The Chinese Social Credit System: Foreign Entities

China undoubtedly plays an integral part in the global economy. China is the world’s largest exporter by a healthy margin, supplying the United States alone with $522.9 billion worth of goods in 2017.1,2 Further, China is a hotbed for foreign investment. Rapid growth over the last 30 years has enticed multi-national corporations and institutional investors to explore the Chinese market. Currently, foreign entities invest over $135 billion into the Chinese economy each year!3

But, despite a rapidly growing economy and ever-increasing globalization, China has made it clear that it will continue to operate in the manner it deems best. Chinese officials tend to support a top-down approach to economic guidance. Generally, the government seeks to be the primary economic decision-maker instead of exclusively reacting to external market influences.4 To some foreigners, this approach can appear somewhat restrictive, even coercive.  The soon-to-be-released “social credit” system highlights an instance of the Chinese government implementing a policy that will affect companies from top to bottom—from the large, multi-billion-dollar industries to the smallest local markets.

By 2020, China plans to roll out a national system that will assign a “social credit score” to each business entity located in the country. The Chinese government says that the core principle of this system is to “maintain the normal order of economic activities and … promote the healthy development of the economy and society.”5 To achieve this goal, the government will implement standards for emissions, intercompany relationships, and overall compliance with Chinese law. Chinese officials plan to quantify compliance through a basic point system—obeying the rules increases points and vice versa.

Among other repercussions, the implementation of the social credit score could increase tension between foreign investors and the Chinese government. An unfamiliar party might wonder, “If foreign entities already abide by the host country’s laws, why would this be any different?”

The reason that this particular piece of legislation might appear unnerving to foreign entities is simple: unless transparency is noticeably improved, the Chinese government has free reign to control the business sector. With this comprehensive system, the government will both set the rules and choose the penalties; in short, it can potentially choose which companies win and lose. Moreover, the government has yet to publish a list of standard penalties. Therefore, foreign entities might be wary of inconsistent application and misinterpretation. In an unrelated survey administered in 2018, the American Chamber of Commerce in the People’s Republic of China (AmCham China) in partnership with Bain & Company found that the main deterrent keeping foreign investors from allocating more resources to China has been the regulatory environment—its lack of transparency, predictability, and fairness.6 Further, almost half of the survey respondents claimed foreign companies are treated unfairly compared to local businesses, and 75 percent agreed that foreign businesses are less welcome in China than before. So, many foreign entities already feel in the dark regarding China’s federal regulations; another opaque policy is the last thing they want to see.

This social credit score might play a part in the respondents’ indication that “regulatory compliance risk” is one of the largest problems facing their companies in China. The risks that come with the social credit score system can be detrimental to businesses in any sector. Upon infraction of the policies laid out by the government, foreign entities could be subject to raised interest rates on loans, higher tax rates, inability to issue bonds, loss of permission to invest excess cash in public securities, decreased chances to participate in publicly-funded projects, and restriction of e-commerce.7 In other words, serious financial inconveniences and penalties can be handed out.

Why does this legal network seem repulsive to some foreigners but necessary to the Chinese?  Much of the disagreement can be explained away by Geert Hofstede’s scale of individualism versus collectivism. Hofstede observes that countries lie on different points of a scale, with individualism on one end and collectivism on the other. Countries that value individualism typically believe that citizens have a right to private life, a nation’s identity is found in the individuals therein, and people should take care of themselves. On the other end of the spectrum, collectivist countries tend to make decisions based on what is best for the nation, expect absolute loyalty to the group, and maintain a “we” mentality.8 The social credit score is a prime example of a staunchly collectivist policy. An individualist-minded person might learn about this policy and immediately have several impulsive, yet justified questions:

“What if I’m falsely accused? What if my company is mistreated? My stock options won’t be affected, right? What happens if I lose my job because compliance is too costly?” The list goes on. To the disciple of individualism, this policy could cause genuine concern.

