Author Archive

Look, Listen, Read

Look: Do you look at an argument like a war? Is it about strategy, defense, offense, tactics and, ultimately winning to you? If you answered yes, you’re not alone, which is why we found this TED lecture by philosophy professor Ted Cohen so interesting and ultimately beneficial to the workplace and working interculturally.

Listen: Talk about a surreal expatriate story. Here’s the story of an American woman who falls in love and marries a Mexican man who’s illegally in the United States. Problem is, the man was already once deported from the United States so the only way the couple can legally live together in the United States is by living together for 10 years outside of the country. So, for love, an American woman and her husband relocate to Juarez, Mexico for ten years!

Read: Words of intercultural insight from a Cleveland born brewer of craft beer – in China! This is an insightful, short interview about the changing face of Chinese culture and what it takes for an expat to get a business brewing in Shanghai.


RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

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Culture and Air Safety

Korean Air Crash of 1997 in Guam

A good deal has been made of late as to whether the hierarchical nature of Korean culture played a role in the recent, tragic crash of Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco on July 6. Most of the culture-based line of questioning stems from a chapter in Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 bestseller, Outliers. It examines how the hierarchical and deferential nature of Korean culture, where underlings aren’t wont to question their elders and superiors, played a role in the 1997 fatal crash of a Korean Air Boeing 747 into a hillside in Guam. However, and to their great credit, as Gladwell’s book points out, once Korean Air realized that culture might be undermining their cockpit communication, they quickly remedied the problem.

Interestingly, one of the steps Korean Air made was to teach all their pilots and ground crew American English and to make that the official language in which all flight proceedings took place. Korean Air did this for two main reasons: 1) American English is a particularly non-hierarchical language and 2) in making their flight teams speak in English, they were able to set up a drastically different set of spoken protocols that side-stepped many of the cultural trappings of Korean hierarchy and allowed their crews to communicate in more direct fashion — one where junior employees and co-pilots were much freer to directly question their superiors. For over a decade now, Korean Air has had an exemplary safety record.

In light of this story, the recent questioning of Korean culture as it relates to the Asiana crash seems all the more suspect (read this Politico article) because it ignores the more relevant issue of teamwork and how “many crashes involve pilots who have never flown together before, which was also true on the Asiana jet.” It appears that the sad events surrounding the crash of Asiana flight 214 was more a question of faulty teamwork and oversight, than that of Korean hierarchical values.

What is your perspective?


RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

How to Beat the Homebound Blues

So, you thought taking that overseas assignment was a necessary, albeit challenging, step up the corporate ladder? Well, think again. According to a recent article from the BBC, your time spent abroad might be less appreciated in your native country and your home office than you might have ever imagined. You also might find yourself downright depressed upon return.

When moving somewhere new, the lack of familiarity tends to breed a certain emotional openness, which levels your sense of expectation because you don’t know what you don’t know. When an expat returns from a lengthy stay abroad, they often return home with a very strong notion of what life will be like (based on what it was like when they departed). They also expect to be seen as a person of interest, having accrued a whole new set of skills and insights. They often expect to return to a higher level position from the one they left and maybe even higher pay. They expect their colleagues and co-workers to be anxious to hear their stories of life abroad, and they expect to slide right back into the way things used to be.

These notions can lead to a serious crash, which makes repats home sick for the once-foreign land they left. Feelings get hurt as old friends and co-workers show about three minutes of interest in their stories of life abroad, and the home office seems more concerned with what they missed rather than what they learned.

