An Opinion Piece by Interculturalist, Matthew Hill Enough is enough of “Brexit means Brexit” – Red, White or Blue. Stop already. The returning weak and wobbly Conservative and Unionist coalition is in chaos and it is their LOSS of a … Continue reading
Words from a divided nation
This week Prime Minister May called a snap election to, “unify the country” and allow her to negotiate with the EU on behalf of all of the UK so that she may go out there and get all the good things and have none of the bad.
It will not play out like that.
The scene of the crime – Prime Suspect – David Cameron – Do not approach
Before we look at the cultural aspects of BREXIT, let us remind ourselves how we got into this mess in the first place.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne had suffered from criticism and power plays from various factions within their OWN party. This was a Conservative party spat, a “Blue on Blue” bun fight. Chancer Cameron had bluffed his way through the Scottish independence vote and won. He had made another reckless referendum offer before the 2015 election and had never, in his wildest dreams, considered that the UK would be so stupid as to vote the wrong way. And then, in an historically irresponsible and arrogant move, proposed that a simple majority, either way, would dictate the UK’s future relationship with our closest neighbours and largest trading and defence partners. When, the old, the poor and the anti London / anti-elitists (and racists) voted to leave in June 2016, the UK was plunged into uncertainty and became the laughing stock of Europe, all over again.
And now CULTURE
In the war of words BREXIT supporters tended to focus on “immigrants taking our jobs in the UK” and, ”taking back control from Brussels”. Subjects on which both sides were quiet or silent were the cultural and historical perspectives that will come into play now we are leaving Europe and how these will affect us all.
The cultural benefits of immigrants
Between 2004 and 2014, 2.5 million EU citizens chose to come to the UK to live and work. This has made a net positive contribution to UK GDP, productivity measures per worker and tax revenues for the Treasury. In addition, the cultural benefit has been palpable. [Most British people struggle to speak even one language properly (innit)] The vast majority of newly arrived workers speak their native language and passable English as well. Many speak two or more languages and add to the country’s human capital, fuelling the most important parts of the British economy – the export of goods and services to other countries. Having freshly arrived people from our target export markets helps us with both local language and market wisdom as we send our crated goods on their way in lorries headed for the Continent.
A Small Island Near Europe
Immigrants work harder
This sometimes unpalatable truth is most threatening to the unskilled sector where jobs are performed by employees that are exchangeable and expendable. This is not the fault of the newly arrived workers or the indigenous population. It is the way jobs are designed today with most school education being instantly forgotten and individuals adapting to the job market, ending up as minimum wage and sub-living wage employees. Our history as a rich and formerly powerful empire has created a subtle level of expectation for many British workers below which they will not consider working. The average Brit is not rushing to get up at 5 AM and wait for a van on a street corner to head off and pick vegetables on a chilly spring morning. Other EU nationals are.
Fight or trade?
From an historical perspective, when a couple of tribes live in close proximity they have two strategic directions in which to go. They can either battle or exchange goods and services. The main rationale for the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 thus establishing the European Economic Community, the EEC, was to facilitate trade and exchange as the best way of preventing the repetition of the double tragedies of the 20th century.
Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing.
Whilst we are on the subject of not learning from history, let us remember that what unified Germany and the Axis powers in their support for Hitler’s strategies and ideas in the 1930s were austerity measures set out in the Versailles Treaty of 1919. Imposed by the victors upon the losers, it created an attractive option for Axis powers – support the German war effort in return for the restoration of lost power and lands – Hitler promised to turn back time.
The EU agreement was the equivalent of a peace treaty. When a peace treaty is signed all parties agree to forgive, to back down from aggression and to cooperate. A lot of European history and baggage has been locked away in the cupboard, for the sake of trading cooperation, EU subsidies and grants and peace. Culturally speaking, Brexit is the key that opens this cupboard and opens many wounds from the past. [Do we really want to re-examine the roles perpetrated by Hitler and Napoleon at a time when we will be negotiating trade tariffs?]
Do we really want videos of the Euro-skeptic rhetoric played before we enter the room with our Continental cousins?
The subjects discussed around European dinner table may turn to reparation, retribution and rebuke.
New bilateral treaties
Instead of the centralised and overly controlling Brussels technocrats telling each of the EU member states what they can and cannot do, we are now in the unique position of sending out negotiation teams to each EU country and negotiating separate bilateral terms regarding defence, trade and the mobility of citizens (country nationals).
To some this represents the essence of opportunity and control. We will finally have a say on our terms of business in Europe. They are perhaps forgetting that it won’t be all smiles and handshakes. We have 950 years of history that will be raked over, brought up, and may well be used against us. This will not be a quick squiggle of a Mont Blanc pen on parchment in some grand hall. Troubled President, Francois Hollande of France immediately hinted at damaging changes France may make to border controls. If British lorry drivers feel frustrated by striking farmers and burning lorries full of lambs now (within the protection of the EU), what will they face if this civilising treaty is ripped up for the Brits? The bottleneck of the channel is our weakest point. Something the wise business people of Britain are well aware of. Add to that the predictable Air Traffic Controllers strikes in summer (we have just suffered from our 47th Strike in the last 8 years) and we begin to form a clear picture of our rather isolated future.
