When Tom Buiocchi became a globe-trotting executive for Hewlett-Packard, he got extensive training on how to do business abroad. Knowing how to not offend your hosts was especially important for those navigating language barriers while negotiating multimillion-dollar deals.
But there are some things the crash courses in culture can't prepare you for, as Buiocchi found out.
During a business trip to Japan more than a decade ago, he was struck by the frosty response he got when he introduced himself to some of HP’s most important partners.
He bowed, said his name and handed his card over with both hands, at which point the recipients took the card – and a big step backward.
What did he do wrong?
He later found out that his last name, as pronounced, means "illness" in Japanese, the equivalent of the word “byouki” (pronounced: Bee-Oh-Key).
From then on, he had special business cards printed up just for Japan and insisted on being introduced as Tom-san when visiting that country.
“I was confident I was doing everything the right way," said Buiocchi, who is now CEO of Drobo, a data-storage company. But he never thought to use a Japanese dictionary to look up the meaning of his own name.