California or Texas. The smiles and handshakes
look the same, even the suits and ties, but after a few minutes
have passed, both sides, which have have come together with great
respect and mutual admiration - feel something is not right!
who is often perceived as being arrogant, aggressive and pushy,
is actually being direct and honest. And the American, European
and Asian, who are seen by the Israeli as being artificial, phony
and weak - are actually displaying politeness and respect. If
both sides are to go into a commercial venture, without taking
the time to understand each others cultural traits - they are
heading for disaster!
Don't be fooled
by the modern office furniture, mobile telephones, new shopping
malls, the one million McDonalds restaurant outlets and the 100
dollar ties. The Israeli is a different animal - and to be successful
in business with him you must understand how they see you and
where they come from.
is what is referred to as a polychronic culture (relationship-oriented),
in contrast to American, British or German culture which is monochronic
(rule-oriented). In the relationship oriented Israel culture feelings
and emotions are primary, while intuition and objective facts
are secondary! Israel culture can be viewed as witnessing one
large family. In a family, one can dismiss formality and act in
a direct, immediate and honest fashion. What can be excused in
a "family" as being direct - is often interpreted outside
of the family or Israel's borders as being rude or impolite.
DON'T SEE THINGS AS THEY ARE...
SEE THINGS AS WE ARE" - Anais Nin
How we see
and judge others are by their behaviors (the tip of the iceberg)
which includes: punctuality, greetings, business etiquette, management
styles, planning, verbal and written communication, negotiation
styles and the all important non-verbal communication. Non-verbal
communication with the human animal accounts for over 80 percent
of our total ability to understand one another!
Our gestures, expressions, eye contact, use of silence and personal
space. What lies below that white, icy iceberg tip which arises
over the blue water, is a submerged mountain of attitudes and
taking you through a full days cross-cultural seminar, for which
we highly recommend and have witnessed great success and results
from - we will now try to provide you with a few "key"
tips in dealing with your Israeli partner. Again - please remember
that these "tips" are by no means a substitute for spending
valuable time for both yourself and your employees to enjoy a
full day's cross-cultural training! And the information below
is only a generalization of the typical Israeli. Many Israel business
people have traveled and learned about other cultures and have
been successful in working abroad. Although - they can still learn
- as we can all still refresh and beware of our behavior.
New York is not Chicago and Chicago is not Los Angeles. The US
is so large that Israel can actually fit in as state park.
As such, there is no one business culture in the US, but rather
several sub cultures with their own norms and values.
When I was
working in my international PR and advertising agency in New York's
World Trade Center in the 1980's, I often had to hide my New York
accent. Forget the fact that those from Israel have a problem
in the US, Americans have problems in their own country! As a
New Yorker many in California perceived me to be neurotic, as
we talk and walk faster than anyone else in the States. For us
in New York, we saw those living in California as being "astronauts"
being out of touch with reality as they focused on Yoga, mediation,
health foods and surfing. As for those coming from the Midwest
or "bread belt" these very conservative Americans had
as much clue as to who Woody Allen is as I had knowing who the
stars of country music were.
start with some very general US cultural traits such as greetings
are very "tachlas" - that is bottom line oriented. When
meeting another Israeli, they will often go straight to business.
Sometimes there is not even a "hello, how are you."
The lack of
small talk must be addressed. When meeting an American, small
talk shows respect for the person and people that one is meeting.
It also provides a position to know where to start from. Getting
to know the other persons personal interests is critical in doing
business. For example, if one from Israel and one from the US
studied the same subjects in university or served in the same
type of army units, or enjoy the same sports or art - now you
have a place or comfort zone to start from. To share common comfort
zones is often more important than the value of commercial transaction.
They say that
you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
And psychologists and sociologists state that is a hard reality.
Within the first three seconds of a new encounter, you are totally
your visual and behavioral appearance from head to toe. Americans
observe your demeanor, mannerisms, and body language and even
assess your grooming and quality accessories watch, handbag,
briefcase, pens and cufflings.
Within only three seconds, you make an indelible impression.
You may intrigue some Americans and disenchant others.
first impression process occurs in every new situation. Within
the first few seconds, people pass judgment on you looking
for common surface clues - those comfort zones I spoke about.
