Trading Thoughts Blog
Permanent link for Doing Business in Australia: Culture, Mentality, and Etiquette on January 5, 2023
Original post from August 2019
Updated December 2022
The Commonwealth of Australia, the world’s smallest continent and largest island, is a diverse country with vast iconic natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef and the Outback, and heavily concentrated cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. Being a newly established country in 1901, it was easy for the country to develop its own cultural personality. Although the culture can be described as Western with indigenous influences, foreigners may be surprised by the quirks and personal touches that Australians have made over time to the standards of their Western lifestyle.
A significant contributor to Western culture is the multinational and famed sport of rugby. Although Australia is well-known for being very much involved in competing internationally in rugby, they are famous for playing their own version as well, Australian football. Australian football can be described as a mixture of rugby, soccer, and American football, with an oval-shaped field and goalposts that resemble those of American football. To score points, players kick the ball through the set of goalposts that are on either end of the field. One of the most intriguing differences in this sport is that the players can pass to their teammates by kicking the ball or punching it with their palms, but they cannot throw it. Additionally, although Australian football is a contact sport, they do not wear any padding, only a jersey uniform. Australian football is a very entertaining and popular sport to watch. For this reason, it is a notable contributor to the country’s economy. The Australian Football League (AFL) reported revenue of AUD$480 million in 2015.
Economically, Australia is revered as the wealthiest (per adult) country in the world, with a decently low poverty rate of 13.2% as of 2018. The United States plays a particularly important role in the economy of Australia, being that it remains their largest two-way trading partner in goods and services. This is a result of the Australian-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) that was established in 2005. The passing of this agreement has since increased the trade flow by 91%.
As a result of AUSFTA, there is no surprise that American businesses seek to further strengthen the trade relationship between the two countries. Business opportunities in Australia are of wide variety and significance. However, the quirky culture can often be intimidating for business persons from other countries. There are three key aspects to understand that will enhance a business trip to Australia by providing a deeper appreciation of the country: the business culture, mentality, and etiquette.
Australian Business Culture
Meetings in Australia can seem different from those typically held in the United States. To start, they are considerably more laid back. It is typical for Australian business persons to use colorful language (curse words) in meetings, as well as, crack jokes to lighten the mood. Additionally, it is common to be addressed by only your first name, and it is expected that you do the same. Even though it may not seem like it, Australians do take these business affairs seriously. Therefore, it is important to dress the part and be prepared for your meeting. If you are presenting a proposition or sitting as a chairman, it is expected that you be punctual and show up to the meeting a few minutes early. Also, be sure to chat about things like the weather or sports to relax the atmosphere.
Modesty and Understanding
A key factor in the business culture of Australia is modesty. Australians are very modest about their job position; it is very unattractive to them when a foreigner emphasizes their title and the greatness of their business. For this reason, it is recommended to not use an aggressive sales technique to persuade a potential partner, as most of the time it will not work. Avoid overselling your company, or coming off as self-important. It is more persuasive if the facts are laid out for them with a friendly attitude. But even if you do execute your sale in this way, they still may clearly express that they are not interested; Australian business persons are known to be very blunt and honest when considering a business contract. It is important to prepare for a straightforward rejection. Of course, this response will not be rude, but rather, more diplomatic. Nevertheless, it may take longer than expected to receive this response. This is because businesses in Australia value a team environment. The top management of a corporation will most likely consult their subordinates before deciding. No matter your position in the company, Australian businesses are very considerate of everyone’s opinion and expect that it be shared. Patience and understanding are key in these situations.
Business Etiquette in Australia
Gifts are not expected at business interactions but are greatly appreciated when given at the correct time. In Australia, it is commonly understood as bribing when a person brings a gift to a meeting before the close of a deal. If you decide to give a gift, simply have one prepared if a close or agreement arises. This will come off as congratulations and will be admired. Additionally, if invited out to dinner or drinks, do not begin to discuss business unless the counterpart does so. It can be seen as rude, or pushy if a business person attempts to bring a pitch to the table because it can cause stress and create a serious atmosphere.
If you are planning a trip to Australia for business purposes, it is recommended to understand the unique business culture, mentality, and etiquette of the country. A comprehensive education of these elements of their lifestyle will allow more of a relationship and connection to develop between two business persons of different backgrounds. And, if you have some free time in Australia, attempt to catch an Australian football game - you will not be disappointed.