According to Michael Schell, CEO of RW3 CultureWizard, you need a repatriation plan:

1. Prepare for repatriation as you did for expatriation. Ask yourself the same questions about how life would be different, or similar, before repatriating.
2. Make a concerted effort to stay in touch with friends and family in your home country and use social media to keep people abreast of your adventures while abroad. They’ll feel more involved in your adventure through what you share online.
3. Stay in touch with your old colleagues and bosses from the home office. It’s wise to keep up with what’s happening at home so you’re not to out of the loop upon return. If rules or policies changed, it’s best to familiarize yourself before returning.
4. Let people know several months in advance of your return date so they start to put you back on their radar to avoid missing special programs, social events and even promotions.
5. Prepare short and exciting answers for all the typical “How was it abroad?” questions you might get at work. The less you bore co-workers with long answers, the less likely you are to get hurt when they seem distracted or uninterested.
6. If you’re a bit depressed, get help. Find a therapist, coach or really good friend to share your feelings instead of moping around the office. Most co-workers won’t fully understand what you’re going through. Sharing your repatriation turmoil might only make you and them uncomfortable.
7. Don’t wait around for someone to throw you a “Welcome Home” party. Take initiative and throw your own party. Invite friends and colleagues and let them know you’re back in a personal, emphatic style.


RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

Re-thinking Tipping

Having put myself through graduate school while working as a waiter at a restaurant in Santa Monica, California, recent news regarding a handful of US restaurants adopting a no-tipping policy strikes a personal chord (or worse, stories of restaurant owners absconding with the gratuities due to their staff). I largely lived off tips for the better part of four years and now, when I go out to eat, if the service is at least half-way competent, I take satisfaction in leaving a nice tip. Many people, even segments of the US, still struggle with the idea of tipping and are now beginning to rethink the practice altogether according to this BBC News Magazine story.

The custom arrived in the US from Europe in the late 1800s but early in the 20th Century, an anti-tipping campaign gathered pace, driven by the view it was undemocratic and a means to create a servant class.

‘Tipping, and the aristocratic idea it exemplifies, is what we left Europe to escape,’ wrote William Rufus Scott in 1916.

Cultural norms around tipping are discussed at length in just about every travel book, and for good reason. I remember well from years of waiting tables when I would debate with myself whether it was worth the embarrassment and awkwardness to explain to Brits that in the US it’s customary to tip more than ten percent, or with Japanese diners that you’re supposed to actually leave a tip.

One mistakenly assumes that if a foreign visitor has the savvy to locate a city’s top restaurant, where they spend $200 on dinner for two, they’d at least get themselves a little familiar with local protocol around gratuity. In my experience, and the experience of many friends in the hospitality business, many patrons don’t understand what to do in the US.

Many cultural tendencies, even when immersed in other cultures, are hard to break. Tipping is so ingrained in US attitudes toward dining out that even as certain restaurants raise their prices to adopt a no-tipping policy, many diners ostensibly leave feeling bad that they didn’t tip. Or, they leave one anyway.

What’s your thinking on tipping in general? What do you think of the idea that the patron helps pay the waitstaff’s wages directly through tips, instead of putting the onus on the employer to pay a higher wage?


RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

Look, Listen, Read

Look: Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know, but most managers don’t: traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think. As you watch, think about how the RW3 cultural dimension for Motivation plays a role. In some cultures, work / life balance is prized, while in others, individuals live to work and attain status through workplace achievement more than anything.

Listen: Ever wonder why China has more full-scale copycat villages and world monuments than any other country? The answer, it turns out, has nothing to do with lack of creativity or architectural inspiration: PRI’s The World explains.

Read: Peter Bregman is a top-notch executive coach whose latest book, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, offers up a slew of insight in this article, A Personal Approach to Organizational Time Management.


RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

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Cultural Training for NYPD

It’s pretty well understood these days that countries are diverse. Regionalism can often make the north and south, east and west feel like entirely different countries (does anyone know an Italian, or any European, who would argue with that?). Ethnic and immigrant enclaves in urban areas are like microcosms of foreign countries, pockets that feel wildly different in terms of people’s behavior, language and culture. Cultural diversity is much of what makes cities so wonderful. But what struck me this week, in the most encouraging of ways, was an article in the New York Times detailing how cultural training is now a formal part of the New York Police Department’s training. Their guide is called “Policing a Multicultural Society”.

