Category Archives: Cross-Cultural

Canada Day: July 1

Canada Day

Canada day is the national day of Canada and is an official national bank holiday and paid workday. Every year, the holiday is celebrated on July 1 to commemorate the anniversary of the British North American Act signed on July 1,1867. This act, known today as the 1867 Constitution Act, joined  the three British colonies Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada (now Ontario and Quebec) to form a new, single country called Canada. As well as creating the new country Canada as a member of the British Empire, it also set out the detailed constitutional groundwork for Canada’s government, including the taxation system, justice system, and federal structure.

History of Canada Day

Canada Day has been an official holiday in Canada since its creation in 1879 when it was known as Dominion Day. However, it was not until the 1950s that the holiday began to be widely celebrated. As the holiday grew in popularity, there was some controversy as to the name of the holiday. Many believed that Dominion Day sounded to pejoratively colonial, while traditionalists believed changing the name to Canada Day would be an affront to the British Empire. In 1967, Canada celebrated their centennial as a country, which greatly increased Canadian patriotism. The passing of the 1982 Constitution Act that changed Canada from a dominion of the British Empire to an independent country of the Commonwealth, also greatly increased Canadian patriotism. On October 27. 1982, the holiday was changed to Canada Day.

How Canada Day is Celebrated

Canada Day is celebrated throughout Canada. When July 1 falls on either a Saturday or Sunday, the celebrations employees are granted July 2 as the holiday from work. Much like the Fourth of July celebrations in the United States, Canadians like to celebrate Canada Day with outdoor activities such as street hockey, parades, barbecues, firework shows, free musical concerts, etc. In Ottawa, Ontario (the capital of Canada), the prime minister officiates the live concerts and displays of Canadian cultural pride on Parliament Hill.

June 24: Anniversary of the Battle of Carabobo (Venezuela)

Battle of Carabobo

The Battle of Carabobo was the most significant battle and subsequent victory of the Venezuelan ‘War of Independence’ from Spain.  The historic battle was fought in Carabobo on June 24, 1821 between Independence fighters and Royalist Spanish forces. The Independence fighters numbered 6,000 men and were lead by the famous General Simon Bolivar, while Spanish Field Marshal Miguel de la Torre led about 4,000 armed Royalists.

Venezuelan War for Independence

Battle of Carabobo

Battle of Carabobo

Venezuela declared their formal independence from Spain with a written Declaration of Independence made by Congress on July 5, 1811.  This act began the 12-year war for independence fought between the two countries, culminating in the Battle of Carabobo.  General Simon Bolivar, the leader of the Independence fighters, is an iconic figure of Latin American independence and is associated with the modern day “Bolivarianism” movement in South America.

Modern Day Traditions

This June 24th will be the 192nd celebration of the Battle of Carabobo in Venezuela and will be celebrated as a national holiday consisting of a televised military parade and air show held in the Field of Carabobo.

Cultural Quick Tip: Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Communication

When new parents first bring home their baby, they are faced with many new communication challenges as they try to understand and meet the needs of their newborn. Without verbal communication parents must rely upon observable types of communication in the form of facial expressions, cries and body movements. Parents have a vested interest in learning to decode their child’s nonverbal communication, as it will help them to raise a healthy and happy baby. While your colleagues in the workplace communicate both verbally and non-verbally, understanding how to interpret their nonverbal communication can be a great advantage. Keep in mind that the meaning behind body language and facial expressions may vary from culture to culture, so it is always good to check for understanding.

Action Step:
Research communication etiquette from other cultures to aid your understanding when communicating with people from outside your country or culture.

Holiday Spotlight: Ridvan

Ridvan is a 12-day festival of the Baha’i Faith that begins at sunset on April 21th.  The word Ridvan translates into the word paradise and is the most holy Baha’i festival. The festival is sometimes referred to as the “Most Great Festival” and is a celebration of the start of the prophet hood of Baha’u’llah.

Ridvan Garden Baghdad

Ridvan Garden Baghdad

Ridvan marks Baha’u’llah’s time in the garden of Ridvan in 1863 and his announcement to his companions in the garden that he was a messenger of God and the prophet promised by the Bab. The 1st, 9th and 12th days are especially holy days. They commemorate the arrival of Baha’u’llah at the Ridván Garden, the arrival of his family and his eventual departure from the garden.  These are the days that work and school is usually suspended for all Baha’i people.

