Oops. A few years ago, I offended a colleague from another country. Before I visited that country--or hosted a guest from that country in my home--I had meant to learn more about his culture, his behavior styles, his business practices, even his negotiating techniques. But I didn't.
If you travel outside of your country, work in a multi-cultural office, worship with people from other cultures, email colleagues in other countries, or participate (or even lead) church short-term mission trips, I have a book for you.
Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More than 60 Countries provides a snapshot look at nations where you may be traveling. Example: I visited Turkey this year. If you relied on the prevalent loud speaker calls to prayer, you would think that Turkey is a Muslim country. But this helpful book pointed out that Turkey has no official religion, even though 90 percent of the Turkish population is Sunni Muslim.
Did you know it's best to keep both feet flat on the floor in Turkey? "Displaying the soles of your shoes (or feet) to someone is rude." And, "it is rude to cross your arms while facing someone." Americans and Turks indicate "yes" by nodding their heads up and down, but Turks say no with their eyebrows. (You'll need to study that section before your next trip.)
What's the point? Cross-cultural travel is ripe with opportunities to embarrass yourself and demean others. Advance preparation will help. In Australia, for example, men "should not be too demonstrative with other men." Contrast that with the 2005 photo of U.S. President George W. Bush and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah--and their hand-holding stroll at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas!
Each country profile includes the country background, business practices, cultural orientation and protocol. Example: in India, don't pat a child's hair. "The head is considered the seat of the soul by many Indians." In Canada (per the authors), "the standard space between you and your conversation partner should be two feet." But French Canadians may stand closer. (Memo to my Canadian clients: should I bring a yardstick next time, or will you provide it?)
Other books, such as the The CIA World Factbook 2010, cover every country, but this one focuses on just over 60, including England, Indonesia, South Korea, Pakistan, Mexico, Sweden, Columbia, Brazil, China and Russia. Globalization is here. This book will help you understand contexts, cultures and customs.