Learn more about the country, trade, and culture of Australia by registering for the Business Travelers Series: Navigating Australia on February 15, 2023 from 9am - 10am EST. This virtual event is generously sponsored by The Gerald R. Ford International Airport and Michigan Economic Development Corporation
Interested in Traveling to Australia?
Contact the Michigan Economic Development Corporation today to learn about the Michigan and Pennsylvania co-hosted trade mission to Sydney and Melbourne, Australia with an option to visit New Zealand.
MI-STEP Funding From MEDC
Did you know that qualifying Michigan companies have the opportunity to receive STEP funds for International Trade Missions and Trade Shows like this one?
To find out if your company is eligible new companies must complete and submit an online intake form here. Existing clients can contact your regional international trade manager. Funds will be approved for specific and measurable export initiatives. Funds for the MI-STEP program are subject to availability. Learn more about the MI-STEP program here.
About the Contributor
Mackenzie was an undergraduate student at Grand Valley State University and a student assistant at the Grand Valley State University’s Van Andel Global Trade Center. She majored in International Business and Finance while minoring in Spanish.
Posted on Permanent link for Doing Business in Australia: Culture, Mentality, and Etiquette on January 5, 2023.
Permanent link for Holiday Celebrations Around the World on December 19, 2022
By Benjamin David
Originally posted December 19, 2018
The holiday season is here again! GVSU’s Van Andel Global Trade Center would like to celebrate with you by sharing some of the holidays and festivals you can find around the world this month.
Every year, millions of people celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th. The celebration of Christmas began in the Roman Empire, though methods of celebration vary greatly around the world. In the West, for example, Christmas trees are popular; the tradition started in Strasbourg, Germany (now part of France) where fir trees were decorated with apples. In Eritrea, neighborhoods will purchase cows and have a community feast together. It is popular for Japanese families to enjoy their Christmas meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken, following an ad campaign in the 1970s. The Icelandic Yuletide Lads, mischievous little elves who climb down the mountains into towns, play tricks and leave children presents; while, it is a popular tradition to roller-skate to church for the weeks leading up to the 25th in Venezuela. There are many more weird and wonderful international traditions like these.
St. Nicholas Day
Celebrated every year on either December 5th or 6th, St. Nicholas day celebrates…St. Nick! St. Nicholas was the bishop of the city of Myra during the 4th century who was renowned for his generosity. Popular during the Middle Ages, St. Nicholas fell somewhat into obscurity after the Protestant Reformation. The Dutch, however, continued to celebrate “Sinterklaas”, as they refer to St. Nick. Every year on his feast day, Sinterklaas would give candy to all the good children of the Netherlands, and provide the bad ones with coal, as well as potatoes and sticks.
From the Netherlands, Sinterklaas was celebrated in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, where the tradition remained after the British acquired the port city and renamed it New York. There, “Sinterklaas” became “Santa Claus” and was merged into Christmas celebrations. Back in Europe, St. Nicholas Day remains popular in Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, as well as parts of Germany France, and Italy. Typically, on the night before St. Nicholas Day, children place a shoe or a boot in front of the fireplace. In the morning, they wake up and discover that St. Nicholas has left them a shoe full of candy and cookies (or potatoes). In Bari, Italy, where St. Nicholas is buried, the day is accompanied by gift-giving and a parade.
On Christmas Eve, families of Polish descent will hold Wigilia, a large feast celebrating the birth of Jesus. Typically, families will spend the days prior to preparing for the feast, comprised of either seven, nine, or eleven courses. Before sitting down, everyone breaks a piece of bread from a traditional wafer and wishes for health, wealth, and happiness. It’s a tradition that an odd number of people cannot be sitting at the table at any point during the meal, and that an extra place at the table is set for Jesus. Meals are meatless except for fish, and traditional Polish dishes such as pierogi and babka are served.
Every December 26th, Boxing Day comes around. Although, if the 26th falls on a weekend, the following Monday will be the day of celebration. Boxing Day is popular in the United Kingdom, as well as in Commonwealth nations such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Originally, Boxing Day was the day that the wealthy and the royals would give gifts to their servants and tradespeople, as well as a general day of charity to the poor. Today, Boxing Day is marked by bonuses given to employees and sporting events such as horse races and rugby matches. It is also common to enjoy a second dinner of leftovers made from the big Christmas meal.
For eight days starting on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev (which began on December 2nd in 2018), Jewish communities celebrate Hanukkah. This is the celebration of the rededication of a Jewish temple in 165 BCE after it was desecrated by an invading army. The most well-known Hanukkah tradition is the lighting of the Menorah, which represents the story of “the Oil in the Temple”. As the story goes, on the first night after the desecration of the temple, there was only enough oil left to light the sacred menorah for a single day. This small amount of oil, however, lasted for eight days, the perfect amount of time for more consecrated oil to be brought to the temple and keep the Menorah lit.