Unsurprisingly, China is one of the most collectivist-leaning countries in the world. To the typical Chinese mind, the individualist’s seemingly urgent questions might reflect arrogance and impatience. A marked collectivist might think, “Don’t they know that this is for the benefit of the entire nation? If almost a billion people are benefitted through this, who cares if you have to find another job?” Essentially, a pure collectivist might “see the bigger picture” of any given policy more easily. If the federal government insists a policy benefits the whole nation, the collectivist will find honor in promoting the policy over his or her personal agenda.

Although China receives a large amount of foreign investment each year, roughly 88 percent of it comes from countries who also fall on the collectivist side of the spectrum (Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan). Unfortunately, between 2015 and 2017, China’s inflow of foreign direct investment only increased by half of a percent.9 China’s recent difficulty in attracting additional foreign investment logically involves any number of variables, one of which could be its collectivist position on Hofstede’s scale. Cultural differences inevitably influence policies, business practices, and global relationships. In this case, these differences could partially explain why the big players in foreign investment (most countries in North America and Europe) are slower to work with China. To become a more attractive investment for foreign investors, China might have to appeal to foreigners’ cultural norms instead of pushing its own. On the other hand, foreign investors might be incentivized by the rich Chinese economy to stifle their own cultural preferences and collaborate with a government that holds dissimilar beliefs.

The Chinese Social Credit System: Domestic Business

By 2020, China intends to assign each business entity a “social credit score.” It’s like the American credit score, but it factors in non-financial data such as compliance with environmental regulations, relationships with suppliers and customers, experiences of past and current employees, etc. These scores will be incredibly important to businesses. With a good score, a company will be granted unrestricted access to capital markets, lower interest rates on loans from financial institutions, and lower stated tax rates. Sounds simple enough, right? Keep the rules, enjoy the rewards, make lots of Chinese Yuan (¥). Well, as one might expect, it may be a bit more complicated when put into practice.

Challenges

Chinese businesses will face two main difficulties: (1) the human component of ratings and (2) the actual adaptation to the government’s mandates.

Although the extent of the impact of personal reviews is unknown, employees’, customers’, and suppliers’ experiences with companies will hold some weight in determining its social score. Clearly, there is substantial room for bias, bribery, and any number of unethical practices to influence scores. And, scores will be vital to a company’s success or ultimate failure. But, proponents of the scoring system might argue that if businesses truly want to be “consumer-centric,” this is the way to do so.

A company’s adaptation to the updated policies could be troublesome as well because some ideas that were previously viewed as preferred practices can now be legally enforced. One glaring example is the government’s emissions policy. The systemic overhaul staunchly penalizes entities that exceed federal emissions targets. This could be critical; in 2017, China’s emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel combustion represented approximately 27 percent of the world’s output—more than the U.S. and Europe combined. 1 What’s more, China plans to use real-time monitoring to track energy consumption and associated emissions. Therefore, according to the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), punishments could follow within seconds of surpassing the predetermined emissions cut-off.2

Penalties

The Chinese government has established rigid penalties for companies that fail to comply with the new initiative. Similar to the [link to previous Chinese Social Credit article] penalties [/link] that citizens face, businesses can be cut off from benefits that are deemed as “luxuries.” Unsurprisingly, the government considers access to the country’s capital markets to be a privilege.  Therefore, upon violation of the rules, businesses can be restricted from issuing bonds and shares (at times even including shares designated for employee incentives). Further, funds obtained from domestic banks will be subject to higher interest rates.3 Without external sources of financing, the idea that rule-breaking companies are “bad” can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Conversely, an argument is easily made that old habits die hard—unless an incentive large enough to abruptly change behavior exists.

Comparison

Perhaps surprisingly, some aspects of the Chinese Social Credit Score are reminiscent of the partnership of the American federal government and the capital markets. For example, policies like subsidies, tariffs, and tax breaks incentivize businesses to behave in a certain way. The government rewards compliant companies for providing a service that it wishes to promote; meanwhile, stringent regulations on undesirable activities can drive other companies out of business. Further, if a government-sanctioned rating company deems a company as “untrustworthy,” the cost of debt financing can rise substantially, taking that option off the table.

