Culture In International Trade
SIMPLE INSTRUCTIONS, RIGHT?
A company in Minnesota manufactured ranching equipment and received an order from a buyer in Japan. They ordered steel corral fences and swinging gates to enclose domesticated animals in pens.
The company shipped the goods along with assembly instructions for the fences. The instructions specified that the gate would swing most efficiently by positioning the gate on a two by four placed flat on the ground. When properly adjusted to this height, the gate would clear the ground.
INSTRUCTIONS COMPLICATED BY CULTURAL UNAWARENESS
Confused, the Japanese buyer fired a message stating, “We don’t understand a two by four.”
When the company prepared their reply, “It is a piece of lumber, two inches by four inches,” they grasped the difficulty of their answer. First, the Japanese use the metric system. Second, a two by four measures approximately one and one-half inches by three and three-eighths inches. After trying their best to clarify these instructions, they replied to the Japanese customer.
A few days later the Japanese buyer inquired again, “Thank you for your explanation of a two by four. Do we place the two by four on the ground on the two side or the four side?”
ADAPTING INSTRUCTIONS FOR OTHER CULTURES
The manufacturer learned a quick lesson that their products and instructions required revisions for adaptation to their foreign markets. Many similar embarrassing anecdotes have made material for books because U.S. companies failed to properly research markets before accepting orders and using words or phrases that assume a new meaning in another language.