Once the first impression is made, it is virtually irreversible.
If you appear
to be of comparable business or social level, you are considered
suitable for further interaction.
If you appear to be of higher business or social status, you are
admired and cultivated as a valuable contact.
If you appear to be of lower business or social standing, you
are tolerated but kept at arm's length.
If you are in an interview situation, you can either appear to
match the corporate culture or not, ultimately affecting the outcome.
It is human
nature to constantly make these appraisals, in business and social
environments. You may hardly have said a word, however once this
three-second evaluation is over, the content of your speech will
not change it. When you make the best possible first impression,
you have your audience in the palm of your hand. When you make
a poor first impression, you lose your audiences attention,
no matter how hard you scramble to recover it.
modification and cultural awareness, you can learn to make a positive
and lasting first impression, modify it to suit any situation,
and come out a winner. Doing so requires you to assess and identify
your personality, physical appearance, lifestyle and goals in
accordance with the subculture of the US for which you are making
contact. Those who do will have the advantage.
greeting an American, smile, maintain eye contact and shake hands.
Never look down. Looking down in Western culture says that you
lack confidence and there is nothing more attractive than the
word confidence (not to be confused with arrogance).
we dress down. That is, most business people can be seen wearing
jeans and maybe dress pants from time to time. The factors for
this have their source in that Israel weather is very hot and
unforgiving. We try to maintain being physically comfortable.
Just a few decades ago, the average Israeli wore nothing more
than shorts and sandals. Israel is also a high tech society, and
as such we have taken on the dress code of Silicon Valley - jeans.
But when meeting
anyone from the US, always wear a two piece suit. Navy blue pin
strip or grey is fine. The quality and fit of the suit is important
for if it is not up to par the American may think that you have
the intelligence of a bicycle messenger.
Keep at arms
length. Israelis act as if they are in a family. Close distance
between two people is the norm. Hugging, touching - one can even
see young females holding hands as they walk down the street -
and they are not lesbians.
But the American demands much personal space. Reach over to shake
hands rather than being cheek to cheek. And maintain that physical
distance. Stepping back one step will keep you safe.
Make up quality
business cards. Not offset printing. But rather thermography (raised
lettering) or engraved. Many in Israel do not use business cards
- culture in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem is just too informal.
We go by addressing people by their first names. Not in the states.
Always hand out your business card in the first few seconds to
help the other party to know your corporate title and how to pronounce
your name. And always address the other party from the US with
the titles of Mr. or Ms. Your American counterpart will let you
know when you can drop the title and call them by their first
name. Wait for that direction, don't break down a formal relationship
without mutual consent.
in Rome act as a Roman!
you can always expect a friendly and real invitation for sharing
coffee as a meeting begins. Not in the US. I remember a meeting
I had with a global PR firm a few years back and was waiting,
just waiting for the coffee to be offered. I, as many in Israel,
have become conditioned to getting a caffeine fix as the meeting
begins. I finally asked for a cup of coffee and the other side
obligated with a smile. We never met again. It was not for me
to ask for coffee in someone's office in New York. What I do suggest,
is that the Israeli gets a caffeine fix right before the meeting
so that he or she will not feel any discomfort. Remember, if the
American does not offer a drink, it is not good or bad - just
When asking a woman for coffee in Israel - be careful for those
are silent words for "do you want to go to bed with me,"
as opposed to being in the states where asking one for coffee
is just that. If you are interested in going to bed with someone,
chose an alcoholic drink!
in Israel and in the US share some very conservative areas. But
they are not the same. When walking down a street in London, Paris
and New York, if you make eye contact with another person it is
normal to smile and say "good morning." In Israel, if
you are not a tourist asking for directions and you make verbal
contact with a stranger, he or she will most likely give you an
awkward look followed by "me ata" or asking in English
"who are you"? Also many Israeli's will not feel comfortable
discussing very personal or intimate subjects or problems with
you - i.e.- their marriage, sex, divorce, medical problems and
army service (prohibited by law). So if the American wants to
discuss their love life with you fine, follow on this - do not
lead. But never ask the American what their salary is. That is
a real no-no.
ready to enter a bus or any crowded area (i.e. - bank, post office,
restaurant or open marketplace) we don't expect those from Israel
to form a line. This is where you are expected to use the gentle
nudge of your elbow to enter. If you wait - you will be last!