Many of the pages offer the breezy read of a travel guide, offering advice to help police officers navigate a patchwork of foreign cultures across the five boroughs…Taken together, the tips illustrate the challenges of policing a city as diverse as New York…and is endlessly fascinating in its portrait of New Yorkers.

Beyond the fascinating insight into New York City’s ethnic diversity, the NYPD training manual illuminates the critical role that cultural training plays in diffusing conflict and avoiding miscommunication — which can be applied effectively in life or death situations. Here are a few of the insights:

Arab immigrants often speak loudly, even by New York standards, so what sounds like an argument could be just a family discussion. Chinese immigrants are uncomfortable asking strangers for help. And immigrants from rural Mexico generally avoid making eye contact with authority figures.

It’s a strong case study for the benefits of developing cultural fluency, regardless if you’re a cop walking a local beat or a busy exec heading to Shanghai for two days of meetings. How do you prepare for your interactions across cultures?


RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

How to Listen for “No” in India

A short, intercultural dialogue (inspired by, and integrating the strategies from, this article on Accelerance)

  • Mark: Chief Technology Officer of a Seattle-based education company
  • Raj: Project manager for a Mumbai-based programming company
  • Setting: A phone conversation on April 15th at 7am in Seattle / 7:30pm in Mumbai. Mark and Raj have never met in person, but have successfully worked together on another project.
  • Raj – Good morning, Mark. Early your time, no?
    Mark – Not if you’ve already had 3 espressos.

    Raj laughs.

    Mark – Raj, sorry to cut straight to the chase, but I have a meeting fast approaching, so I need to get to business.
    Raj – Of course. Go ahead.
    Mark – Thanks. Did you get my notes that I sent Friday? The project outline?
    Raj – Yes. Reviewed it over the weekend.
    Mark – Great. So is this something you think your firm can handle?
    Raj – Of course. Delighted to.
    Mark – And the timeline? I know it’s pretty steep. Can you make it by May 15th?

    Raj is silent.

    (1. A moment of silence often hides a problem or a NO.)

    Mark – Raj, are you there?
    Raj – Yes. Yes. Sorry. The line must have dropped.
    Mark – The timeline? Will it be a problem?
    Raj – Will it be a problem?

    (2. Repeating the question often masks a NO.)

    Mark – I really need this by May 15.
    Raj – I will get back to you on this. We have a staff meeting every Tuesday morning. I will discuss with my team.

    (3. Postponing an answer is often a NO in hiding.)

    Mark – Come on, Raj, you gotta make this happen for us. Your team’s work is the first piece of the puzzle.
    Raj – It might be very difficult. But it is not out of the realm of possible.

    (4. A conditional YES is usually a NO.)

    Mark – Raj, you’re the best! Our CEO will be thrilled. Thank you!

    (Mark is only listening for what he wants to hear, not what Raj is communicating.)

    Raj – Thank you.
    Mark – How about the change in programming language? Can your team handle C++?

    Raj delays a moment before answering. A heavy breath is heard on the line.

    (5. Delaying in India often masks a problem or a hidden NO.)

    Raj – You do not want to use Java, like we did last time?

    (6. Answering a question with a question is often used in lieu of a NO.)

    Mark – No. This project and the other three teams I’m coordinating are all using C++.
    Raj – Have you not seen the latest Java platform? Huge memory and no problem with leakage. I just met with head of Java’s India office last week, Executive Vice President B.K.S. Shankar. Have you ever met him before?

    (7. Changing the subject is usually a sign of a problem and a NO.)

    Cut to: June 15, 4 weeks after due date.

    Mark – Raj, my team and I just reviewed all the work your crew did and it’s wonderful. Top-notch!
    Raj – Oh, thank goodness. So glad to hear.
    Mark – But 4 weeks late? Raj, if we’re going to be able to use your firm again, you can’t be late like that.
    Raj – I do not foresee us having any more problems.
    Mark – What were all the delays about, after all?