The difference, it seems, is that American consumers respond to government policy in the manner they deem fit. In other words, American citizens ultimately decide the fate of businesses, but the government has some influence via economic policy. In China, on the other hand, the government creates the policies and chooses the consequences. So, consumers are essentially coerced to accept the government’s decisions surrounding the economy and the enterprises therein.

Supporters of capital markets likely find this ideology counter-intuitive, but those who prefer an economy guided by government might find it appealing. Looking beyond ideological differences, MERICS summarizes the potential benefits and/or consequences for the Chinese economy as follows:

Benefits: (1) Preventing illegal behavior, (2) helping strengthen companies’ economic trustworthiness, (3) building a new culture of socially and environmentally responsible behavior, and (4) creating a vast number of IT jobs to satisfy the data collection and storage needs.

Disadvantages: (1) Many failed businesses, (2) errors with serious repercussions for businesses in the program’s beta, (3) loss of data security, and (4) lack of government transparency.

Essentially, the Chinese government is wagering that it can effectively direct its domestic market to success through establishing clear, strict policies in almost all areas surrounding business.4 Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” framework might still be in play, but the arm that guides the hand will belong to the federal government. As is the case with most macroeconomic strategies, more time is required to observe the efficacy of this new tactic.

Chinese Social Credit System: the People

When was the last time you ran a “hard inquiry” on your credit score? Why did you check it? Normally, a citizen of the United States won’t check his or her credit score until a credit check is required, such as during a loan-application process or to qualify for a credit card. In the US, a credit score acts as a general measure of financial responsibility. A high score indicates that an individual has consistently payed back debts on time, while a low score hints at the opposite. For Americans, the score exclusively reflects financial integrity. The score itself does not reveal anything more about a person’s character—nothing about someone’s manners, observance of social responsibilities, or positive environmental impact. But, what if each of those personal aspects were quantified and scored? Would the points system, like a credit score, incentivize individuals to comply with society’s pre-determined good practices? That is exactly what the Chinese government wants to find out.

Since 2015, the Chinese government has piloted a program that rewards citizens with points for doing what it has deemed as “right” and docks points for anything contrary.1 Each person starts with 1,000 points, and any incremental increase or decrease implies the types of choices that the individual makes. Summarily, if someone has more than 1,000 points, he/she is a good citizen, and the opposite is true for low scores. Arbitrarily, the system works like this:

Help an elderly person cross the street, plus-one point.

Narrowly miss hitting a pedestrian crossing a street with your car, minus-one point.

Perform community service, plus-three points.

Leave your dog’s waste on the sidewalk, minus-one point.

Since this score is designed to encompass more than just the financial component of individuals’ lives, the consequences are comprehensive, too. For example, a positive social score can improve chances of getting a promotion, being accepted into prestigious schools, and even getting a first date (China’s largest mobile dating app has built in a score-displaying feature.) Further, “trustworthy” citizens wind up in lower tax brackets, receive lower interest rates on loans, and are awarded complementary television channels.2

On the flip side, though, the all-encompassing consequences can seriously complicate one’s life. The consequences seem to be grouped into tiers. At first, the government disallows “luxurious” purchases; for example, travel on high-speed trains, airline tickets, hotel stays, to name a few. In a sense, the government starts sending the message, “You are beginning to worry us financially and socially. So, stay where you are, save your money, and work to restore your good standing.” If an individual does not get the message, the consequences ramp up exponentially—meet the “black list.” Below a score of 600, citizens are blacklisted—that is. their names and identification numbers are placed on a national registry that is publicly available. Here is an example of one such list for the Guizhou province.

The black list is serious business. For starters, the government marks the person’s phone number as black-listed, and anyone who calls will hear police sirens and a warning message effectively saying, “The person you are calling is untrustworthy. Proceed with caution.” Further, state-sponsored billboards display the images and names of untrustworthy individuals known to be in the area.