In Israel, Hanukkah is celebrated with parties and songs, as well as a few particularly unique traditions. Every Hanukkah, the relay from Modi’in takes place, in which runners carrying torches run from Modi’in to the Western Wall, the only part of the original temple that still stands. Many different foods are eaten during Hanukkah such as Latkes and sufganiyot. Children are also given gifts and chocolate coins and spin the dreidel.
Searching for ways to bring the African American community together after the Walt Riots in Los Angeles in 1966, Dr. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a celebration of African heritage and culture, primarily recognized in the United States, but does have observers around the world. Celebrated from December 26th until January 1st, Kwanzaa focuses on African tradition and values known as the seven principals. These are unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. The kinara is a traditional candleholder with seven candles, colored red, green, and black, which represent the seven principals. The candles are lit, and the family joins in a discussion over the theme for that day. On December 31st, families hold a feast called a karamu, and often wear traditional African clothing.
St. Lucia Day
St. Lucia Day is a Scandinavian holiday celebrated in Norway and Sweden, as well as in Norwegian and Swedish speaking communities abroad. Honoring St. Lucia, a Christian martyr, the day is intended to usher in light in a time of the year where, depending on how far north you are, the sun may never rise. During the celebration, a family will dress one of their daughters in white, and she will serve coffee and baked goods to her family and guests.
The Jonkonnu Festival is a Caribbean festival celebrated on December 26th. Jonkonnu is a specific kind of dance created to blend traditional African and English dance that originated among slaves in the Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, Guyana, Jamaica, and St. Kitts & Nevis. Dancers and musicians wearing homemade costumes with traditional African and English imagery parade to public areas and hold community dances. Today, it’s also more common for communities to hold dance and costume competitions on that day.
No matter how you celebrate, GVSU’s Van Andel Global Trade Center hopes that your holiday season is filled with cheer!
About the Contributor
Benjamin David was an undergraduate student at Grand Valley State University and a Student Assistant at Van Andel Global Trade Center. He was an International Relations and Economics major and a German minor. He plans to go to law school after graduation and hopes he may eventually work at the U.S. State Department. Ben loves discussing cars, airplanes, and languages.
Posted on Permanent link for Holiday Celebrations Around the World on December 19, 2022.
Permanent link for The Michigander's Guide to the Lunar New Year 2022 on February 1, 2022
Updated from Orginal Blog by Ruixuan Ran
Whether you are still in holiday mode or you are just bored with the dull winter sky, cheer up! We have some good news – the Lunar New Year, also known as the Chinese New Year (CNY) is here! This month-long fiesta will give you a legitimate reason to get back into holiday celebration mode and will help light up dreary the February days. Like many ancient festivals around the globe, Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival, follows a different timetable: the Lunar Calendar. That being said, Spring Festival begins January 31st, with New Year’s Day falling on February 1st and the festivities continuing until the 15th day of the first Lunar month (aka February 15th ).
We know it’s a busy time, but we didn’t want you to miss out on this exciting holiday that millions of people around the world will be observing, Chinese New Year! So here are some important details to help you celebrate Chinese New Year like a pro.
It is the Year of…
The very first thing to know is that we are celebrating the Year of the Tiger. Each lunar year is assigned one of the twelve Chinese zodiac signs – rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig – which rotate in a twelve-year recurring cycle. (Sorry cat-lovers, there is no Year of the Cat.)
Unfortunately, it is believed that people will have bad luck during their zodiac year, so for all the people who are turning 12, 24, 36 etc. in the year beginning on February 1st, you may want to wear something red all year round. Red is a color largely perceived as a sign of blessing and justice in Chinese culture, so adding something red to your wardrobe, such as a bracelet, shirt, etc., might help to ward off bad luck.
Red, Red, Red!
China is enamored with the color red. It symbolizes vitality, blessings, justice, and festivity. During CNY, you will see people using red almost everywhere you look. Houses, office buildings, and streets are covered with red lanterns and lights, and many people wear red clothes for good luck. The color is indispensable to the Spring Festival holiday.