    Raj pauses, thinks for a moment.

    Raj – I needed a few extra weeks for my team to learn C++.

    Stunned, Mark gasps.

    Mark – You’re telling me that your team didn’t know C++ and you still said yes to the project and, even more amazingly, got it done?
    Raj – Thank you, sir.


    RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

    Look, Listen & Read

    Look: Font too small, wrist aching from scrolling through page after page? NYTimes Tech Columnist David Pogue has a solution. His six minute Ted Talk, 10 Time Saving Tech Tips, is definitely worth watching.

    Listen: “There are no rules when it comes to a knife fight or when trying to make money in China.” The best line of the week goes to LA Times Film Writer, John Horn in describing the hoops Hollywood jumps through for a chance to tap the Chinese market. Hear what it took to bring Iron Man 3 to the Chinese market a week ahead of its US premiere.

    Read: In case you were thinking about laying out a few grand for some technical workshop you’re hoping might make you a bit smarter, save the money. A new study by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, shows that the best way to improve your aptitude and focus, even your sleep, is by practicing a few minutes of Mindfulness Meditation every day.

    RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

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    Meaning Versus Monotony

    As a young man recently out of university, my first years of professional life were spent as a chef at a swank catering outfit. It was an incredible company that did parties from 2 to 20,000, anywhere from private homes to the most beautiful museums, parks and performance spaces. We used the best ingredients, prepared foods from the world over, served the finest wines and catered to a jaw-dropping list of power brokers, celebrities and socialites.

    However, seeming glamour aside, the kitchen itself was a downright mean, negativity magnet of a place. In keeping with many kitchen stereotypes, the executive chefs tended to be obsessive, dictatorial and mean-spirited, with furious tempers, feared for their vicious tongue-lashings.

    Why is it that so many professional kitchens are known to be such ruthless environments? I never fully understood why, until I recently saw this TED lecture by Dan Ariely, an Argentine sociologist. According to him, the thing that makes a chef mean and kitchens ruthless is important for any business manager or team leader to know: most chefs and cooks toil in obscurity, doing the same thing over and over again – prepping, cooking, plating ad infinitum. Even if the plating is gorgeous and food delicious, it’s devoured in minutes without so much as a glance from the person who ate it — from art to leftovers in a matter of mouthfuls with little acknowledgment.

    As the Ted lecture explores, monotony makes humans mean. Work that is devoid of meaning, regardless of compensation levels, with no time to collectively recognize accomplishment causes organizations to break down, employees losing inspiration. Fascinating concepts to mull over and think about how you can keep your company and teams away from these workplace dilemmas.

    The larger, global question is: how can multinational organizations inspire its workforce across cultures that derive motivation from very different sources?


    RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

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    Look, Listen & Read

    This is CultureWizard’s take on the best culturally oriented trivia, fun and insights of the week.

    Look: Have you ever eaten a Chinese meal in China and wondered why you didn’t get a fortune cookie with the check? It’s because Chinese fortune cookies are actually from Japan. The Little Known History of Chinese Takeout in America.

    Listen: Ever wondered why that work associate of yours who claims to be descended from European royalty is so darn odd? Turns out, their odd behavior just might prove that they really are telling the truth about being the second cousin once removed of the Duke of Earl.

    What’s it like to be a stand-up comic in Beijing? Listen to this story about an American grad student in China (studying, off all things, Chinese Stand up comedy), and how his little spoof video of Gangnam Style went viral, turned him into a Chinese sensation and taught him a lesson on not only Chinese comedy, but censorship.

    Read: What if Margaret Thatcher had never been? Much has been said and written on the life and death of Margaret Thatcher, but this is best piece CultureWizard came across all week. A nuanced, balanced and intriguing look at the woman Great Britain (and much of the rest of the world) either loved or hated.


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    Converse Affect

    “How ugly we can become when we obsess over our beauty, and how beautiful we can be when we don’t.”

