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What is Your Staff’s Cross-Cultural IQ?

publication date: Mar 2, 2012
author/source: Dr. John Hogan CHA CHE CMHS

By Dr. John Hogan, CMHS, CHE, CHA              


"So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening

not only to the words,but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed,

to the whole of it, not part of it."

Jiddu Krishnamurti {1895-1986 Indian Theosophist}

Learning about a country's culture is a show of respect and is always appreciated.


When we travel in familiar places, we are usually comfortable with the customs, habits and every day interactions.   Our comfort zones often change when we are visiting new and perhaps more exotic locations or providing services to people from those places.

I was a Founding Member and served on the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Multicultural Advisory Committee from 2002-2009.  This alliance of representatives from hotels and related hospitality businesses meets several times a year to discuss ways to break down artificial barriers to communication.  Additional efforts are ongoing throughout the year as these competitors share best practices and explore ways to develop a cross-cultural understanding of guests and staff.

Part of this group’s activities included developing the basis for understanding, including a “Diversity Glossary of Terms

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Glossary of Terms

Culture - The total social behavior patterns, beliefs, and traits passed within a specific group of people.

Assimilation - Being absorbed into the culture of an existing group; conforming to one culture.


 In 1992, a dozen European countries entered into an economic agreement linking their trading fortunes together.  In late 1993, an international agreement in North America allowed for the easier flow of services and goods among the nations of Canada, the United States and Mexico.  While the World Trade Organization is not universally embraced, developing countries like China have lobbied for years to be included. Even though legal business agreements may allow for some ease in formal truncations, people must still interact on a daily basis.

 Successfully addressing that interaction does not always happen by chance. According to the article “International Migration” published in August 1994 in the American Psychologist, Loyd Roglier quoted statistics that the foreign-born population in the United Sates alone reached a number approaching 20 million people in 1990.  At that time, he identified more than 100 countries that comprised that figures and that was fifteen years ago!

 Cross cultural understanding means making the extra effort to recognize and respect ethnicity.   By definition, ethnicity refers to groups of people who are historically, racially or otherwise directly related.    Further insight would find common culture, language, perhaps religion and ethical perspectives as defining characteristics.

 In certain parts of the world, there are concentrations of ethnic groupings.  There are more Indians in England than any country outside of India, although there is a concentration of primarily East Indians who are experiencing success in the western hospitality industry.  In the United States, many cities and states will have sections of their communities that are referred to as “Little …” reflecting the population of many of the citizens who now live there.

 National laws in the United States, Canada and many other nations that have traditionally welcomed immigrants have evolved to protect people because they were foreign-born.   It requires the cooperation and effort of both employers and employees to embrace the spirit of the law.

 Educators and Consultants Katherine Esty, Ph.D, Marcie Schorr Hirsch and Richard Griffin co-authored an easy to read book titled WORKPLACE DIVERSITY: A Managers Guide to Solving Problems and  Truing Diversity into a Competitive Advantage. (Published by Adams Media Corporation, Avon, MA USA)


I selected this resource as a TOOL FOR SUCCESS for a major international brand sveral years ago and sent it to all 2,400-member hotels in the USA and Canada.  This guide addresses ways to handle language, accents, jokes, stereotypes, harassment and open hostility.   The feedback received has been very positive, especially in communities that employ and/or host international visitors.


As global travel becomes more affordable, the number of individuals traveling for work and pleasure is increasing.   Some of those people will inevitably relocate, meaning that the cross-cultural exchange of ideas, values and communication will continue to increase at an incredible pace.

 Read on a bit further and see how you and your staff are interacting or understanding.

In my work with many different cultures, it is always a challenge to try to be all things to all people all times.   Taking the definitions above of culture and assimilation, look at the following every day circumstances that face our staff and guests:


Ø  Language

Ø  Centers of Reference

Ø  Greetings and other courtesies

Ø  Food and Beverage preferences and means of consumption

Ø  Tipping

Ø  Special Occasions

Ø  Foreign Exchange

Ø  Transportation

Ø  Phone

Ø  Safety and Security


Take the following short quiz which was part of an earlier training program used by Princess Hotels and check your Cross-Cultural IQ


