Class Act!

International Etiquette

Class: Around the World in 80 Cultures
Where:www.headlight.com(Click on "Business," then "International Etiquette.")
Cost: $99.95
Duration: two to four hours

We technology writers aren't known for our stunning social skills. I'm more likely to write HTML than practice my business etiquette. That's why a virtual class sounds great: I take it on the Internet . . . any time I want to. My virtual class went into (literally) foreign territory for me: "Around the World in 80 Cultures." Business etiquette. Worldwide. Time for a tech hermit to learn some social graces.

Headlight.com was the home of this country-hopping excursion. Headlight acts a lot like a library, collecting business courses created by other providers and organizing them into categories. It also offers features for managers and business owners. You can build and keep team profiles for your employees and check their course progress and transcripts.

Signing up was quick and painless. SkillSoft Corp. (www.skillsoft.com), a developer of technology-based educational products, created the class, but everything is handled through Headlight. Included in the sign-up fee is access to the course for one year. Assigning courses to a team? You'll have to buy the course for each person.

After hitting the "Start" button, I got a course overview. The SkillSoft Course Player interface acts a lot like a regular Web page. You can also take mastery pretests that allow for an accelerated course that skips what you know. This is handy for busy business owners, but I went in for the full experience.

The course spans four sections: "Cultural Roots," "Cultural Mindsets," "Louder Than Words" and "Intercultural Business Protocols." The best parts of the class dealt with real-world situations. Did you know the Zulus have 39 words for green? That you shouldn't send yellow flowers to a European business-woman? (Yellow suggests she's been unfaithful.) That gifts given to Asians should be wrapped in red, not white? (White means bad luck.)

The majority of "Around the World in 80 Cultures" deals with Asian, Arab and Eastern European customs. There were a lot of textbook-style terms, such as "Linear-Active" culture versus "Multi-Active" culture, and short pop quizzes at the end of each section. Dialogues between imaginary businesspeople and a role-playing section livened things up a bit, one advantage a virtual class has over a textbook. As predicted, I spent one hour per day over three days--probably the shortest class I've ever taken.

"Around the World in 80 Cultures" isn't a comprehensive guide to international business protocol, but it's a solid primer. If you're taking a trip abroad or expecting to receive foreign business-people, the information on face-to-face encounters and decision-making styles will come in handy. It didn't turn me into a social business butterfly, but I'll know not to blow my nose in public if I ever go to Japan.
-Amanda C. Kooser

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This article was originally published in the August 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Class Act!.

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