At the moment, I am on tour in Europe visiting some friends, speaking occasionally, and doing some consulting work. While continuous travel has kept at the front of my mind that different cultures place value on services and favors differently, there are regular misunderstandings and surprises that still surface.
What is the correct way to go about distribution of favors, especially when you are closely connected with others? Do you offer your services for free? What do you do when someone else offers them without your consent and on your behalf? If favors are exchanged, how do you decide which is more valuable and will require compensating the other party? Complete indifference and hostile responses can damage your reputation and impede the flow of free advertising and word-of-mouth.
It is extremely difficult to uphold a union of sorts, or market rate, when your business activities are not tied to a physical location and you are self-employed. Regardless of cultural expectations of what should be free, shared, exchanged, or sold, having the formalities of paid staff, official channels of reaching the professional (phone, business e-mail), and a business location in the form of an office or retail space often eliminates ambiguities regarding “freebies.” At the same time, one does not want to be stingy and extinguish all opportunities for relationship-building and intimacy.
In Europe, I know that I am constantly committing grave social faux pas offenses in terms of table manners or order of business, but in turn, I have contributed far too much business and economic advice that is not adequately acknowledged in North American terms. Conversely, in these interactions (or transactions, as I would see them as a North American), the people I am around likely think “big deal” and “here we sit with this eating table barbarian who did not bring something from the US.”
Unless we are dealing with tangible assets (property, commodities), a recognized union/guild protected or regulated body, we furthermore have a harder time regarding value for what it is. I find more and more that most people cannot visualize money saved, and so if you deliver value in terms of savings or a further revenue stream, they are not particularly thankful or aware. Thus, do we continue to deliver this value to help others, or let people play out their negligent behavior?
I do not wish to say “if karma and favors are not returned to you in this life, they will surface in the next” as this is an excuse for corruption and manipulation to play out aggressively upon us all, but a variant of this is true. As someone who does travel fairly extensively, I can say that depending on what your priorities are, if you are wanting to have a mere financial advantage over others, there is considerable leverage added to the table if you stay put and force others to come to you by your lack of movement and accumulation – allowing you to present the image of largesse (“sure you can stay here” – meanwhile getting information from the outside). If it is cultural, information, and business capital and acumen that moves you, you are better off living extremely lean and mobile.