Gardens are a requirement for Baha’i Houses of Worship. There are currently seven continental Baha’i Houses of Worship in the world. Each has a unique style but they all have four basic requirements: they are circular shape, have nine sides, a dome, and are surrounded by nine gardens with walkways.

The Baha’i faith is a monotheistic religion founded in the 1800s in the geographic region once known as Persia by Baha’u’llah.

Ridvan is one of the holidays included in our top 15 Religious Holidays Guide.  Learn more about this important scheduling and reference tool:

Helping the International Athlete Succeed in a New Country – Part One

Helping International Athletes Succeed

International Athlete Jose Goncalves

International Athlete Jose Goncalves for the New England Revolution

From the minute an international athlete steps off the plane, they are expected to perform at a top level in a new league, with a new team, in a new city, in a different language and with a new culture to learn.  The adjustment to playing in the US can be challenging for athletes. For teams that are seeking to make the most of their investment into an international athlete, is it important to keep in mind how cultural adjustments will impact their international athletes. This is a series of blog posts on how to help international athletes succeed when playing on US teams. Check back for future blog post on this same topic.


Scouting international athletes in their home countries can lead to unrealistic expectations of what a player can do for a US team.  A player in their own country is typically playing with a team they know, in their own country and culture, speaking their own language and with a support structure of friends and family around them which helps them to be happy off the field and thus able to perform at their best on the field.  In essence, they are in the best possible conditions.  All of that changes when they are uprooted and brought to their new US team where they are in a new culture, with a new team, often without a support structure as they are far from family and friends. Many are also struggling with a completely new language so their ability to communicate with their coaches and teammates is very limited and their ability to settle into a new community is challenged greatly by this inability to speak the language.   If they have a family, a player is also struggling with either missing them as they are back home, or worried about their happiness and ability to settle into the new country where they are often isolated due to language issues. So how to improve the chances of an international athlete succeeding?

Before offering an international athlete a contract take into account the following:

• Have they lived and played abroad before? If so, were they successful?

• Do they have any English language skills? If not, are they willing to learn? Are you willing to provide the type of support needed to help them learn the language?

• Have they lived away from friends and family before?

• Do they have a spouse and children? If so, will they relocate with the player or will they

remain at home?  Are you willing to provide the support the family will need to settle?

in if they come with the player?

• Does the athlete have an outgoing, problem solving personality that will make it easier for them to make friends and to adjust to the challenges they will encounter?

• Is there a local community from the athlete’s home country near your team that can help the athlete to adjust culturally?

• Why does the athlete want to compete in the US? Is it because they think it is good for their career or because they really want to play in the US? A strong desire to play in the US will help them to be more successful.

Before Their Arrival

An athlete will be anxious about the move to a US team. Providing information ahead of time that helps to allay their concerns and apprehension will assist greatly in helping them to make an easier transition.   Give them information not only about the team and the other athletes they will be working with but also about the city and the local region.

Early Days

Once an international athlete arrives, their first few weeks with the team is a critical time as they settle into daily life. While it may seem like enough for the club to provide the basics like helping the person get a work permit, driver’s license and a place to live, this level is not sufficient if they want to player to really be successful.   Once an athlete has a place to sleep and transportation to get back and forth to practice, the next level of support is helping them to understand the basics of daily life.


This is the largest barrier to a athlete’s ability to adjust well.  The ability to communicate with team members and coaches is absolutely critical. While watching what is going on will lead to some comprehension, verbal communication is essential to a deeper understanding of the team, the style of play and the coach’s desires for the athlete.  It is important that a team use a professional translator as much as possible instead of fellow team members who may speak the language. A teammate may not know the vocabulary or may feel awkward giving feedback to a colleague. It limits the international athlete’s independence and his ability to seek and receive feedback from the coach directly.

