Most of us work within a shared business culture where we understand the language cues. Those of us who work across cultures, however, experience the minefield of communicating with people in other countries using our own cultural shorthand. Surprisingly, this applies even to the simple act of signing off an e-mail.
A recent article in BBC News discussed the perils of signing an e-mail “regards” or “sincerely” when sending it to an acquaintance in another country. An American would find this normal. A Brit would find it too formal, and expect “kind regards” or “best regards.” In Germanic languages the phrase “with friendly greetings” is so common it is often abbreviated, without becoming too informal. Conversely, a French person might sign their e-mail “mille baisers.” This translates into “a million kisses,” which would seem quite odd if sent to a business associate in English-speaking cultures.
Tread Carefully with E-mail Signatures Across Cultural Boundaries
As the author notes, “if you’re now exhausted by the possibilities and potential minefields awaiting you before you click ‘Send’, you could do as some Chinese do and not bother with a sign-off at all.” Unfortunately, in some cultures that would strike the recipient as either too informal or too cold. “Whatever you choose, you don’t want to leave your email’s recipient puzzled.”
Obviously you clear up many of these misunderstandings once you establish a closer relationship with the person involved. But a bit of forethought before hitting “send” may prove face-saving if you do business internationally and rely on textual communications to make those initial connections!