As a footnote, in recent years in Israel I have witnessed the
banks, post offices and major supermarkets slowly put into effect
crowd management control with ropes, creating orderly lines. Expect
to wait in lines in the states, never jump in front of someone
Israeli is ready for immediate action. You can witness this by
how many Israelis sit - leaning forward with legs spread apart
- ready to stand at a moments notice. The American on the other
hand can interpret this body language as saying that you are too
aggressive, too hungry. Most Americans will sit with good posture,
not slumping in their chair. Follow or mimic the body language
of your associate in the US and you will find yourselves being
on the same page.
will ask you to wait by placing their hand up, palm towards their
body with fingers coming together - and the hand may shake. By
mistake, I did this to a policeman in New York City once - he
thought I was giving him the "finger". It was difficult
explaining to him that I was from Israel, speaking with my New
York accent! Learn hand gestures in the states and abide by them.
are a very passionate and expressive breed. As such, if they raise
their voices, this is how many Israelis normally communicate with
one another. The Israeli can yell and scream at a colleague one
moment and a few minutes later be seen hugging the guy. If the
Israeli speaks in a low tone and smiles for hours with you - it
means he is not being real, honest and relaxed with you! Again,
please remember - there our exceptions to this rule as for those
Israelis who have lived outside of Israel. The American plays
it cool. Never raise your voice. Don't show more passion than
a warm smile and a good laugh.
and psychologically healthy aspect of the direct, honest and sometimes
loud Israeli - is that they are just letting off steam in a truly
good manner. It may not appear polite, but the result is that
Israeli's very rarely make violent contact with one another. Instead
of swallowing all of the anxiety and letting it out in a harmful
and negative neurotic or psychotic fashion, the Israeli is actually
a healthier social animal than many of their global counterparts
who repress their feelings and take such mood altering drugs such
as Valium or Prozac!
want things today - now! As they come from a young and traumatic
society where war has been the norm - trying to get the most out
of today is the expected rule. If you are talking in terms of
months and years - you may lose your Israeli partner's interest.
In this circumstance he may very well perceive you as not being
serious. Try to meet him or her half way - try to speak realistically
in terms of days and weeks. Expect the American to talk in weeks
and months rather than hours. If so, be patient. If they do speak
in hours or days, it means that they are serious - maybe even
in Israel can be and are often spontaneous. Again a reflection
of the informal and family oriented culture. Embrace this openness
and good things will happen! In America expect meetings to be
made at least a week in advance if not a few weeks or even a month.
is relaxed in Israel. Always allow up to 15-20 minutes before
thinking that your party is late in Tel Aviv. Even here, things
are rapidly changing, especially in the hi-tech environment where
many Israelis pride themselves on being on time. After work hours,
you may notice a more relaxed tone. When setting work deadlines,
be sure to leave some advanced buffer period. But in the US, 9
a.m. means 9 a.m. - coming late in the states translate into saying
that you don't respect the American. In some subcultures, being
late can be fashionable - for the very rich and famous.
is not used to "doing lunch or breakfast". They see
this time as being too valuable - instead suggest sandwiches and
drinks to be brought into the meeting room in Israel. Dinner is
very accepted. This is an excellent opportunity to discuss family,
compliment Israeli culture, history, sports and continue with
business discussions. Do not speak about Israel government, politics
or religious issues. If they bring it up - be a good listener!
Find out if your Israeli partner is religious or "observant"
before going out for a meal - if he or she is - respect their
values and find a "kosher" restaurant. Israelis are
not big drinkers - inviting your counterpart for a beer is acceptable.
Being invited to do breakfast, lunch or dinner is one of the finest
compliments one can provided with in the States.
And when doing
lunch or dinner, expect the American to order an alcoholic drink.