Cultural Adjustment

Addressing the language barriers is the first step; the next step is helping the athlete to adjust to the new culture.  Culture is at its essence, the values and norms of a group of people. As such, each team will have its own culture and the athlete is adjusting to this culture at the same time they are also adjusting to the national culture of the country. People living in a culture rarely stop to think about their own culture.  How things get done is just “the way things happen.” But, to an outsider, this may or may not be the way things have been done in their home culture. In the US for example, there is a very direct communication style as Americans “tell it like it is.”  Many cultures around the world have a communication style that is much more indirect and thus, international players have to adjust to this new style of communicating. This is just one small example of the myriad of ways that culture impacts virtually every facet of our lives.

Many of these steps are not that time consuming nor expensive to implement. With the investment of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars that a team is already making in bringing in an international athlete, making a small additional investment in these extra steps can help the player to adjust better and in turn give his best on the field. This in turn this will result in higher player success, team success and league success.

Hostile Work Environments – How Workplace Incivility Impacts Business

How a Hostile Work Environment Impacts Business

A hostile work environment can greatly decrease employee productivity and raise stress. Building a work environment that promotes respectful behavior between employees is a business imperative. According to that recent WSJ article “How to Disarm a Nasty Co-Worker: Use a Smile,” networking-equipment company Cisco Systems Inc. estimated the cost of a hostile work environment in its organization to be over $8.3 million annually in 2007, a figure that takes into account “turnover, employees’ weakened commitment to the company and work time that was lost to worrying about future bad behavior.”  The article also sited a July survey of 1,000 people from public-relations firm Weber Shandwick, which found that 26% of respondents had quit a job because of a hostile work environment.

Hostile Work Environments - How Workplace Incivility Impacts Business

Having a hostile work environment negatively impacts overall business productivity

The problem with hostile work environments seems to be growing in an increasingly fast paced and competitive job market. Where technological advancement has helped to streamline business, it has also greatly blurred the line between work and life for many employees who now find themselves wired to the office 24/7.  The pace of work and hourly demands have increased overall workplace stress and this can lead to more hostile work environments.  A Harvard Business Review study “The Price of Incivility” which polled thousands of employees over the last 14 years has shown that the number of employees who felt they were treated rudely at least once a week has risen from 25% in 1998 to 50% in 2011. The same HBR study included a poll of 800 managers and employees in 17 industries and found the following statistics for workers who’ve been on the receiving end of incivility:

  • 48% intentionally decreased their work effort.
  • 47% intentionally decreased the time spent at work.
  • 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work.
  • 80% lost work time worrying about the incident.
  • 63% lost work time avoiding the offender.
  • 66% said that their performance declined.
  • 78% said that their commitment to the organization declined.
  • 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on customers.

The negative impact of a hostile work environment on employees and overall business productivity is unmistakable. The study also found that “one quarter of the offenders surveyed said that they didn’t recognize their behavior as uncivil” and that training, classes, and tools teaching civility can be essential to improving overall awareness of civility in the work environment.

 Culture Coach Diversity Training and Products for Improving a Hostile Work Environment


Culture Coach International is a leading expert in consulting, training curriculum, and employee engagement tools that help to build respectful work environments. Culture Coach has long understood the importance that building a respectful work environment can have for a company and has successfully worked with client’s to achieve their goals in creating more positive work environment. Our customized trainings and employee engagement tools empower employees to effect change by becoming more aware of their individual behaviors and actions in their work environment. Employees learn how small changes can go a long way, as they gain awareness about how their every day behaviors impact those around them.

An important key is consistent outreach and messaging. At CCI we work with executives to shift the company’s culture to one of respect and civility. We also work with companies to assess their particular problems and develop customized training modules or online training modules for managers and employees to create a positive workplace environment at every level of the organization.

Initiatives for building a more respectful work environment do not need to cost a lot to be highly effective. We also have a collection of stand-alone employee engagement and learning tools that can help to promote respectful work environments by raising employee awareness about important cultural and diversity issues. These are:

101 Cultural Quick Tips Book

Diversity Calendar (2014 Calendar coming soon!)

African American History Month Activities Toolbox

Disability Awareness Timeline

Cultural Quick Tip Subscription

Generations Quick Tip Subscription

For more information about how our tools can help you to create a more civil and respectful work environment, please give us a call. We are happy to help. 617-795-1688

The Green March, Morocco November 6

The Green March was an organized political demonstration orchestrated by the Moroccan government in order to gain control of what they viewed as the Moroccan Sahara from Spanish control. The march took place from November 6-10, 1975, with approximately 350,000 Moroccan citizens and 20,000 troops gathering together at the city of Tarfaya in southern Morocco and marching into the Sahara region of Sakiya Lhmra. Marchers carried with them Moroccan flags and Qur’ans. The march earned the name the “Green March” because of the use of the color green, which was used to symbolize the march’s connection to Islam.

