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Tracy Frank, Published February 10 2009

Knowing the culture key to international business

Roger Gussiaas knows firsthand that what may be normal in one culture can have horrible consequences in another.

While in France, he once made an innocent remark during a conversation that prompted some people to leave abruptly.

He later found out that the phrase “part two” has a sexual connotation he did not intend.

Gussiaas, who owns Gussiaas Family Farm Inc. in Carrington, N.D., was one of 15 business professionals to take part in a workshop on international business Monday in Fargo.

“It’s not just to help me in my business, but it’s also very interesting,” said Gussiaas.

The event was coordinated by the Northern Crops Institute, which supports regional agriculture.

“We’re seeing, not only in Fargo, but in our entire region here, we’ve got companies that are involved with trade overseas, and I see that just increasing as we move along,” said Brian Sorenson, Northern Crops Institute director.

The workshop provided information on topics such as presenting business cards and gifts, making introductions, and dining etiquette.

“You can have a good business, but if you don’t know the culture that you are working with and you don’t have the proper etiquette skills, it puts you at a disadvantage,” said

Pat Berglund, a corporate etiquette and international protocol consultant, who lead the workshop. Ignorance in international dealings can cost companies business opportunities, she said.

O’Day Caché owner Cindy O’Day has become an expert in international travel – at least to China. O’Day has visited the country 24 times to buy products for her Fargo and Minneapolis stores.

She said learning to do business internationally was like putting a puzzle together.

“It’s a very different culture,” O’Day said. “Establishing friendships was my No. 1 (priority) because if you build a friendship, you can build a business.”

Understanding and accepting differences, such as different dining habits, was also important, she said.

“You don’t insult them, you just become one of them,” O’Day said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526