Exporting to Europe: Not the Challenges You Think

If you plan to do sell your product or service in Europe the problems you encounter may not be the ones you expect. It’s easy to focus on perceived difficulties, such as the so-called ‘language barrier’, while not noticing the real pitfalls – until it’s too late. I learned three lessons the hard way: appreciate the different cultures, understand the value of quality vs. speed, and know which foreign language is key to your business.

If you hope to compete with local firms in Europe you must understand European business cultures. Notice the use of the word of the word ‘cultures’ – plural. When I first started doing business in Europe, three years ago, one of the first things I learned was that the European business environment is much more diverse than in the States. Despite the introduction of the single currency, Europe is not a single business entity. Different countries retain different ways of doing things. Like many Americans doing business in Europe for the first time, I learned this the hard way. After a number of awkward meetings and deals that mysteriously didn’t go through I began to understand that it was a bad idea to deal with Europeans like I dealt with people back home.

The American business model prevails in northern Europe – with the UK and possibly Germany representing the nearest thing Europe has to a US-style approach. Businesses in former Easter Bloc countries that have recently joined the EU are also very US-friendly. During the Soviet years America represented freedom; American business can now reap the rewards of that iconic status.

The rest of ‘old Europe’ is a little different and you should be aware of each country’s customs. Italy, for example, retains a way of doing business that might seem bureaucratic and patriarchal to Americans. Even Silvio Berlusconi – a good friend of US business – is known as ‘Papa’ Berlusconi in some Italian circles. In France, a history of civil libertarianism twinned with state control that stretches back to the revolution of 1789 has nurtured a business culture that favors consensus rather than individual leadership. It’s important to do your research – not only on a country’s business structures but also on its general culture and history. It’s even more important to get to know the people. If you travel to Madrid to cut a deal having never before set foot in Spain you are at a disadvantage.

Business people in old Europe have slightly different perceptions of what constitutes good practice from their US counterparts. Although it would be patronizing to say that a mañana culture persists in southern European business, it is true that timeliness is not considered a virtue in the way it is in the States. For European business people, providing a quality product or service is much more important than adhering slavishly to deadlines or driving the hardest possible bargain. Because of this difference in values, Europeans often perceive Americans as being ‘pushy’ – when the Americans in question think they’re simply being businesslike.

When I first came to Europe I thought that the most important thing was to learn languages – I was wrong. Most European business people accept English as the lingua franca of international business. However, you don’t want to risk seeming ignorant. A reasonable level of conversational French or German, for example, will come in useful. I have found that many Europeans have a prejudice about perceived American ignorance of the outside world. Showing a little linguistic skill – and, more important, willingness – will be to your advantage.

My experience is that knowing the local language is particularly useful in France. The French have traditionally been very protective of their mother tongue. Today, many native speakers consider French to be in a state of crisis, attacked on all sides by international English – so your French hosts will warm to you quickly if you seem keen to speak it to them. Again, showing you are willing to try is more important than being fluent.

Even so, skills learned in language classes back home are useless unless basic cultural differences are understood. Once again, do your research: time talking to locals or reading about European culture and history will be well spent. Knowing a little history is especially important if you’re working in Greece or any of the nearby EU satellite states in the Balkans. Educated people there will often talk about events of a millennium past as if they happened yesterday. There is a perception all over Europe that Americans follow Henry Ford’s maxim ‘history is bunk’ – I made friends quickly when I disproved this prejudice.

The good news is that Europeans are more like us than they are different: the general cultures of both continents respects business and promotes honest dealing – but it’s important not to let the small differences cost you money.

Comparing Skiing in Europe With That of America

When it comes to enjoying their favorite sport, skiers and golfers have quite a lot in common. Each loves to go to that spot that for them feels kind of special, but also makes them feel comfortable. With skiers, though, when looking for a place to ski if you live in the United States it might seem much too costly to ski in Europe. Obviously there will be some additional cost with travel, but once you get there costs will not be that much higher in Europe. Plus there are about five times as many ski areas in Europe, about 4000, then there are in North America.

There will be quite a few differences, such as in the texture of the snow. In Europe the snow will be more like that found in New England; not as light and fluffy as you’ll find in western North America. Plus ski slopes will typically be longer. Ski areas there will cooperate and interlink their runs together, sharing a complex of ski runs among as many as half a dozen resorts in one case.

In Europe businesses surrounding the ski areas that deal with rentals, restaurants and hotels will typically be family-owned establishments that have been around for many years, sometimes generations. These family-owned restaurants will serve local food and cook using traditional recipes. Only if you go to the large hotels will you see the style of restaurants that Americans have come to be familiar with.