On October 16, 1975 the International Court of Justice announced that Sahara should have the right to self-rule. King Hassan of Morocco did not want to lose this valuable territory that was by his view a part of his country, and so he worked internally to organize a political march that would advance his claim over the Sahara region. While Morocco claimed sovereignty over Sahara, the disputed territory itself did not want to leave Spanish control just to be taken over by Morocco’s government. Thus Morocco was eventually met with fierce resistance in the form of the Saharan Polisario. To this day the territory remains a disputed region and the Green March is a holiday symbolizing Moroccans’ belief in the legitimacy of their claim.

August 21: Ninoy Aquino Day – Philippines

August 21: Ninoy Aquino Day – Philippines

Ninoy Aquino Day is a special non-working day in the Philippines to commemorate the assassination of politician Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. on August 21, 1983. The assassination of Benigno Aquino sparked a series of political rallies in the Philippines, which grew into the “People Power Revolution”. This series of rallies and revolution eventually led to the collapse of the Marcos’ backed Philippines government in 1986.

Ninoy Aquino – Young Politician

Benigno Aquino was an ambitious and democratically inclined politician who served as Mayor, Governor, and Senator within the Philippines. Ninoy Aquino opposed the suppressive government led by President Ferdinand Marcos. Through the formation of the Lakas Ng Bayan, otherwise known as the LABAN party, Aquino actively criticized the way President Marcos ruled the country. After President Marcos established Martial Law in 1972, Aquino was imprisoned for seven years and sentenced to death by firing squad.

Ninoy Aquino – Imprisonment and Failing Health

While imprisoned Aquino suffered a heart attack, after which he was allowed to travel to the US for medical treatment. After three years in the US, during which time he continued to speak out against Marcos’ leadership, Aquino returned to the Philippines to challenge President Marcos in the 1984 election. Aquino was shot to death when he arrived at Manila International Airport as he disembarked.

Ninoy Aquino Day

People in the Philippines observe Ninoy Aquino Day on the anniversary of Benigno Aquino’s assassination date every year. Since Ninoy Aquino Day is a special non-working day, many Filipinos use the day to gather with family. Some people commemorate the day solemnly by recalling and honoring what people have done to establish democracy in the Philippines.

International Business Etiquette Tips – Qatar

Culture Coach International is doing a new blog series, where each weekly segment will have a list of the of 5 essential “International Business Etiquette Tips” to working with a specific country.

If you enjoy the series, Sign-up for our Monthly Newsletter to receive monthly cultural quick tips, international holidays, and proverbs from around the world.

International Business Etiquette – Qatar

  1. When Muslims greet each other, instead of saying, “good morning” or “hello” they often say “Assalamu Alaikum,” which means, “May peace be upon you and may God’s blessings be with you.” It is good to learn these greetings in Arabic as a sign of respect and effort on your part to learn a phrase of their language.
  2. Most Qataris do not eat any meat that has not been prepared to “halaal” (lawful) standards. Pork products are illegal in Qatar and many Qataris think of pigs as unclean animals, so it is very important to avoid pork products.
  3. Qataris often value close contact and less personal space, so do not back up or shy away; physical contact among males is common; if a Qatari man tries to take your hand while walking, do not quickly pull it away because this is a great sign of friendship.
  4. Be aware that in Qatar the Hijrah (Arabic) date is used as well as the Gregorian date; the workweek typically runs from Saturday to Thursday, 8:00 am to 12:00 pm and 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm; Friday is a Muslim holy day; during Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha (the two most important Islamic holidays) no business will be conducted.
  5. Qataris may leave for 15-20 minutes throughout the day to conduct prayers; when hosting, appointments and meetings should be set between particular prayer times if possible; make sure there is a space reserved where they may go to pray undisturbed.

If you enjoy the series, Sign-up for our Monthly Newsletter to receive monthly cultural quick tips, international holidays, and proverbs from around the world.