Israelis are not big drinkers - other than an occasional beer
or two when watching a soccer game. When your American counterpart
asks you what drink you care for over lunch, just tell him you
have a bad stomach and your getting over jet lag - that you would
prefer a cup of coffee. At dinner - go for a glass of wine and
make believe that it is Shabbat. Do not allow the American to
get you drunk - Americans can hold their alcohol, they have built
up a tolerance for it. Too much drink could spell disaster for
you as you reveal your true feelings about a business deal or
start agreeing to all of their demands.
to avoid making jokes. What may be funny in Tel Aviv in Hebrew
may not be funny in Atlanta in English. Speak and compliment your
guests on their local culture - arts, buildings and sports. Never
discuss sex or religion. Never make any jokes about sex - remember
what happened to Chaim Ramon over a simple and innocent kiss -
well that happens every day in North America. Any talk about sex
can be construed as harassment.
meeting the Israeli may take telephone calls and allow others
into his office or the meeting room. Interruptions such as these
are common in Israeli culture - do not take it as being rude,
impolite or arrogant. This is a very informal society, where those
in Israel are expected and able to do many tasks at the same time.
North Americans, for example, are the complete opposite in their
behavior - taking one chore at a time, finishing it and then moving
onto the next task.
Give the American all of your attention, all of the time. Turn
off your cellphone and never speak Hebrew in the midst of those
who do not speak Hebrew.
are good - in many cases superb! When it comes to negotiating
tactics - they wrote the book! Be prepared for tough and friendly
negotiations. There is little difference between the modern, air-conditioned
wall to wall carpeted Israeli boardroom and the ancient and dusty
marketplace in the old city of Jerusalem! If you are seeking to
sell your apple for 100 dollars - start high and then look for
a fair compromise in the middle. Israelis love to negotiate. Read
up on negotiations and don't be offended by what may appear as
a "ridiculous offer" in Israel. In the States, in business
the same rules apply. Everything is negotiable, just relax and
take your time.
professional translator would prevent the Israeli from breaking
into Hebrew and consulting with his associates - leaving the American
in the dark. Having a translator on site would be very powerful
and positive, given that you will always be on the "same
page" with your Israeli partners and the translator could
also serve as a "cultural bridge" in regards to verbal
and non-verbal communication.
things in writing! No matter how warm and friendly your relationship
may become - a handshake is good - but never good enough. A Letter
of Intent and or a contract will leave no room for misunderstandings
down the road. Do not bring an attorney to your meetings, rather
fax your attorney all papers and contracts for them to review.
may request to conclude all negotiations immediately. This is
not a sign of desperation or weakness - this is a basic difference
in how the Israeli perceives time. Most Israelis are seen as being
impatient - wanting everything done "today". The reason
for this is their traumatic historical and military service experiences,
they are not always secure as to where they will be tomorrow.
In the States, the American may smile and say: "yes, we will
do business." When in fact he is being nothing more than
polite. Don't get your expectations up. Americans created the
card game Poker. Learn how to develop a "poker face"
an unemotional face as you negotiate.
are a very warm and friendly people. When they invite you to their
home or out for dinner - they are not just being polite - they
are displaying sincere friendship. When they say "stop by
at any time" - they truly mean it! Accept the invitation
and create a good personal relationship. Remember, in Israel,
relationships count just as much if not more than a solid commercial
portfolio. Unlike many other cultures, substance, not style takes
the lead in Israel. When coming to someone's home, good gifts
to bring are flowers, chocolates or a good bottle of wine. When
coming to someone's office good gifts to bring are a culture book
from your home country, a pen set with your company's logo or
a global desk clock. Framed pictures of yourself and your Israeli
associates make an excellent gift and wall decoration - reminding
the Israeli of the personal ties that you share!
When the American
tells you to drop by at any time or come to his home - wait for
a formal invitation to be extended before taking him or her up
on their polite overture.
My last words
of advice - speak slowly.
As you speak slower you will be able to organize your thoughts
and words that much better, while the American will be able to
understand and hear you better through your Hebrew accent. Always
say the magic words: please and thank you. And end your conversation
with consistent eye contact and a smile.
Leyden, a veteran journalist who is a professional cross-cultural,
international public relations and media consultant has served
as director for Berlitz's Middle-East cross cultural programs.
Leyden who has served as a cross-cultural and international media
and Internet consultant to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Ministry of Trade, has
created several local and international community and professional
of 3 children in Israel are hungry.
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