Most Americans would likely consider this program to be an extreme invasion of privacy, but interviews with Chinese citizens have revealed a different sentiment. Many Chinese citizens live in crowded, difficult-to-navigate cities where manners and courtesy are often not priorities. So, these citizens believe that the social scoring system is beneficial to them and their communities. Some benefits that are frequently mentioned are ubiquitous honesty, cautious driving, and a sanitary environment. Many people are cognizant of the incredible amount of personal data that large companies store and analyze, so they do not feel that the government is doing anything radically new or unheard of. Besides, “those who have nothing to hide, hide nothing,” right?

The tacit consent of the Chinese citizens can potentially be explained by cultural aspects, too. One of the key issues that the Chinese government aims to solve is the trust barrier among its citizens. Compared to Americans, the Chinese generally develop trust more slowly. They are keener to develop “relationship-based” trust rather than “task-based” trust.3 For example, many Americans and Europeans would admit to trusting a supplier if it consistently delivered product on time and extended reasonable, unchanging collection policies. In other words, if a supplier consistently completed its tasks well, Westerners are likely to develop trust. The Chinese, on the other hand, find it difficult to develop trust through business transactions. Instead, they usually consider someone trustworthy after relationship-building activities such as meals, informal gatherings, and personal conversations. So, contextualized, this policy makes more sense to the Western mind: the general Chinese population develops trust through interpersonal relations, not business transactions. Therefore, a strictly financial score of integrity does not suit their needs, but a system that also values interpersonal relations does.

The Chinese government plans to make the social credit score fully operational throughout the country in 2020.4 As is common knowledge, no piece of legislation can be expected to be supported unanimously in a country with over one billion citizens. And, Westerners are likely to be surprised at how many Chinese citizens support this new nation-wide system. So, those travelling to China, be advised: the citizens may behave in a (seemingly) abnormally pleasant manner. Do not be alarmed; they are either genuinely polite people, or just trying to nab some easy points.

But, according to the government, those two alternatives are one in the same.            

 

FAQ:                   

How does the Chinese government describe this program?

What should I do if my personal credit information is wrong?

How can defaults on loans affect my personal credit?

Sources:

Kimchi Country Quirk

The Kimchi Process

If you haven’t tried kimchi (김치) in your life, you should. After thousands of years of making and eating kimchi, it is now a staple in any Korean household. However, to make such a delicacy, the process is long, complex, and, to some people, even a little stinky. The recipe can vary, but typically cabbage, Korean red pepper flakes called gochugaru (고추가루), and other ingredients are packed into a mason jar, sealed, and placed out direct sunlight. After 24 hours, the jar is opened to release the “smelly” gasses and then resealed and stored in the fridge for up to 1 month. After describing the process, this delicacy may not sound appetizing to you, but Koreans and foreigners alike love to eat kimchi. Food often emulates aspects of a people’s culture and kimchi is no exception.

Bottling Emotions and Avoiding Confrontation

When compared to other cultures, Koreans typically avoid confrontation and are emotionally unexpressive. Like kimchi, emotions are considered best if bottled up and stored for extended amounts of time. When emotions are shared, Koreans typically express emotions more subtly and disagreements more softly. Other cultures may consider this behavior to be unorthodox or in kimchi-terms “a strong smell,” but for Koreans that’s how they like it.

History and Diversity Marinating into High-Context Communication

Kimchi also serves as a metaphor for how Koreans use high-context communication in their conversations. Low-context communication is often expressed more directly, with more detail, and less emphasis on body language, while high-context communication uses more indirect communication, implied meaning, and greater emphasis on body language. High-context cultures such as Korea develop as a result of years of shared history and isolation from foreigners. Low-context cultures such as the United States typically have little shared history and are comprised mostly of immigrants. Similar to how kimchi typically has the same ingredients and marinates over large amounts of time, Koreans have developed over two thousand years of history with the same people.