Latest Cultural Quick Tip Newsletter is Out Now – December 2012

Culture Coach International just finished releasing the Cultural Quick Tip Newsletter for December 2012. The theme of the month is Combining Old and New, which takes a metaphorical look at how diversity initiatives require both new and old resources in order to be effective.

This month’s holiday features Junkanoo in the Bahamas: This post Christmas Day celebration is believed to date back to the 17th century and is filled with colors, costumes and street carnivals.

We also included the international secular and religious holidays for the month of December, alongside some interesting proverbs and idioms from Hawaii, Russia and Korea.

For a complete look at the newsletter, click here. If you are interesting in signing up to receive the monthly tip in your inbox each month, sign up here.

Watching Out for Racism: Athletes & Fans Still Need Guidance Pt. 1

On Sunday September 9th, the Paralympic games at the 2012 London Olympic ended with another grand display of fireworks and theatrics. It has been another 11 days of fun and thrilling sports competition that have kept us on the CCI team well entertained for a large part of the summer. However, as a diversity and inclusion training company, we are prone to point out some of the more controversial moments relating to the international competition. As such, we have noticed the expulsions due to racist comments by some of the athletes, as well as cultural bias among fans and commentators relating to the athletes. While the instances are few, it still represents a need to draw attention to how our comments reflect our own biases about others, even during an event that is as multicultural and international as the Olympic games. This is part 1 of a 3 part series.

The Closing Ceremony at the 2012 London Paralympic Games on September 9th. CC 2.0 by Peter Glenday via Flickr

Every four years the world joins together to support the athletes of the Olympic Games and to collectively celebrate human achievement, good will, diversity, and sportsmanship. The Olympic Charter states that competing athletes must have “mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play,” yet at this year’s Summer Olympic Games in London, there were shocking incidences of athletes showing very little respect and understanding of each other’s cultures by posting racist tweets. Last week, we highlighted several major reasons why the diversity and inclusion training efforts for the Olympic technical staff needed to be improved: Sensitive Cross Cultural Snafus Highlighted During the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. This week we will be extending the issue to include why we believe the athletes, the members of the Olympic community most visible to fans, need to partake in diversity and cross-cultural training as well. Perhaps if cultural and diversity training were to have been implemented prior to the games to these vital members of the Olympic community, some of the unfortunate and dispiriting incidences of racism may not have marred the overall success of this year’s Olympic games and the personal successes of the athletes who were barred.

The Tweet from Greek Triple jumper Voula Papachristou that lead to her expulsion from the 2012 London Olympic games by the International Olympic Committee

These 2012 London games have been dubbed the “Twitter Olympics” because of the widespread use of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook by fans and athletes, allowing non-stop updates and opinions on the events of the games.  According to an article on “there were more tweets in a single day…than during the entire 2008 Beijing Games.” Due to the influence of these social platforms, many controversial and racially insensitive remarks by athletes became immediately public, spreading debate among fans and viewers across the globe. It is the first time that the athletes have had an outlet to express their personal opinions on the IOC and the events of the games, figuratively breaking down the “fourth wall” between fans and athletes. As a result, what players have published has been under close scrutiny by Olympic officials and for some, their controversial views crushed any hopes at a chance of winning a medal, and in 2 instances, the athletes were dismissed for racist remarks. The first to be expelled was Greek triple jumper, Voula Papachristou, who tweeted: “So many Africans in Greece at least West Nile mosquitoes will eat homemade food.” A few days later, Michel Morganella, a soccer player for the Swiss team, was expelled for his twitter comments that expressed how he was going to “burn the mongaloids” after his team lost to South Korea. Both of these “twitter controversies” resulted in the players being dismissed from participating in the games.