After throwing out all your bad luck by thoroughly cleaning up your house, the first step to demonstrate that you are ready to welcome a fresh new year is to decorate your door with an upside-down Chinese character “Fu” (). “Fu” means fortune, luck, prosperity, and any other favorable words you can think of. Why put the Chinese character upside-down? Well, here is a classic example of a Chinese pun. The word for “upside-down” (dào, ) is a homophone for the word for “to arrive” (dào, 0). By hanging the character upside-down, you are suggesting your fortune is on its way.
Perhaps one of the most gratifying ingredients of the CNY festivities is the distribution of the red envelopes with “lucky money” wrapped in them. The origin of the tradition can be traced back to BC days when people believed children were weak and a monster named Sui would eat children at the end of the year. Parents would wrap coins in red paper to scare (some say bribe) the monster in hopes of a safe and peaceful year for their children. That is why the real name of “lucky money” is “ya sui qian” which literally means “the money that suppresses Sui”. The amount of lucky money given widely varies and depends on the region, but several hundred Yuan is generally expected.
Chinese New Year Jams
Just as we might instinctively put “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” on the radio after the first snowfall in Michigan, the Chinese New Year unofficially begins when malls start to loop the classic holiday songs that everyone claims to be tired of, yet still sing along with. Jamming some CNY classics equivalent to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at your party would definitely bring the festivity up a notch. Some of the most well-known songs are: Gong Xi Fa Chai (directly translates to Wish You Get Wealth), New Year Celebration and Congrats, Congrats. Additionally, there are several collections of CNY jingles online, even if you do not know the lyrics, it is the celebratory spirit that counts.
Midnight Carnival: Spring Festival Gala, Fireworks & Mahjong
In 1983, China Central Television launched the first Spring Festival Gala, a show that airs every Chinese New Year’s Eve featuring musical, dance, and drama performances. Since then, it has become a modern CNY tradition to watch the Gala with family while eating a reunion dinner and, more than likely, playing the game Mahjong.
Mahjong is to the Chinese what Euchre is to many Michiganders. I would argue though, the Chinese love for the game runs deeper. The fun part of this tile-based game is that there is no pressure to win it. In fact, Chinese people can barely ace it themselves as each province or even each town has its own rules. So if your Chinese friends spend half an hour debating on the rules before starting the game, don’t worry about it.
Of course, it would not be much of a New Year’s festival without firecrackers and fireworks. Although in very recent years, local governments of major cities have limited the usage of fireworks for safety, pollution, and noise reasons, many people will still stay up until midnight to watch the fireworks displays.
Needless to say, we now live in a very different time to the original Chinese New Year festivals. As many older folks might lament the changing of bygone conventions, the younger Chinese generation has offered their own interpretations of the holiday and many of these are now new traditions.
Customarily, the elders of a family give the red envelopes of lucky money to the children. Today however, there is no limit to whom you can give red envelopes to including friends, coworkers, or anyone you care about. The rise of Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group has saved a lot of work for this gift-giving process, as apps such as WeChat and AliPay allow people to send “red envelopes” instantly (and in a more environmentally responsible way). An individual can digitally send several Yuan to another person as a gesture to spread good cheer, or he/she could put a red envelope in a group chat for people to share. This ritual has become more and more popular for business occasions as well.
Reuniting with family members back home used to be the most important way to spend the New Year, but today a stronger economy and rising living standards have extended the option of where this celebration takes place. Instead of undergoing the busiest travel rush of the year, many opt to travel overseas to Japan, Korea, Southern Asia, and even Europe during the New Year period. In fact, the Spring Festival has become the most popular time for the Chinese to take family vacations.
The 15th day of the first Lunar month (February 15) marks the official end of the holiday; you will probably be a CNY expert by then! As the old saying goes, ‘well begun is half done'. So go ahead and dress in red, hang your “Fu” on the door, spread the lucky money cheer, and have a great New Year!
About the Contributor
Ruixuan Ran graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2018. She was a Student Assistant at Van Andel Global Trade Center. She grew up in China, and during her time at GVSU she double-majored in accounting and international business with a minor in French.
Posted on Permanent link for The Michigander's Guide to the Lunar New Year 2022 on February 1, 2022.
Permanent link for What Rome Taught Me on September 22, 2021
By Michele Minghetti
“I could fill volumes with the time spent here in Rome. I could write books about all the people I have met, the adventures I’ve experienced. And I ask myself: What about them? All the new faces I’ve encountered, the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made. Would I appear in their books? Would there be a chapter about me? A page? Or at least a sentence?” - Alice Minghetti
When visiting a new country and a new city, especially one such as Rome it is easy to get lost in the sprawling views, rich history, and beautiful architecture that can be found around every corner. Italy is a country that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime! Italian culture offers travelers the opportunity to escape their daily routines and immerse themselves in a lifestyle focused on slowing down and enjoying life, delicious food, and the people who surround them.
