This one goes out to all those Hands of Darkness employed in high-level positions in governments that have strong cultural differences with their neighbors, particularly the masterminds and the ones who keep a positive public image. You know who you are—and if you don’t, you’d better be learning fast. I’m here to tell you something I really, really hope you already know: that even if you look down on said other cultures, it’s still in your best interest to know exactly how their cultures work, particularly what things they most value and what would most cause them to take offense.
Why, you might ask?
First off, it tells you how to offend them without looking like you meant to. Good PR villainy pretty much depends on the other guy making the first move, and what better way to ensure it than to take advantage of something you know about the other guy and all of your people don’t, thereby driving him berserk while appearing to have at most made an honest mistake. As long as nobody knows you really know how it works, and you’re clever about how you answer questions, you can act the victim and harness the Power of Righteous Indignation!
Knowing how the other culture works also makes sure that you don’t offend them if you don’t absolutely want to. Yes, I know, we’re villains, we really don’t need to care about others’ feelings, but remember that Power of Righteous Indignation I just mentioned? It may not be as effective for screwing up our plans as the Power of Love and Friendship, but it’s a whole lot more preventable. Knowing how to not inadvertently give offense lessens the chances that somebody will pull a justified berserker rage out of nowhere and thereby find a way to screw up all your plans.
The giving and prevention of offense aren’t the only things you can put cultural knowledge toward, either. It can tell you what sorts of symbols to utilize in your propaganda, what will boost or remove their morale. Every now and then, resembling someone out of history or legend—hero or villain—comes in handy: people are so much more pliable when you’re playing to the stories that get wired into their head from childhood. And if you need to pull an infiltration, you can actually blend in, not get caught out by something silly like holding your fork with the wrong hand.
And then there are occasional dealings with riddlemasters. Seriously, it seems like a lot of us get hung up on the fact that we really don’t get those teeny little hints as well as whoever it is we’re trying to beat out, so next thing we know people are turning their cultural backgrounds into a code that as often stymies or misleads us as not. But if we take the time to learn where they’re coming from and what they’re talking about? Suddenly that clever little twist on words that would have kept us from their true meaning isn’t quite so clever anymore, nor so twisty.
So seriously, why default to ignorance? Doing a little research makes you much more formidable.