Now that the 2010 holiday season has passed in the United States, companies will be back to business as usual for the next year, and business people need not worry about entire offices taking vacation at the same time, right?
Wrong! International businesses need to plan for regional holidays that may affect the availability of clients and staff. Failure to do so may cause myriad scheduling conflicts and project bottlenecks when an unanticipated holiday arrives.
The consequences of failing to plan for regional holidays were recently illustrated on NBC's sitcom "Outsourced," which derives a significant portion of its humor from cultural differences and misunderstandings. In one episode, Todd Dempsey, U.S. manager of a call center in India, is surprised to find that he is the only manager in the area who has not planned to give his staff time off for Diwali, the country's biggest holiday of the year. This lack of consideration presents Todd with the awkward dilemma of either angering employees by making them work through a holiday as big as Christmas or taking flak from U.S. management because he has not planned appropriately.
While working with clients who do a significant amount of translation into Japanese, my company could have faced similar dilemmas if we had not properly planned for Golden Week in Japan. Large numbers of the best English-to-Japanese translators – who mostly live in Japan – are generally unavailable during this spring week that includes four Japanese national holidays. For this reason, it has been important to notify our clients about Golden Week beforehand so important Japanese translation projects and deadlines can be planned accordingly.
Awareness of international holidays can also help you strengthen relationships with international colleagues. While living in Chile during the Fourth of July, with no visible signs of the U.S. holiday, it was easy to forget that my family and friends were celebrating thousands of miles away. However, I was very touched when one Chilean thoughtfully wished me a happy Independence Day. Chile's Independence Day is Sept. 18.
Most people realize that independence celebration dates will vary depending on each country's political history, but some people might be surprised to note that other holidays are also not as international as we may believe. Many think Cinco de Mayo is Mexico's Independence Day; however, May 5 is only the date of a battle celebrated in a small area of Mexico, and citizens throughout Mexico celebrate Independence Day on Sept. 16. Similarly, Thanksgiving is celebrated in Canada, but it is on the second Monday in October, not the fourth Thursday in November.
Other cultures celebrate the new year on different dates. Chinese New Year, approaching in February, is one such celebration. Other holidays, like the Islamic month of fasting called Ramadan, are celebrated based on non-Western calendars and, as such, appear to us to be on different dates each year.
In another holiday mix-up example from "Outsourced," a jealous assistant manager, Rajiv, tries to get the expatriate Todd out of the office by inventing a fake Indian holiday called "Vindaloo Day." When Todd leaves to celebrate, he encounters an expatriate friend, Charlie, who manages another call center.
"When I first started here some of my employees scammed me and got out of work by making up fake holidays," explains Charlie to Todd. "So I made up a cheat sheet with the real Indian holidays. Diwali, Durga Puja, Ganapati ... I repeat – these are the real ones. Nope, there's no Vindaloo Day on here. Looks like you've been holi-duped."
Chances may be slim that employees will try to deceive you and exploit your unfamiliarity with foreign holidays, but it is still prudent to learn what significant holidays appear on international calendars. Yes, "there is an app for that" at World-Holidays.net. Other helpful online sources include TimeAndDate.com, EarthCalendar.net, aGlobalWorld.com and even Wikipedia. However, these calendars should only be a starting point. Be sure to consult directly with colleagues abroad to get the full scoop.
Finally, if you are working abroad, take the opportunity to learn about the importance of the local holidays and enjoy them. One of the most memorable holidays I have celebrated outside the United States was the Festa de Sao Joao in Porto, Portugal, where participants take to the streets playfully banging each other on the head with plastic toy hammers. The festivities, which also included concerts in every plaza and fireworks near the beach, were a wonderful surprise to me as a vacationing American, but they would have been very inconvenient if I had planned to work that night.
Businesses that plan appropriately for international holidays will make the best use of working days and will show proper respect for the local culture. Assess your own needs where you do business and investigate the holidays celebrated to protect yourself from falling victim to a sitcom-style joke.
What holidays have you found to be important or surprising while doing business in other countries?