    A wise insight, and it got me thinking about a recent article I read in The Atlantic regarding cultural variance in the way parents view their children. “Researchers compiled a list of the attributes that 60 families in six different countries used to describe their children,” and what they found between Italy, Australia, Sweden, Spain and the Netherlands is that the parents of these nations emphasized the happiness and ease of their child’s temperament. In the US, however, parents overwhelmingly described their children as “intelligent,” “alert” and “especially bright”.

    Of the top 6 or 7 phrases that the researchers charted for each nation, those one or two words that parents most often used to describe their children, happiness, didn’t even make the US list.

    Looking at this through the intercultural lens, the value Americans place on competition, education and hard-work shines through this data pretty clearly. In contrast, Europeans are more cognizant of their babies’ emotional state in addition to their being easy to handle (the burden of being a parent).

    Now, I’ve been to Spain, Italy, Australia, the Netherlands and Sweden, and met a good many adults and children from those nations, and I live and raise my children in the US, and I can say with certainty, that I don’t find American children to be any smarter than children anywhere else, but I certainly find American parents to be much more intense and obsessed over their child’s aptitude than just about anywhere else on the globe. All of which begs the question; in the push to make our children so smart are we making ourselves dumber?


    RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

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    Look, Listen & Read

    Eating lunch at your desk? Dining in the company of your tablet or smartphone? Read CultureWizard’s picks for three stories worthy of your lunch time attention.

    Look: Need a 9-minute dose of You Can Do It Inspiration? Check out this TEDx lecture about a 15 year old boy who discovered an incredible new method for cancer detection using only his will and the internet.

    Listen: Fish, Chips, but no Bread. In 1974, Costa Thomas was a nine-year-old boy and was forced to flee Cyprus for the UK because of the Turkish invasion. In 2008 Cyprus joined the EU and Costa returned to the land of his birth, on promises of EU stability, to open a business and enjoy the warm weather. Sadly, that decision has left a chill in his bones.

    Read: Like it or not, the world is getting smaller and you can get McDonald’s just about anywhere. However, can you get a Chicken Maharaja Mac delivered to your door with a soda, smile and no delivery charge? Check out this great article about an aspect of expat life in Mumbai, which reminds us that while the world is certainly getting smaller, cultural variance within a theme can cause even the most familiar things to seem wildly different.


    RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

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    Soda Overtakes Wine in France

    I can handle the nuclear bluster from North Korea, the sad fact that the Middle-East seems forever ruled by age-old rancor, and that yet another European country is on the brink, but soda surpassing wine as the beverage of choice in France – what is the world coming to?

    In a shocking bit of ‘I want life to go back to way it used to be’, the French are at an all-time low of per capita consumption of wine, according to this BBC piece.

    In 1980 more than half of (French) adults were consuming wine on a near-daily basis. Today that figure has fallen to 17%.

    As an interculturist working at a multicultural organization, my notions of the world are hardly quaint. This is, however, a statistic that has French “oenophiles, cultural commentators, flag-wavers for French exceptionalism,” and many, many others of us who would prefer to see a wine bar in Avignon over a generic convenience store, or a food cart in Shanghai frying noodles over a Sausage Double Beef Burger for that matter.

    It all begs the question, has the world gotten too small? In our push for efficiency and growth, expanding markets and wealth, is planet Earth and the myriad of wonderful and unique towns, cities and nations upon it, starting to all look the same?

    I’m curious how our community feels. As you travel and live life around the world, do you ever feel that cities and experiences have become a bit more homogenized? Do you find yourself pining for the Europe of Hemmingway, or do you like drinking a soda as you sit down to a plate of coq au vin?


    RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

    Cost of [Good] Living

    Maybe the saying’s true — “You can’t go home again,” but for very different reasons then you might expect.

    Ten years ago, not one single Australian city was in the top 50 most expensive cities in the world to live in, now three are in the top 15.

    A recent article on BBC caught my attention. It was about an Australian professional who after ten years of working abroad moves back home again to find her beloved city now nearly unrecognizable — and a very expensive place to buy citrus fruit.