The ski runs in the Alps will typically be much longer than in North America. Of the 50 longest ski descents in the world, virtually all of them are in the Alps. One in France runs down 15 miles with a 9200 foot vertical drop. Quite a lot of investment has gone into ski lifts in Europe in recent years, and as a result you will find many of the lifts much more comfortable, as well as fast.

When most of us think of skiing in Europe we naturally think of the Alps. But you can find some great skiing and often at bargain prices at other locations throughout Europe. For instance Andorra, located between Spain and France has a very nice resort. Bulgaria is quickly gaining the reputation as a place with great snow and bargain prices. And even Scotland not too far north of Edinburgh has skiing, although not to the degree that you would build an entire ski trip around. But Edinburgh is always fun to go to, so a diversion with some skiing could be something to consider.

If you watch the winter Olympics you will see that alpine skiing is a huge part of the European heritage, as countries in the Alps always compete well. For the skier that will not only want to go for some excellent skiing but for a romantic getaway, Europe is a great place to go.

Health and Wellness in Europe

With the hustle and bustle of everyday life a grand European vacation is the stuff of dreams for many. Jumping on and off trains, fighting crowds and lugging around your luggage can hardly seem like a relaxing vacation. If you simply stop and think about what you truly want out of your European vacation, fun and relaxation probably goes hand in hand with taking in the plethora of historical sites. Europe is a perfect place to not only soak in the ancient history, language, and culture, but take time to focus on yourself and restoring your sense of balance and health. After all, Europeans are world renowned for their ability to take pleasure in life and are ranked as some of the happiest people on earth. So why not enjoy Europe the way Europeans do? So if you want to find your center considering taking in some of these less touristy attractions because you just might find peace and relaxation along the way.

Thermal Bath and Hot Springs

The natural thermal activity of the continent of Europe has created some of the best and most spectacular hot springs and thermal baths in the world. For thousands of years it has been a center of life throughout Europe. Business and political deals were struck here as well as just the everyday bonding of the citizens. These hot springs and thermal baths are located all over Europe so if you find yourself near some of the best ones, you should really consider taking a dip and easing your cares away. They have long since been linked to easy pain, arthritis, and having great healing powers. Some even help with allergies or preventing aging. Whether you go there seeking to heal or simply want to just unwind and relax your tired feet and back, you won’t regret visiting some of the renowned baths and spas.

In Budapest, Hungary, the Gellert Thermal Bath is not only healing but has beautifully tiled, cathedral like ceilings as well. There are different baths that ease arthritis, allergies, and even a red wine bath that is thought to soak the skin in antioxidants that helps renew your cells creating younger looking skin. There are ever expanding lists of services offered at the Gellert Thermal Baths which is located in the heart of Budapest along the banks of the Danube River. Another must-see is the Szechenyi Thermal Baths and swimming pool. This spas features a massive complex of different baths and a huge outdoor swimming pool for cooling off in the summer. It is a one of a kind experience.

The Blue Lagoon hot springs outside of Reykjavik is one of the best in the world. These naturally heated lagoons are healing as you relax your muscles, ease your aches and taking in the splendid mountain scenery. Locals adore their hot springs and take great pride in them so it’s important to keep in mind that you may get dirty looks if you try to get into the water dirty. There is a hotel, full service spa with massages and facials, and even an onsite restaurant. Children are also welcome.

Also consider the stunning and picturesque Aqua Dome nestled in the Austrian Alps. Sun or snow, you can immerse yourself in the hot water and like most has superior spa services and onsite hotel. The Terme di Saturnia in the Tuscany region of Italy is equally stunning with a picture perfect backdrop. The naturally heated water helps heal skin conditions, circulation, tension, and even has antiseptic and antioxidant properties. Due to the minerals and gases in the water, it is a very healing place.

Finding Your Center

Traveling to other parts of the world has a way of changing people in way unlike any other. Often times simply getting out of your own rut and experience a new way of life or way of thinking can bring your life back into focus and either make you grateful for what you have or inspire you to change. Sitting back in a small café in quiet, small village anywhere in Europe or taking time to get to know local people can often be incredibly relaxing and a life changing experience. Remembering to slow down and take in the experience can bring you a peace you had not expected. However, if you want to truly take a moment to find your center, consider incorporating a yoga retreat into your itinerary.

Tyrol in the Austrian Alps is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Here, the Sivananda Yoga Retreat House offers a chance for visitors to practice mountain pose atop some of the most beautiful mountains in the world in a quiet setting. In an ancient monastery in Germany you can join the European College for Yoga and Therapy for a healing stay. Or on the coasts of Crete, join teachers at Yoga Plus for Ashtanga yoga, feng shui and massage. Wherever you go, enjoy life and find namaste.