To its credit, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) and the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) have defended the spirit of the Olympic games by adopting a zero tolerance policy for racist comments such as the above. Prior to the games, athletes were reminded of the IOC’s social media, blogging, and internet guidelines that “postings, blogs and tweets should at all times conform to the Olympic spirit and fundamental principles of Olympism as contained in the Olympic Charter.” While these guidelines are not an official policy, it may become necessary to instate a rigorous policy in regards to the use of social media at the Olympics. However, along with stricter rules on social media, a mandatory cross-cultural and diversity training for athletes during training season and upon arrival at the Olympic village may prove the most effective way to diminish racial comments by addressing the root cause. Many of the competitors are coming from countries where international exposure is limited and from cultures where stereotypes of foreign cultures are widespread. Athletes could greatly benefit from cross-cultural training that raises awareness of the unique viewpoints and customs of over 200 diverse nationalities. If the Olympic Charter proposes “mutual understanding” as a requisite for competing Olympic athletes, then the IOC needs to take these athletes’ cross-cultural training as seriously as their physical training because fostering understanding between members of very diverse cultural backgrounds takes time, effort and perseverance.

Spanish Magazine Stirs Up Controversy over Culturally Insensitive Portrayal of Michelle Obama as a Slave

Left: The original portrait of a former slave from Guadalupe known as the “Portrait d’une négresse” by French artist Marie-Guillemine Benoist. To the right is Karine Percheron-Daniels’ work portraying Michelle Obama’s face, picked up and published by Fuera de Serie in their August 12, 2012 edition.

Since Fuera de Serie, the ‘lifestyle’ portion of the Spanish magazine Exposicion, released its August 12, 2012 edition, media attention across the Atlantic has been slowly grabbing on to the controversial front cover: a rendition of Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s painting of a slave from Guadeloupe with the face of Michelle Obama superimposed on it. This piece, which is part of a larger series of celebrities being featured on prominent works of art by Karine Percheron-Daniels, has struck a cord with Americans and the portrayal of their First Lady. Many in the United States find it racist and distasteful as they wonder how any magazine could promote such an image that conjures up so much emotion and negative history. However, when you get down to the bottom line, there are clear cultural differences between the Spanish and Americans that have created this controversy, and understanding how each culture interprets the historical context of slavery through their ‘cultural filters’, or lenses, may help to assuage those deeply offended by this image.

As Americans, we come equipped to view things with our own ‘cultural filters’ because of our national history, upbringings, and societal values. As such, this  image easily conjures up the not-so-distant memory of American slavery, the relatively recent fight for African-American civil rights, and the current prejudices and racial inequalities that many racial minorities in America still face today.  It is easy to see why, given our country’s tumultuous history, that the image would be interpreted by many as racist or distasteful. Similarly, many women in the United States were discouraged at seeing the First Lady portrayed in a sexually provocative and objectified way. In her response to the article, Althea Legal-Miller of Clutch magazine summarizes the voice of descent when she says that the portrait reinforces the “historical denial of black women’s individuality and agency” and speaks to a “painful history of exploitation and erotic objectification, which continues to manifest in multiple contexts across the black female diaspora.”

For the Spanish, who have a completely different historical background, society, and culture, they might not have realized the extent of their blunder when making the decision to mass produce the image. In general, Spain has been a relatively progressive nation in the history of the abolition of slavery. In 1542, the Spanish Empire attempted to instate the first European law abolishing colonial slavery. By 1811, Spain had abolished slavery at home and in all of their colonies except Cuba, Puerto Rico, and San Domingo and by 1817 they had paid Britain a value of 400,000 euro to stop the trade to those colonies. Slavery continued to exist in the Spanish colonies and overseas territories until the 1860s, yet this historical information was far removed from the mainland where a minimal portion of the population is of African or indigenous American decent.  With the fall of the Spanish Empire, Spain became a very poor country further torn apart by the Civil War of the 1930s and the despotic rule of Francisco Franco from 1936-1975 that culturally and economically isolated Spain from the rest of the world. Like most poor countries with little economic opportunities, Spain’s population became increasingly more homogenized until the 1980s when it cast off its dictator, Francisco Franco, joined the European Union, and saw huge growth and prosperity in its economy during the economic boom of the 1990’s. Since then, Moroccans, Chinese, Pakistanis, Ecuadorians, and Eastern Europeans have come to Spain in large numbers to seek better lives for themselves. Given this relatively new ‘phenomenon’ of immigration in Spain, a history of isolation and little internal turmoil with regards to slavery, it may be possible that the magazine editors were culturally blind to the offensive nature of the picture.

