In a past article, I’d noted that working on projects in the US and Canada, that we do get an opportunity to work with a wide variety of people. I think I’d mentioned that it brings an opportunity to learn about the values and work habits of other cultures and to incorporate them. But it is a much different thing to go off to work elsewhere and to be the “foreigner,” for a change.
As some of you know, I’m currently working primarily with a Belgian project. It’s not my first, big European project, but it’s only just now that I’m finally truly comfortable being an American abroad. First of all, let me mention that it’s much different to visit a place than it is to work there. It isn’t until you work with people on a daily basis that you start to notice all the little things that make both of your cultures unique.
Being on the other side of things is a good lesson in tolerance. You learn what it means when you’re the one that others are being tolerant of. Hopefully, you’ll learn how to be tolerant in a graceful and accepting manner by working with great project teams, such as I’ve had the good fortune to do.
It also makes you aware that the things you do to be on your best behaviour to work with other cultures might be the very things that are most offensive to them or that they find to be confusing or annoying. Of course, trying to set a good example, you do these things even more than you normally would, in the spirit of showing yourself and your culture in what you think are the best light. However, as you learn more about the host’s culture, it is only then you can start to understand how they truly view the things that you’ve been doing. As before, when you’re working with a tolerant and understanding group, they probably will not be offended as much as just hoping you learn to settle down into “better” habits.
On a side note, I enjoy the occasional opportunity I have to sit down with the project team and compare our “strange” (to the other one) behaviours. We sometimes laugh at ourselves at the habits each culture has that are so ingrained that we can’t even explain why we do them.