Finely Aged Kimchi and Respecting Elders

Like a finely aged wine, Koreans believe that the longer kimchi ferments, the better it is for your health and the more valuable it is. In Korea, age is king. The older you are, the more respected you are. When speaking to Koreans, one of the first things they will ask you is your age. Some cultures consider asking about age to be taboo or even offensive, but this is not the intent. Koreans ask this so they know how they should speak to you because the Korean language is made up of different levels of speech formality. Age or level of formality determines how to conjugate the verb, which is always at the end of a sentence. The three most common conjugations are high-form, middle-form, and low-form. As you would expect, high-form is reserved for the most formal of situations or when addressing someone much older. Middle-form can be used when talking to strangers or people older than you in situations that don’t necessitate high-form. Low-form, also known as pan-mar (반말) or literally “half-word,” is used when speaking to close friends or family your same age or younger. In short, both kimchi and the Korean language illustrate how much Koreans value filial piety.

Wrap-Up

If you want to understand Koreans better, you should try kimchi. It’s deliciously representative of how Koreans express emotion, speak with higher context, and respect elders. Like eating kimchi, understanding how Koreans communicate may take some getting used to, but you’ll appreciate a new culture in a diversity of ingredients that make up your favorite pot of stew.

South Africa: The Real ‘El Dorado’

South Africa El Dorado

For centuries, many excursionists and teams of adventurers traveled to South America in search of a land filled with gold, jewels, and other rare natural commodities. They claimed to be seeking a land called “El Dorado.” Many travelers attempted the journey, but few returned with noteworthy rewards. In hindsight, maybe someone should have told them about South Africa.

About 1 in every 40 South Africans work in the mining sector. In some provinces, mining accounts for a whopping 33 percent of the GDP1. The country’s deep involvement in the precious metals industry has led South Africa to institute regulatory bodies, strict regulations regarding financial reporting, and other practices to ensure prolonged success. So far, South Africa has experienced just that.

In 2014, South Africa claimed responsibility for 68 percent of the world’s exports of platinum, more than four times the market share of second-place Russia (15 percent)2. Equally impressive, South Africa was the most dominant producer of gold for over 30 years, holding the number-one rank until 20063. And if ridiculous amounts of precious metals would not satisfy restless adventurers, South Africa’s diamonds surely would. The largest gem-quality diamond ever discovered (the Cullinan Diamond) was uncovered in Cullinan, South Africa—weighing over 3,000 carats at the time of discovery4.

As one could imagine, this incredible abundance of desirable commodities has catalyzed some less-than-ethical choices. So, the South African government created the South African Diamond and Precious Metals Regulator (SADPMR). This governmental body exists to enforce the Diamond and Precious Metals Acts5. As implied, these legislative pieces regulate, promote, and protect the harvesting of the country’s natural assets. A notable mandate therein states that precious metal “beneficiators” (those who improve and finish precious metals) “must keep proper books of account in accordance with generally accepted accounting practice and must submit such information … annually by not later than 90 days after the end of his or her business’ financial year6.”

Thousands of kilograms of rare metals and stones are produced in South Africa each year. It is noteworthy that even in an industry as sporadic and unpredictable as mining, accounting principles are mandated to maintain relative financial assurance and order. With these principles coupled with the SADPMR, South Africa hopes to maintain its global positioning in the precious metals industry.


Be Local, Buy Local

In the United States, the phrase “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know,” is frequently repeated (and oftentimes accurate) in business. What if the expression went one step further, becoming even more exclusive? In the world of Nigerian oil and gas, it’s not just what and who you know, it’s who you are.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest exporter of crude oil. In 2017, Nigerian exports of crude oil brought in a whopping $33.3 billion, making it the eighth-largest exporter of crude oil in the world.1

In 2010, with the objective of promoting local participation and growth in the oil and gas industry, then Acting President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Nigerian Local Content Act (NLCA).2 The act effectively strengthens and stabilizes the country’s portion of the global oil and gas markets. The legislation mandates that Nigerian operators and contractors receive first consideration for any oil/gas contracts and clarifies exactly how first consideration is given.

