Saturday, April 26, 2008


The foreign exchange students of your workplace.

If you work for a globalised, economic conglomerate with its skinny Mr Burns fingers in too many pies.... if your workday consists of terms like "Asia-Pac," "sun to sun," "L10N," or "whilst," your company is also made up of people doing your same job in their "local region," under a set of cultural conditions often is stark opposition to the way other parts of the company work.

Sometimes that person is you.

The DrawingIn Room does the needful by offering our guide to welcoming and incorporating counterparts during their semi-annual visit to your location.

The group lunch
The assigned fun is awkward enough without cross-cultural confusion layered on top of it. But it can't be helped. It's rude to make the Counterpart eat alone, and just mean to make him wander out of bounds where he is bound to pick the scary restaurant no one in the company (or perhaps the town) has ever entered.

Counterparts will be surprised to discover Americans do not in fact discuss religion, sex, or politics. They have not the vocabulary. They do not know the Prime Minister of Canada. They do not really understand "the EU" more than that they should express concern for it in business conversations. This leaves only the topic of TV, which Americans will talk about long after subtle attempts to change the subject. They will especially deride the stupidity of American TV, every episode of which they can discuss in detail.

Somewhere between inane pop culture and Gaza (yeh...we don't really know... it's very complex) you can find something without talking about work. Cats vs. dogs is a good start. (see national holidays below)

After hours fun
In other lands, Counterparts are actually put up on the homes of co-workers, in neighborhood boarding houses, in (heaven forbid) workers' dorms. They will be surprised to find themselves in a hotel suite 35 miles from their work location, and a car waiting to pick them up promptly at 5:30 to take them back to this bleak off-ramp location. They had hoped you might show them the sights, ask them to dinner, pick up some chicks.

In coastal big city America, the more sophisticated corporations will arrange for this sort of business entertainment -- not quite Arab Emirates style, but maybe Japanese style. In the South and Midwest they will feel bad about not taking the Counterpart out, but they "don't know what they eat," and well, nothing every happens in Sioux Falls anyway. In New England - the country north of Standoffish -- it will not even occur to them. They barely tell each other goodbye in the elevator.

It will become necessary to press some willing souls into this service. (See "lunch," above.)

My way or the highway
or....where SOP meets the UN. The reason the Counterpart is visiting, of course, is to do some leveraging of synergies, myow-myow, and eventually a confrontation will arise about how something should be executed. "We do not do it that way," Counterpart will say, and if they are smart, chalk it up to a cultural difference, which Americans are too afraid to confront. This can backfire, of course, when the American mutters tersely, "Homey don't play that," in Mandarin.

Miss Ellen Moyer used to say, "You can take the turnpike or you can take the toll road. You'll still end up in Richmond." [the Ellen Moyer who said this was my geometry teacher, not the mayor of Annapolis. But whatever search result gets you here] She meant it might be OK to take a different approach to the same goal. So give a little.

What time is it
Whether you are the host or the guest, please refrain from commenting on time zones. It is a boring conversaton. We are also tired of jet lag, weather differences, and dual face watches. The world is wide, and one of you has crossed half of it. We get it.

If someone says good morning, and it isn't, just let it go.

Whatever.... about your calendar holidays
While looking for interesting chat topics, "our national holidays" is not a bad jumping-off point. You'll find, though, that visitors are not quite as fascinated by Patriot's Day, Chrysanthemum Day, or Rose of Tralee as you might hope, even if you are trying not to debate home rule or your preferred Darrin from Betwitched.

If you are the one subjected to this seminar, do try to listen. Might keep you from scheduling your next major business venture on May Day, which nearly everyone else celebrates, except the US. Like soccer.

Better make sure you know what you are talking about before you spout off on your national holidays. Not only might the Counterpart know more about it than you, but it probably exists in his culture too, since the British once managed to rule everybody.

Little children can learn Polish
...said a certain friend of mine when I was unable to learn it at 30. There is no single business barrier as irritating to everyone as the language barrier. You're frustrated they don't speak better English; they're frustrated you speak nothing else (because they have 4 others you could choose from). So slow down, tone down the idiom, articulate. Listen. Because your visit is coming. Probably Thanksgiving Weekend.

Please revert with any queries.

1 comment:

  1. I wasn't even conscious of my fear of that restaurant until I read this and then I laughed out loud. I never imagined they had a website, but now that I've seen it I feel less afraid. Want to go with me?


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