Differences in Monetizing Favors

John Lett (About) (Readings)

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.

John Lett (About) (Readings) (YouTube Channel)

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3 Responses to Differences in Monetizing Favors

  1. When I explain to North American visitors what type of little gifts to bring in France when they are invited, and how to observe table manners here, their eyes glaze over! I have a lot of videos up about this on YouTube and Dailymotion — also, about doing business here. And compensation!

    Americans, in particular, think they can just be themselves and be very frank and upfront in other countries, and this might be a bad move. Here in France, one slip-up and you’ll never be invited again and will never get any business.

    I screwed up here a gazillion times! (Paris) At this point, I realize the French are xenophobic but also have very refined sensibilities, even if they are in the low socio-economic level. If they see you eating something which disturbs them, they are likely to be put off their food for the whole day. They have a reputation for being dirty but in fact usually clean themselves up many times during the day. A lot of them have bad teeth but you’re unlikely to find any with bad breath, and no one chews gum here (it’s actually unhealthy, so good for them on that).

    This is a good blog. You are probably tired. I see a typo in your text. Have a look! xo

    • I think I have found and remedied my error! Thank you.

      It is hard to keep everyone satisfied all the time when there are different values in terms of what friendship should offer. Also, I have discovered that the difference in attitudes toward work have become more obvious between the US and Europe as social media and internet technologies have accelerated. In Spain and Portugal, I have noticed that people really cannot be bothered with any kind of self-promotion or complex campaign work, it is just practical physical labor or waiting for government agencies to feel like hiring again.

      • I hear you. I don’t know how it is in Spain, but fresh flowers remedy everything. They can be very costly to have sent. It’s best to have them in hand, and they can be super cheap and of any type as long as they are fresh. I had a dispute with a former client here from Canada who did not understand she could not just show up and expect me to see her personally! My whole week had been planned! She should have sent me flowers right away with a note of apology and I would have likely softened best I could. Males and females get flowers here, and if you find really nice ones for super cheap, they praise you! Even though the costs for sending are high, even just a small seasonal mix, that solves everything here. I try to leave a few hundred euros per year as a flower budget to send. If I don’t spend it, we get fresh flowers, dried ones and nice plants here at home with the excess budgeted funds! Yay! Everyone knows it is expensive to send, but if you are far away or were tied up, that is the only solution. If the person seems really flustered about your gift of flowers when you visit (which must ALWAYS be done when visiting ANYONE at home for ANY reason) just go and tell them how little you paid. They will relax. The French don’t like to feel behooven to anyone for gifts.

        The entrepreneurial spirit is often not much understood here. People still tend to work in very traditional ways. It takes years, decades, generations to build relationships.

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