However, in a world where technology breaks all international barriers in an instant, this type of cultural unawareness is no longer acceptable.  Given the article’s content, the editors at Magazine Fuera de Serie clearly intended a positive depiction of the First Lady, as a powerful female figure who has come to dominate the popularity poles with her grace and prowess in the White House. Their huge oversight in not realizing that the magazine cover would be internationally contested shows a severe cultural competency problem at the company and specifically on the part of those editors in charge of making final decisions. Had they undergone some desperately needed culturally competency training, they may have had enough awareness so that at least someone would say: “Wait, since this is a tribute to an American leader and will probably be viewed by Americans and people all over the world on the internet, let me call my American contact over in New York and get some feedback on how an American might view the idea and representation.” I can assure you whoever that contact would be would probably have told the editors to go back to the drawing board.

Indeed, Michelle Obama is a symbol of strength for women and African Americans in the US and around the world and no controversial picture can alter that fact. The culturally insensitive actions of the magazine only help to underline how important it is to have awareness of other cultures, especially in an age where technology and marketing on the internet make every company visible globally. For those Americans who were understandably deeply offended by the picture, it goes to show how powerful cultural filters can be that a message clearly intended as a compliment could be so easily misconstrued. Hopefully as we become aware of the impact of our American cultural views on slavery, the role of women, and sexuality in society and how vastly different it is from the cultural views of Spain, there may be some room for understanding and forgiveness.

Let us know what you think below…

Sensitive Cross Cultural Snafus Highlighted During the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London

Official Logo of the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Photo Courtesy of Roebot via Flickr

The 2012 London Summer Olympics came to an end this past weekend, highlighting the intensely competitive global sporting world. There were approximately 980 individual medals awarded during these 2012 Olympic games, and considering how many opportunities this represents to make a cultural error, there were only a few notable mistakes to be had. However, those few mistakes become very significant because they undermined the extensive efforts made by the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic (LOCOG) for cross-cultural and diversity training prior to the opening ceremonies. The LOCOG was the first committee in Olympic history to make diversity and inclusion a priority of the event, offering a four-hour training session at Wembley Arena to its 70,000 volunteers and paid staff; sourcing from minority owned businesses; and selecting volunteers that represented the diverse population of London. Without a doubt, these efforts by the LOCOG have been the most extensive undertaken by any host city in the history of the games. However, back in March, British papers released articles reporting that volunteers felt the training was patronizing and that the Olympic committee did not trust in the common sense of the people to handle basic issues about race, gender, orientation, and ethnicity. These reports and the cultural gaffes witnessed early on in the games are an indication that the training program may have serious holes and may need to be reassessed and reworked before the games in Rio De Janeiro 2016.

One of the more serious cultural mistakes of the 17-day event took place before the opening ceremonies even began. The North Korean women’s soccer team was introduced on the megatron with a picture of the South Korean flag posted next to the players’ names and pictures. The severity of such a mistake lies in the fact that South Korea and North Korea have been at war with each other for over 50 years. North Korean players refused to take the field for over an hour until referees the error was corrected. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially apologized later that evening, but the event had been marred for both teams and countries involved in the controversy.

Another example of a lack of cultural understanding was during the medal acceptance ceremony for Hungarian Aron Szilagyi, who won gold in the men’s individual saber (fencing) competition. Standing on the podium, he was greatly disappointed when the recording of the Hungarian national anthem was played so incredibly out of tempo that it was unrecognizable. It was noted that Aron attempted to sing along with the national anthem, but was unable to keep up with the pace of the version recorded. The London Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra recorded each anthem individually for the participating nations about a year ago during a six-day crammed recording session. The event received much criticism from the Hungarian officials and citizens via twitter.

Interestingly, neither of these mistakes came from the volunteers who went through the diversity and inclusion training, rather, but rather from the paid technical specialists working behind-the-scenes at the Olympics. These specialists also received diversity and inclusion training, yet in keeping up with the hectic task of making sure events would run smoothly, the technical staff may have lapsed on their cultural sensitivity training when it was needed the most. These staff members, including cameramen, audio/sound techs, announcers, and the slew of other programmers, play a vital role in the successful operations of the Olympics and also have a very visible role to the billions of people who watch the games. In hindsight, the North Korean soccer team blunder might have easily been solved if these staff had better on-hand cultural competency training materials while working in the field. Individual binder presentations outlining the core customs, language, religion, and history of the teams in the line-up for the day’s events can prove an effective refresher tool for technicians who may not remember the cultural training from earlier in the year. These materials, including basic information on the country, a picture of the flag, a pronunciation guide to team player names, etc. could be an easy last double-check before going live. Not everyone is aware of the political, historic, or ethnic tensions between peoples and nations, but having the tools to gain this information on-site may help prevent such a mistake at the 2016 summer Olympic games when once again the world will be paying attention.