One of the many stipulations is that the lowest bidder is not automatically awarded the contract. For example, if a foreign contractor submits a bid for a certain contract, a competing Nigerian contractor does not have to meet its competitor’s price. Instead, the local contract only needs to be within 10 percent of the foreign contractor’s price. Beyond that, if multiple Nigerian companies have comparable prices, the company with the largest Nigerian “content” (percentage of employees) wins the contract.

Similar guidelines are in place regarding individual employment: Nigerians must be given first consideration when hiring and awarding promotions, and Nigerian contractors may only employ natives in their junior/intermediate positions. At the management level, foreigners are only allowed to occupy five percent of available, permanent positions.

Nigerian oil and gas contractors are also limited in who they may enlist for external guidance and consultation. For example, they may only contract the help of Nigerian legal and financial services where at all possible.3

At times, many of these guidelines are neither practical nor feasible. For this purpose, the act provides a provision for the creation and maintenance of the Nigerian Content Monitoring Board (NCMB). The board’s main functions include implementing policy, supervising compliance, evaluating performance, awarding contracts, and establishing audit procedures.4

Ultimately, the NCMB aims to uphold the NLCA and keep a larger portion of the Nigerian government’s spending in the oil and gas industry at home. Nigeria currently boasts Africa’s largest GDP, and the NLCA is helping the Nigerian economy to maintain its top rank.

In the Nigerian oil and gas industry, it pays to be Nigerian.

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way: The Brazilian Jeitinho

Brazil Street Art

Whether in business, government, or their personal lives, Brazilians have a knack for getting around difficult situations. They do this so often that there is even a word in Portuguese to describe it—jeitinho. Jeitinho literally means “little way” and can be used in positive or negative contexts.

Brazilian anthropologist Lívia Barbosa describes jeitinho this way:

…To be considered a “jeitinho,” the situation must involve an unforeseen and adverse event to the individual goal. The solution must be a special way—efficient and fast—to deal with the “problem.” It cannot be any strategy. It must produce short-term goals. … It does not matter if the solution is or is not final, provisional, ideal, legal, or illegal.1

Let’s imagine a situation: a group of men are building a two-story home. They need to move a load of bricks from the ground to the second story, but the only way to get to the second story is to climb a makeshift bamboo ladder. Rather than making dozens of trips up and down a rickety ladder with a ton of bricks, a few men stand on the ground and use a broomstick handle to toss the bricks up to the other men on the second story.2 This is an excellent example of how jeitinho can be used as a positive response to a problem.

Jeitinho can also be used in a negative context. Usually, this means that an individual, business, or even the government will act in a way that best serves their interests, even if it has a negative effect on those around them. A classic example involves individuals who only have a short time left on their lunch break and run to the bank to pay a bill. They see that the line is very long, but they also realize that one of the tellers is an old acquaintance. They walk to the front of the line and tell the teller about their desperate circumstances, managing to pay the bill while the rest of the line gets angry.

Not everyone uses jeitinho to skip a line or bend a rule. Business owners are sure to be impressed with the ingenuity and resourcefulness of their employees as they channel this trait in a positive way. As you prepare to visit or set up shop in Brazil, be prepared for everything its beautiful culture has to offer, and don’t be too surprised when you see someone finding their own “little way” to get something done.

The Indian Nod – Yes, No, Maybe So

In the United States, we don’t use head movement in our gestures very much. In India, however, head movement conveys important information. The most unfamiliar movement to foreigners is the Indian nod, or the Indian “head bobble.” To perform an Indian nod, sway your head from side to side without turning, giving the appearance of a “bobble head.” The meaning of the Indian nod depends on eyebrow placement, speed, and duration.

Eyebrow placement can indicate the enthusiasm of the gesture. If eyebrows are lowered, it means the person agrees, but isn’t totally convinced. If the eyebrows are neutral, it means he or she feels fine about what you’re saying. If the eyebrows are raised, it means the person enthusiastically agrees.