    In the sleepy Australian seaside village where my parents live, not that far away from several citrus orchards, I was in a supermarket staring at a sign:

    Limes: $2.25.

    Two Australian dollars, twenty-five cents.

    That’s £1.50 (US$2.30). Not for a bag. Not for a pair. Each. One lime cost £1.50. Infuriated, I stormed out of the shop, limeless.

    Her troubles with returning home struck a real cord with me as I imagine they might with many expats, or non-expats, who return home to find the town of their birth nearly unrecognizable and unlivable. Not unlivable from the standpoint that the place of your birth now seems a land of bumpkins and halfwits, but the even more disturbing reality that the quaint town of your birth is now a place of such wealth and sophistication that you couldn’t afford to live there.

    I grew up in a pleasant, middle-class town in northern New Jersey with a decidedly Italian-American Bend. The kind of town where you could get a really good eggplant parmesan sandwich from half a dozen places. The town, while not that far from New York City in terms of distance, was just far enough away from the major thoroughfares to make a daily commute an intolerable ordeal. Hence, the little hamlet was ultimately less desirable to the wealthier commuting class who made their daily runs to Wall Street and Madison Avenue. However, that all changed when the long scuttled plan to extend Route Such & Such was finally approved.

    When I returned in 2007, zipping straight down the new highway, at the tail end of housing boom years, I was in for a shock. After five years of expat living in Europe I had begun to think that maybe, just maybe, the old hometown might prove a fine place to raise my brood, only to discover that the eggplant parm I used to get at Stromboli’s Pizza for $3.25 had been replaced by a $13 grilled eggplant and taleggio on toasted green olive focaccia at Stromboli’s Salumeria. Gone was any notion of an affordable home for purchase.

    As many Australians are currently experiencing, returning home only to find that you can’t afford to visit for very long is becoming something of a global phenomena. I wonder, are many of expats finding this to be the case upon repatriation after assignment abroad?


    RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information, primarily through the CultureWizard and intercultural learning platforms.

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    A Culture of Oblivion

    “State With Highest Obesity Rate Passes Bill to Ban Bloomberg-Like Food Regulation.” Now there’s a headline that got my attention.

    For those of you whom might not be aware, New York City is in the midst of a brouhaha over Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent efforts to ban eateries from serving sodas over 16 ounces. Bloomberg’s reasoning is that sugary sodas have a direct correlation to America’s skyrocketing obesity rates — a serious problem that is now a major public health concern, costing the US billions in healthcare and lost worker productivity.

    The price tag for diabetes related illness in the USA for 2012 was $245 billion.

    Mayor Bloomberg, a somewhat independent, pro-business republican (net worth estimated at $27 billion), saw the obesity problem as a clear threat to his city’s well-being and productivity, and did what any CEO might do: sought to limit damage and keep a big problem from becoming a disaster. However, something else happened in the process. Bloomberg’s actions cut against core American cultural values of independence and self determination, and a significant backlash erupted. So much so that the legislature of Mississippi, the state with the highest obesity rates in the world, sought to ensure that no Bloomberg-like law will ever take place there.

    I happened to be in Italy in 1996 when the seat belt law took effect, and I recall fondly waking up the next morning in Florence to find the streets flooded with vendors selling white tee-shirts with a black seat belt stripe cutting across them. Reckless driving is, after all, a virtual birthright to Italians, but this recent action by the Mississippi legislature struck me as a particularly lamentable expression of a land’s cultural traits working against the best interests of its people.

    At what point is it necessary for government to get involved in such choices when a country seems to be eating and drinking itself into oblivion?

    I’m curious. How do our non-US readers feel about this subject? If you lived in a place where 31% of the adult population was obese, 67% was overweight, as were 20% of children, would you be open to government intervention on the matter or would you prefer government to stay off your menu?


    RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information, primarily through the CultureWizard and intercultural learning platforms.