Before presenting in a country I never visited I always try to read about the local culture and understand the basic do's and don'ts. Besides being IMHO a basic form of respect for your hosts, this helps you avoiding VERY embarrassing situations that you'd never ever figure out on your own. If you ever followed one of my presentations, you know that my "Identity Metasystem in a nutshell" pitch is a slide describing the msdn faceless guy having his age checked in order to get some wine.
This example served me well in many events, across many countries: US, Italy, Spain, Japan, Iceland, Germany, Netherlands are the places I can conjure up but I'm sure there's more.
A couple of days ago I was reading about one of the countries I am going to present in next week, and realized that a substantial percentage of the population profess a religion that may not find an example about alcohol consumption appropriate. I struggled a bit to find an example that would express the concept with the same directness, and picked the brain of few colleagues in the process (thanks Su!). The alternatives were good (movie rating system, voting) but I was not satisfied, I wanted something "disposable". Finally I got the right suggestion (thanks Aaron!): cigarettes.
Perfect! It is a disposable good, hence bought in a very agile way, yet it requires age verification; and, as far as I know, it should not entail cultural problems. it may not be super popular in the US, but there I will stick with wine :-). Thanks to the "change picture" function of powerpoint 2007, I modified the slide without even have to rework the animation.
Et voila', we made a step toward better understanding. I know I'll probably make another million mistakes for cultural differences reasons, but at least this one should be solved now 🙂