A Mosaic of Inter-cultural Experiences – Part 3
The Mosaic of intercultural experiences continues …
When people ask me what I would say about my people, the Romanians, I test their history of Europe. Have they seen Trajan’s column in Rome? This is one of the more searching questions I would pose. Who hasn’t been to Rome, after all? If they did, they would have noticed the people Trajan conquered in 100 A.C. There is a solid visual lineage to what they can see on a Sunday when people come out of a church in Marginimea Sibiului: same faces, dress, and haircuts.
Romanians and Italians only occasionally need a translator; the common (Latin-derived) vocabulary is well above 80%. They are imaginative, warm, excellent (some, most charming) communicators, and very open.
In business, both my Italian and Romanian colleagues have the capacity to find ways to get around (some of) the rules. Their innate flexibility and mental closeness make them the glue in international projects.
Notwithstanding the regional ‘Which part of the country are you from*’ (as a socially acceptable surrogate for enquiring about religious orientation), my experience with Belgian colleagues is that you know where you stand. They are usually on a spectrum of balance to everything; they excel at arbitration. The consensus at the heart of Europe is running deep in their veins.
What could make you edgier than finding yourself landing at Belfast Airport to be then driven in a VIP-marked car and being driven past barbed wire through an area I had previously only known from the news?
But, half an hour later, I learned my first Irish lesson beyond the barbed wire: warm, witty humour served with poetry and imagination. In the business discussion, all that was matched by vision. It was a remarkable experience.
Which continued in the evening when invited to choose an instrument and become part of the band. Enough for now!
Picture the scene: we hosted a dinner for nearly 100 guests in the Wieliczka cathedral-like salt mine near Krakow. We had just had the first course of Barszcz Zurek (Sour Bread Soup), and eight sword fighters leapt onto the tables and fought back and forth amongst the cutleries.
When we booked the place, I had no idea what was in store and, even more so when discovering that this was the Polish Olympic fencing team. It was truly magnificent!
My experience of the Poles is humble, friendly, generous and highly competent. Perfect business partners.
Middle Eastern heat
Being early in a location that has now become beyond recognition is a privilege. To cross the creek in Dubai, we needed to pay an older man with a boat; there was just one skyscraper, and the others were not yet even in people’s vision.
The Emirates colleagues were curious, generous with their time and respectful.
In business, they were ambitious and grateful for sharing knowledge with them. Although one person made the decision, there was always progress.
The Israeli colleagues’ driving purpose was to win, and they always valued their association with innovators. From whisking you through airport security to engaging in the most intense yet polite problem-solving, they saved no effort in their endeavours to convert their aspirations into reality.
My main lessons from working with Turkish colleagues are recognising a genuine work ethic and being prepared for the unexpected.
In business, they haggle, value small breakthroughs, and are respectful.
Whether you meet them in Europe or Asia, they are hospitable and tenacious business partners.
I admit that there have been so many American lessons which is an inevitable result of playing in the knowledge economy: partners abound for software and solutions.
To any European (perhaps, apart from my Nordic and German colleagues), an injection of ‘we can do it’ or ‘get on with it’ is always welcome.
What can I say? In business, they know how to close a sale even if they set out to sell ice to the Eskimos.
My first contact with the Chinese was when my University supervisor recommended that I read about ‘How to Negotiate with the Chinese Army’; the recommendation was fit for the challenges I faced at that time in business. Indeed, I hadn’t realised how prescient it was as I grew my first business!
A few years later, I felt my brains were being hoovered-up during a presentation I was persuaded to give to 100+ Chinse officials. I was happy to tell them about ‘what’, but they wanted to know about ‘how’. We parted soon after meeting as I was unprepared to play their game.
On the other hand, I had the most collegiate, honest, cards-on-the-table exchange of best practices with a Hong Kong colleague. I would always value this type of interaction and wish to do more.
In summary –
I have learned and applied much of my intercultural learning, and I still do to this day.
There may be many missing pieces in my puzzle, and from what I know that I don’t know, among the most significant is a Japanese lesson.
The (virtual . . for now) Japanese lesson
A few of the things I do know come from enjoying the quality they expect in a delicate carpet or blanket (knowledge from an earlier life!) and attending the most polite and refined wedding when my best friend from university married a Japanese man. Witnessing the dignity and respect he demonstrated when the priest invited him to be christened with an Orthodox name so that he could marry the love of his life was one of those memorable events.
I also enjoy the occasional participation of polite and invariably respectful Japanese attendees in my workshops.
So, for the Japanese experience, from my brief experience, I am getting ready for the following:
- We will not talk business for a few days when we first meet.
- We’ll exchange cards, respect, curiosity, and gifts.
- We’ll ensure we manage the relationship politely, tactfully, and with ultimate etiquette.
- I’ll enjoy and value the holistic experience.
From what I have learned so far, without yet travelling to Japan, this is the ultimate match of values, so I’ll need to polish both my verbal and non-verbal communication skills. I already have the genuine kimono, the card, and the rest. My bugs usually give me insight into a new cultural setting!
For now – apologies to the Austrians, Serbians, Croatians, Uruguayans, South Africans, Philippines, New Zealanders, Czechs, Slovakians, Nepalese and Indian colleagues.
I’ll cover our learned lessons together in another ‘episode’.
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