Over four billion email users are generating a volume of more than 500 billion messages per day in 2013. Clearly, a significant percentage of these are international. Netiquette considerations within a country are expanded when communicating globally. These considerations include the following:
- Time zones
- Terms of address
- Holidays and holy days
- Acronyms, idioms, colloquialisms, and special names (slang)
- Politics, humor sensitivities
- Formats of date and time
- Attention to detail
- Global traffic
Many particulars in communication are far harder or nearly impossible to convey via email. With foreign emails, these subtleties and differences are more numerous. What may be standard knowledge or normal behavior in one country is unacceptable, confusing, or even insulting in others.
Although most recipients understand that differences in time dictate when a message will be received, delays will typically be more numerous and pronounced. If immediate answers are required, the sender and recipient should accommodate time-zone differences.
For example, the time difference between London and New York is five hours. If a sender in New York wishes to send a message and receive a same-day reply, this action should be taken early in the morning. The closer to early afternoon an email is sent, the less likely a full-cycle email transaction can take place.
Therefore, if the New York emailer sends a message at 1:00 p.m. EST, on a Friday, it is reasonable to assume he will not read the reply until Monday afternoon (or Tuesday afternoon, if the Monday is a holiday). If an email, such as a videoconference invitation, is sent to several different international invitees, it should be done so with probably two days’ notice in order to allow for ample time for everyone to reply.
One should also be mindful of religious and national holidays in the country where the message is being sent. Additionally, one should make the recipient aware if a holiday is going to fall in the sender’s country when time issues are important. There are numerous lists of international holidays available. Microsoft Outlook provides one, and Internet sources when-is.com.
Acronyms can be doubly confusing to out-of-country contacts. When using any acronyms with an overseas recipient, it is critical to identify what the acronym stands for, particularly if it involves a technical entity or domestic organization.
Idioms and colloquialisms
Idioms can be as confusing to non-natives as acronyms are. Although it will be obvious to one from another country that they do not know an acronym’s meaning, the reader may take the meaning of an idiom literally; he or she very well may spend considerably more time trying to discern the meaning of the idiom. Moreover, the reader may assume the wrong meaning to the idiom.
Colloquialisms and slang also are confusing to foreigners, even those within the same country. This is because colloquialisms and slang often originate in a particular geographic area or within a specific demographic (e.g., the South in the United States, or a province such as Hong Kong in China). Regardless, if international emails contain idioms, colloquialisms, slang, or acronyms, it is usually poor Netiquette to use these and a habit one should not fall into. Even when these are understood, they very well may come across as clichés or unprofessional.
Once again, here is a brief definition (from Merriam-Webster) of the terms discussed:
Acronym An abbreviation formed from a set of word’s initial letters
Idiom An expression, language, or dialect of a particular person, region, or class
Colloquialism A local or regional dialect expression
Great technical progress has been made in the area of the translation software. While this capability can be useful in a simplified, casual venue, it is highly recommended that it be eschewed for business, or for complex or sensitive email, because there is no effective way to check grammar, tone, punctuation, or even accuracy. This type of tool can lead to a number of negative results. Many items cannot be translated easily, if at all––particularly tone.
Cultural considerations for Netiquette in international email closely resemble those for other forms of interaction and communication. Dates, monetary, and typographical conventions should be used and shown in the formats of all countries represented in the emails. The following is an example of these in a communication from the United States to the United Kingdom:
Dear Anthony, [salutation for a friend]
It was a pleasure speaking with you again. As we discussed, the cost of the widget you requested is £100. I have scheduled a call to discuss this situation for Tuesday, 20/1/2015, at 3 p.m. GMT (10 am EST).
Alex Pushkin [Closing for a friendly acquaintance]
Every country in the world has specific political foundations. These obviously range from liberal to authoritarian. Just as Netiquette espouses neutrality in communicating any political judgments or opinions within a country, this code applies more strongly when communicating internationally. Even subtle comments can be misinterpreted or, worse still, lead to severe consequences to participants in certain countries. It is important to understand that just as emails exist “forever,” any country has the means to intercept email and to prosecute even the most innocent political satire.
Elaborating upon one’s own political preferences has no Netiquette value and can easily be misinterpreted. Once again, the premise is that no assumptions about a recipient’s preferences should ever be made through email. Moreover, one should be mindful that emails can be forwarded, archived forever, or posted publicly. Because politics exist locally, regionally, and nationally, their effects can evoke prejudice or favoritism toward anyone engaging in them. Simply put, they do not mix well in all but the friendliest of audiences.
There are countries that block email based on any number of parameters. Most of these parameters have been mentioned previously. One should be mindful of these possibilities when communicating internationally. There are a surprising number of countries where some form of censorship exists. Several internet reports (including Aliki Karasaridis, “Online censorship in 2012”) have been published reviewing the number of countries filtering online content.
Formats for dates, times, money, temperature, and measurement
When representing various measurements in international mail, it should never be assumed the formats used by the originator will be understood by the recipient. This is particularly true with the United States. In this country, the standards of linear volume and temperature differ from the majority of other countries. Clearly, items related to weather, distance, temperature, weights, or costs should be accounted for.
Global speed and deliverability vary dramatically throughout the world. According to Internet World Stats, the top twenty ranking countries in terms of Internet users account for almost 76 percent of total world traffic. Most of these countries have competitive traffic and access costs. The remaining countries have far different situations and little, if any, choice in services or costs. Speeds, deliverability, and the company’s reliability can be dramatically different.
These considerations should be noted by a sender when considering and awaiting replies. It should also never be assumed that deliverability is as reliable either. Because of these dynamics, attachments and their size should also be carefully considered.