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The historic countries of Western Europe Austria, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland are the jewels in the crown of European civilization. Their importance and attraction for the rest of the world are so great that the region is the prime travel destination for businesspeople, tourists, and students. Western Europe is a relatively compact geographical area, containing an enormous diversity of landscapes, peoples, and cultures. The historically competitive Western Europeans are unlike each other in many ways, yet share an underlying system of values, and the restless Western European spirit of enquiry, enterprise, and adventure has had a decisive impact on world history. In the past, their empires spread their languages, religions, arts, and ideologies around the globe, and today the world beats a pathway to their doors. For foreign visitors, first encounters in Western Europe can be overwhelming. The richness and complexity of the different national cultures are difficult to take in, and people's behavior and reactions can be surprisingly unpredictable. For example, attitudes to time vary. In Germany it's rude to be late; in France it's rude to be on time. In business there is a range of negotiating styles. And because there is more to communication than speech, it is easy to misread the signals in other people's societies. Even smiling can sometimes be wrong in France it's distinctly uncool to smile at strangers.