Speed indicates intensity. The faster the nod, the stronger the feeling. If someone is nodding quickly with lowered eyebrows, the less certain his or her agreement is. Because saying “no” isn’t as socially acceptable in India as in Western countries, this “maybe” is probably a “no.” A slower, neutral nod can simply indicate understanding. A short, quick nod is generally used to say yes. Moving your head while someone is speaking shows respect and attention for the person who is talking. By nodding your head, you are showing the speaker how well you understand what he or she is saying.

By paying attention to the gestures people use in a foreign country and how they use them, foreigners can avoid misunderstandings and ask for clarification when they need it.

The Swedish Fika

Americans are obsessed with productivity. From self-help books to TED Talks, we find ourselves searching for ways to work longer and more efficiently. While diligence and efficiency are hallmarks of great professionals, are we missing something? Is there a better way than the tried and true American method? Could a Swedish tradition hold the key to increasing employee morale and developing better teams?  

Fika in the Workday

The tradition is fika, and it couldn’t be more antithetical to the American-styled business day. Twice a day, Swedes break for a half hour to fika: once in the morning and again in the afternoon.1 According to the Swedish Academy’s dictionary, fika2 refers to the daily practice of drinking coffee and tea. However, this word has a meaning far greater than a mere coffee break. While Americans use coffee breaks as opportunities to refuel and recharge, Swedes use fika as an opportunity to focus on building relationships and enjoying the moment – this means that work takes a back seat.

The Practical Elements of Fika

Fika typically consists of a beverage3 and food.4 During the fika it is customary to drink coffee, tea, soda, or hot chocolate. The beverage is typically accompanied with either a sweet (i.e. kanelbulle,5 kladkakka,6 or äppelkaka[noteApple cake[/note]) or a smörgås.7 In any case, fika isn’t about what is eaten – it’s about enjoying company.

Embracing Fika

Whether you find yourself in Sweden on business or you just want to build camaraderie with your colleagues, remember that fika is centered on building authentic relationships and enjoying the moment.

 

Works Cited

Jones, B. W. (2015, April 22). For the Love of Fika. Retrieved March 10, 2018, from http://nordiccoffeeculture.com/for-the-love-of-fika/

Saudi Arabia – Can You Show Me the Ladies’ Room?

Saudi Arabia

Most people are aware that women’s choices and opportunities are comparatively constrained in Saudi Arabia due to a strict interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism. However, in addition to enacting economic reforms, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is actively working to temper the religious atmosphere of the country: “We are simply reverting to what we followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions.”1 Recent reforms have included incremental gains for women, including increased employment opportunities, the right to hold a driver license, and most recently, eligibility for military service.2

As promising as this progress is, real obstacles still exist for businesswomen working in the kingdom. While Prince Mohammed’s economic reform calls for a female workforce participation rate of 30% by 20303, government regulations surrounding female employment dampen business enthusiasm for such a move. Ahmed Al Omran4 reports that though strict gender segregation is no longer enforced, businesses employing both men and women must have separate restrooms, a security system, and a private lunch and prayer room for women. He notes that in a country where most office buildings were designed with only men in mind, many companies are not eager to pay for remodeling and retrofitting.

Joe Sharkey relates the experiences of Nancy J. Ruddy, the co-founder of a New York architectural firm working in Saudi Arabia. Ms. Ruddy was involved in designing the Elaf Galleria hotel in Jeddah. She describes her experience meeting with the development company in a modern office building:

But there was no ladies’ room, which was totally shocking to me. … During my first trip there, if I needed to use the bathroom, I would have to say that I need to go back to my hotel, and I would have to be walked back to the hotel by a man, because you’re not allowed as a woman to walk around unaccompanied on the streets. And because there are almost no women in the work force in Saudi Arabia, there are no ladies’ rooms in office buildings.5

Ms. Ruddy planned ahead for future trips, requesting that one of the male executive bathrooms be temporarily converted for her use while she did business in the country.

Hopefully, Saudi Arabia and its businesses will continue improving both foreign and local women’s access to facilities of all kinds. But casually assuming that a women’s restroom will be readily available could prove unwise. A sensitivity to historic norms and the slow pace of progress coupled with a bit of diplomatic research and planning could save some embarrassment for all involved.