Having grown up visiting family in northern Italy near Bologna, I found myself presented with an opportunity to travel to Rome one summer to visit my sister, who had moved to Rome the year before. Spending so much time with my sister, in such a beautiful city turned into one of the best experiences of my life. We often reflect on that time spent and together have come up with some essential insights to make note of before visiting, working, living, or doing business in Rome or Italy in general.
Most Importantly When in Rome…
- Keep your eyes open for wonder. Rome offers wonders in every street, at every corner, in every Piazza . Take your time to appreciate them.
- Get lost every once in a while. You will end up in unexpected and wondrous places.
- You are never late in Rome ( Roma, Città Aperta )
- There is no point in leaving the house before 9:30 am since most places open around 10, some even at 11.
Making Friends in Italy
- 99% of the time there is no need to rush. No one is on time anyway. Appointments by time are only rough estimates.
- If no one listens to you, just repeat what you said in a louder voice.
- Italians like to talk. A lot. Especially about themselves.
- Thank the bus driver/waiter/cashier/barman. They will remember you. Always thank the host.
- Greet your neighbors and offer to help with the groceries.
- Let people join your table.
- Offer caffè to friends. It’s a pleasure (almost an honor).
- Once in a while pay for your friend’s pizza. For the simple reason that you want to.
Eating Out in Rome
- There is good pizza and exceptionally good pizza.
- It’s socially acceptable to eat gelato more than once a day.
- Local markets have the best quality. Don’t get ripped off and beware of the old ladies, they are witches in cutting lines.
- There is always time for a coffee. Even if lectures start in five minutes, chances are you will meet your professor at the bar, stirring sugar in his espresso without the slightest hint of a hurry.
- Serve white wine with fish and antipasti, red wine with the meal, digestive after dessert.
- Don’t fill up on bread. There is better still to come.
- Learn to know your barman. Compliment food and coffee.
- Talk to the waiters. It will be worth it (usually in the shape of free Limoncello). Be friendly, always.
- Learn to order real coffee. Evolve from cappuccino to caffè macchiato to caffè amaro.
Getting Around the City
- Walking may often be faster than public transport.
- Traffic lights and street signals are only suggestions.
- If you want the bus to stop, you need to give a clear signal.
- Don’t wait for the cars to stop. You will wait indefinitely. Cross the street but never run.
- If you have the right of way, take it. Take it even if you don’t have it.
- Toilets don’t flush and locked bathrooms are a privilege.
- Watch out for pigeons and seagulls.
- If a street artist makes you stop you owe him spare change. Always listen, beauty surrounds you in unexpected places.
- Don’t wear high heels if you plan on walking in the city center (sanpietrini ).
- Roundabouts become parking spaces at night.
- Strikes of public transport are custom.
- Swearing is accepted.
- Light a candle when you visit a church. For your friends of the past, your loved ones, your departed, and the friends of the future.
- Keep some cash with you at all times, not every store or shop accepts cards.
- For an accurate weather forecast check what the Bangla are selling.
- And my personal favorite: Life is too short not to eat Gelato. Try new flavors.
Have you traveled to Italy or Rome? What have we missed? Join us virtually on September 29, 2021, for Navigating Italy! We will discuss various aspects of Italy's culture from business meetings and gift-giving to communication and negotiating tactics, and more! Visit Van Andel Global Trade Center's Events page to register !
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Graduate Assistant, GVSU's Van Andel Global Trade Center
Half Italian and half American, Michele, grew up in a trilingual household and has spent much time both traveling and working in Italy. Michele is an independent and self-motivated international graduate student from Switzerland. With a diverse international background and global mindset, he has a proven ability to build strong intercultural relationships. Michele is an extremely active individual with a passion for sports. He spends his free time exploring nature, reading, running, and skiing. He also enjoys cooking/baking his nonna’s (grandmother's) recipes. Particularly, as recipes and cookbooks from Italian matriarchs are among the most passionately contested objects upon the death of an Italian grandmother—all of his siblings have one, and they treasure them, especially if they include family recipes or handwritten messages from "nonna."
Michele has earned his Bachelor of Science degree in International Management with a concentration in International Entrepreneurship and a Master’s degree in International Business in Switzerland. He is currently pursuing his MBA degree at the Seidman College of Business, at Grand Valley State University.
Posted on Permanent link for What Rome Taught Me on September 22, 2021.