For the London Symphony Orchestra and the development staff behind the recordings of the anthems, it would have been important to verify the anthem chosen with the staff from each country before going to recording, and then once again when the recording has finalized. Stopping to think about the impact a national anthem has for an athlete standing upon a podium and their fellow countrymen and women viewing the event is a momentous occasion that is deserving of more careful consideration, culturally speaking, than perhaps 6 days can give in order to record 180 plus national anthems.

The Olympics are an incredible time for people from around the world to come together and to share a common experience. And, there are surely numerous examples of wonderful cross-cultural experiences that were had at the games. At the same time, very public and embarrassing gaffes, like what happened with the flag and the anthem, also highlight the need to provide more cross cultural training and the need to provide key reference materials for them when they are making critical decisions. The Olympics are an opportunity for the IOC to help people to gain a better understanding of the cultures of the world. One way that this can occur is by providing training that both helps the Olympics to go off without any public cultural gaffes and provides insights into the vast tapestry that makes the Olympics the largest cross cultural event in the world.

Cultural Quick Tip Newsletter is Here for August 2012!

Feeling vulnerable in a time of transition can be difficult in the workplace, but is essential for growth. Just as a hermit crab must leave its shell in order to find a new, larger one, so must an employee change with the growth of a company. Having clear goals and roles can help your employees feel less vulnerable during this time.

We have just released the August edition of the Cultural Quick Tip for those of you who are signed up to receive it in your inbox. This month’s newsletter features the international holiday dates for the month, cultural quick tip on acknowledging vulnerability in the workplace, idioms and proverbs from various cultures, and a holiday spotlight on Honey Spas, Russia’s honey harvest and summer’s last hurrah. Click here to check it out for the month of August, and if you’d like to subscribe to next month’s newsletter, please send us an email: or visit our webpage to fill out a simple request form.

Islamic Holy Month of Ramadan in Pictures From Around the World 2012

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan began on the night of the first sighting of the crescent of a new moon back on the 20th of July in North America. (Date and time depends on which part of the world you were in at the time) Fasting from sunrise to sunset is one of the five pillars of Islam, and is a colorful time filled with family, friends, and many parties and small gatherings to celebrate the month. To showcase some of the sights of the month long holiday around the world, I found some pictures of the foods, people, and places relevant to the holiday. Please enjoy the following photo gallery for Ramadan 2012.

Accras (saltfish or shrimp with a type of pea or bean) is a common dish during Ramadan in Guyana and other countries in the Caribbean. Photo by Chennette via Flickr


Muslims pass around the Kaaba during Ramadan in Mecca, Saudi Arabia 2012. Photo by Mink via Flickr


Ramadan evening market in Indonesia


On the Eve of the First Night of Ramadan in Dow Village, Trinidad with the Mosque in the background at Sunset. Photo by TaranRampersad via Flickr


Ramadan, or Iftar, in Sudan. This is a meal for the first night with cheese, olives, sujuk, chicken, fuul, salads, and more. Photo by Vit Hassan via Flickr.


Ramadan, or Ramazan in Serbo-Croatian, is based on a lunar calendar. This clock tower in Sarajevo, Bosnia is believe to be the only one in the world that calculates lunar time. Noon is when the sun sets.


Ramadan at the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. This is the largest mosque in the world and the only tourist attraction to Morocco’s largest city.


Boys stand on the balcony of a local mosque in Nepal. Photo by IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation via Flickr.


Ramadan in Bulgaria as celebrated by the Pomaks (seen dancing in the square) of the mountains of the Balkan peninsula and Turkey.


A poster in the Netherlands proclaiming ‘Ramadan is for Everyone”. Photo by Maxnathans via Flickr.