As I sit here waiting to take off, it’s actually with a certain amount of trepidation.
I’m flying to Moscow to meet with a company we are trialling distribution rights with to grow JoJo in Russia. Not something we’ve done before but given the cultural and language barriers involved we are keen to find someone who can push the brand for us out there. Clearly rolling up with the collection and running a stand as we did in New York last month, is not that easy!
The Russian equivalent to New York’s Children’s Club is called Mir Detstva and I’m arriving in time to see how our distributor does on the final few days. I have meetings with potential buyers and interviews lined up with press, TV and radio. I will be flying the JoJo flag with a smile and great pride.
So why the nerves? Despite my many travels over the years for business and pleasure, I’ve never been to Russia.
I know only too well the customs and tips when doing business in Asia from the 20+ trips I’ve made to Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. I know how to specifically hand over a business card in Japan without ruining the meeting before its begun. I know its normal for a Thai businessman to ask you your age and salary before they do business with you so as to establish your social rank. I know one must never ask after a colleague’s wife or daughter in Pakistan and I know in Manila to never look in the eyes of the burly gun-toting bodyguards outside every shop and factory you enter… but Russia is a first and I’ve just discovered business etiquette there is worthy of a degree.
I’m told Russians have three names; a first name, father’s name and last name and in business you are absolutely expected to memorise all names in full and use them at all times unless given permission to use just one.
Russians are not big on compromising as it is seen as a sign of weakness and if I offer to back down on a point I’m seen as a useless negotiator and they’d almost rather not do business with me! I don’t like giving in anyway so that’s easy.
I’ve been warned that Russians reserve smiles only for things they find thoroughly amusing or for greeting family and close friends. Where I usually smile generously I will be seen as suspicious. No smiling then.
When dining, it is apparently hugely offensive to refuse food or alcohol unless I have a serious health problem and that vodka must be drunk in one gulp, between each course and always in the direction of the host.
I’m not sure on this trip if I’m the host or the guest. Either way I quite like that rule!
As I’ve been writing this I’ve realised I do know enough to get by and I’m sure it will be a brilliant trip, although my JoJo flag waving might need to be smile-free.
Watch this space for an update!