From Nevsky Prospekt to Nevis: Architecture Across Languages and Cultures

Looking out across Nevsky Prospekt, there is an overwhelming sense of being somewhere entirely other. The history and grandeur is palpable: you stand on an avenue designed by Peter the Great to reach the ancient city of Novgorod; you can glimpse the imposing (and imposingly named) Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood; you are acutely aware of traversing the same routes described by Dostoevsky in Crime and Punishment. The sensation of vast difference is well-earned, both philosophically resonant and crucial to approaching business relations.

For the past four years, MMA has embarked on an exciting series of international projects for Russian clients. (Read more about Visualizing Projects in  the West Indies for Remote Clients here.) Located on St. Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies, these projects’ myriad opportunities are matched by the challenges inherent in conducting any type of international business. From the minutiae of negotiating a cross-cultural meeting to the infinitely tricky task of translating detailed plans, this new terrain has provided MMA invaluable insight into the intricate world of international business—and the experience to navigate it.

Language presents the most obvious roadblock in international business communications, and it can be deceptively difficult to surmount. Translation tools online (such as Google Translate or Babylon) are helpful for basic comprehension, but much is, quite literally, lost in translation. It can be disheartening to see carefully worded correspondence boiled down to the bare gist, technical terms unable to find an equivalent; using bilingual translators has been crucial to avoiding these issues and maintaining a high level of discourse with our clients. We are immensely grateful both to these translators and to our clients for their understanding and patience.

Beyond the more technical aspects of language itself, international business presents subtler challenges in cultural perception and etiquette. Business meetings tend toward a more formal tone, and what might be lighthearted conversation for us may carry a different connotation given another cultural context. World Business Culture explains that in Russia, “formal meetings are serious occasions and should not be treated lightly. Any overly informal behaviour [sic] could be construed as lack of respect.” At the same time, we make sure to engage with our clients on a personal level rather than jumping directly into business—formality in no way necessitates being impersonal.

And it is this personal touch that has made all the difference in our relationships with clients both near and far. Our efforts to learn some basic Russian phrases have been deeply appreciated by our clients, particularly given their high level of English fluency. Linguistic and cultural nuances aside, consideration and sensitivity have proved the most important factors in creating and maintaining excellent working relationships with our clients. When both parties can contribute, compromise, and make a concerted effort, the results truly speak for themselves.

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