1.             In Thailand, touching a child’s hand is a gesture of appreciation.

A.    True

B.      False


2.            During meals in Belgium, you should keep your hands on the table.

A.    True

B.     False


3.            Taiwan is also called          

A.     People’s Republic of China   

B.    Republic of China


4.      Pork is not consumed by the main religious groups in which country?              

A.    Saudi Arabia

B.      Indonesia                                 

C.     Malaysia                               

D.    All of the above


5.      Eating raw monkey brain is a delicacy in                                                                  

A.    Nigeria

B.      China                                                  

C.     Argentina                              

D.    All of the above


6.        Smiling fish is a

A.    Term used in the Middle East to describe Americans

B.      A French chef working in a Japanese kitchen

C.     A dish served in China in which the fish is still alive

D.    None of the above


7.          When entering a Japanese home, you should remove your shoes and

A.    Give them to your host

B.      Leave them outside the door

C.     Place them inside the door

D.    None of the above


8.         In south Korea, singing is an important part of Korean dinner parties for businessmen.

A.    True

B.      False


9.         When invited for dinner in Brazil, one should try to be a little late so as not to embarrass your hosts before they are ready

A.    True

B.      False



10.       In India, you can show your highest respect to the elderly by touching their

A.    Hands

B.      Feet

C.     Head

D.    None of the above



Scoring well or poorly on a simple quiz is not indicative for our likelihood of success.  In an age of expanding global markets, an awareness of cultural differences can be critical to providing well-received service to people from other cultures.  Conducting business needs to include training on the items that are important to both sides. 


Understanding or recognizing the customs involved will not only create a positive lasting impression, it may also avoid an embarrassing situation or an unintentional insult.  Learning about the culture of our guests demonstrates respect, is always appreciated and will likely lead to more satisfied guests.


Answer key


1.                  B

2.                  A

3.                  B

4.                  D

5.                  B

6.                  C

7.                  C

8.                  A

9.                  A

10.              B



   Success does not come by accident or chance.        

 Contact us for assistanceJohn.Hogan@HospitalityEducators.com or 602-799-5375  


HospitalityEducators.com was created to help hospitality businesses address problems via a training and information resource site to help you increase your Hotel's revenue, market share and profitability.  With more than 950 pages of tips, guides, best practices, strategies, plans, budgets, videos and resources, HospitalityEducators.com has become the #1 independent website for  hotel owners and managers.  This site can help you solve your problems now!      Read More 

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KEYS TO SUCCESS  is the umbrella title for my 2011-2012 programs, hospitality services and columns. This year’s writings focus on a variety of topics for hotel owners, managers and professionals including both my "HOW TO" articles, HOSPITALITY CONVERSATIONS™, Lessons from the Field™, Hotel Common Sense™ , THE P-A-R PRINCIPLE  and Principles for Success.

Feel free to share an idea for a column at john.hogan@hospitalityeducators.com   anytime or contact me regarding consulting, customized workshops, speaking engagements … And remember – we all need a regular dose of common sense.


     John Hogan, Certified Hospitality Educator (CHE), Certified Hotel                                      Administrator (CHA), Certified Master Hotel Supplier (CMHS)


John Hogan is a successful hospitality executive, educator, author and consultant and is a frequent keynote speaker and seminar leader at many hospitality industry events. He is Co-Founder of www.HospitalityEducators.com , which delivers focused and affordable counsel in solving specific challenges facing hospitality today.

Consulting Expertise and Research Interest

1.    Turn-around and revenue management

2.    Professional Development for the Organization and the Individual

3.    Customer Service

4.      Making Cultural Diversity Real

5.    Developing Academic Hospitality programs

6.    Medical Lodging Consulting

7.    Sales Management and training


If you need assistance in any of these areas or simply an independent review or opinion on a hospitality challenge, contact me directly for a prompt response and very personalized attention.

www.HospitalityEducators.com  is a membership site offering a wide range of information, forms, best practices and ideas designed to help individual hoteliers and hospitality businesses improve their market penetration, deliver service excellence and increase their profitability.


Your Hospitality Resource for the Hotel Owner, Innkeeper, Manager and Hospitality Industry Associations

CONTACT        John Hogan, CHE CHA CMHS

United States - Phoenix, Phone: 602-799-5375

www.hoganhospitality.com / Email: info@hoganhospitality.com




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