Can we afford the divorce?
Our future will be in the hands of a dubious, and tarnished group of British ministers along with overstretched lawyers shuttling from EU country to EU country trying to preserve as many of our assets as we can like a skewed game of giant Monopoly. And, who will get custody of the golden child? The City of London generates more than 30% of UKPLC’s GDP. Outside the protection of the EU, Germany, France are already having a pop at attracting the golden goose and shrinking the number of eggs it produces. If we don’t retain custody of the country’s best cash generating asset, we will again become an “embittered single parent” after the divorce, contemplating putting on a superhero costume and climbing up the walls of Brussels in a futile and crass protest shouting, “Former EU Fathers for Justice”
Facing a coalition of the weak.
The goodwill and support shown to Britain by the majority of the 10 enlargement states that joined the EU in 2004 that we have enjoyed and required for the past 12 years is beginning to evaporate. Especially as, in their own living memory, the promises of infrastructure grants and bountiful economic progress have begun to disappear, disappoint the local population and put their politicians under pressure. Poland, the striking example of post 2004 success, is now the 7th ranked economy within the EU. As alone most Central European countries are virtually insignificant, they still relish being part of one of the largest trading blocks in the world. As slighted states, sitting across the table from us surrounded by “divorce” lawyers, the energy and relationship will shift. They have got what they want. Why should they now continue to support us so generously? We are on the outside of the tent “looking” in.
Flags and racism
In your culture trainings you teach that culture is less about countries and flags and more about a range of values, beliefs and drivers that subtly influence behaviours and choices. This subtlety will be lost when Brexit becomes a hard reality. We are seeing a return to table thumping Popularism, less sophisticated and more hostile country stereotypes and an increase in racial slurs, prejudice and, inevitably, violence perpetrated upon immigrant populations. And, these include British populations abroad. The Brits in Spain are already treated with disrespect due to their lack of language skills and integration into local society.
You are about to cross the line
The EU is a mechanism designed to control the behaviour of member countries. Brexit is currently pushing against that reason and control. The Pandora’s box of cultural difference, historical resentment and Britain’s lack of future power will make for a volatile negotiating environment to send our ministers and lawyers into. The British election voter should be fully aware of what cultural consequences they face after the inevitable June Tory election victory aimed at repairing an avoidable Tory mistake.
Part if this blog post was written for Farnham Castle Intercultural Training last year.
Ahead of George and Matthew’s event in Lisbon, Portugal – 23rd to 26th March 2017 we present a webinar with Dr. George F. Simons, creator of diversophy®
Distinguishing games and simulations, we will discuss the growing popularity of gaming and its uses in the cultural discourse of today and the different kinds of games in popular use. Topics will include classification of types of games, how and why games can be effective tools for learning as well as community building. We will discuss factors involved in choosing, creating and adapting appropriate games for your learning objectives in intercultural training. This includes insights into facilitation from set-up to debrief, how cultural differences may affect the conduct and results of game dynamics.
Dr. George Simons is the creator of the award-winning diversophy® series for developing intercultural competence now numbering over 60 games. He has designed and often delivers a three-day simulation of Working in the USA in European university business programs. Living in France, he delivers consultation, coaching, & training worldwide. Publications include: EuroDiversity, Men and Women: Partners at Work, Seven Ways to Lighten your Life, Putting Diversity to Work, and eight Cultural Detective® intercultural guides. Currently he is collaborating with organizations and individuals in developing freely distributed acculturation games for migrants and the communities that receive them, as well as training facilitators to administer game events. His articles, reviews and other publications are available at http://www.georgesimons.com
To register go to https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3322007637342608900
A cultural opinion piece about the US Election written by Matthew Hill
Turn to clear vision…
When two polar opposites face off together we get – Option A – a de-escalation of tension achieved through understanding and reconciliation and, Option B – Resistance, mud slinging and an active ramping up of cold or hot conflict.
In this piece we will explore option A…
The Swinging Diversity Pendulum
The US election campaign was a war – no doubt about it. Barbs were tossed from both sides with little regard for casualties or collateral damage.
As interculturalists, we understand the concept of privilege, power and what their use can do to the “other”.
The last 8 years have seen genuine gains for diversity, engagement and inclusion. Take, for example, the Transgender agenda – from a near zero mainstream consciousness in 2008 to reality TV and the Amazon Prime award winning series, Transparent now.
Looking back (there has been a lot of looking back…) the darker side of the liberal advance was hubris – manifest in dismissive and pejorative descriptions of the “other” and here lay the seeds of their defeat.
Dismissing does not lead to disappearance
Trashing the opposition’s intelligence was never the way to go – Imagine the emotions felt if the Left to Right labels – stupid, uneducated, white working class, bigots and racists where substituted for Right to Left insults – How outraged would the intelligentsia have been?
It takes two sides to build polar opposites and thus diminish the space for dialogue.
When the media take up the cause of the “mindful”, we know that tolerance of the liberal agenda pendulum is at the top of its swing. And guess what? It is now falling the other way. Those whose privilege is seen to be under threat will not give up their status without a fight. And in the election we saw that fight. The tide of resentment, backlash and frustration from the ridiculed right is seen in support for outlandish and extreme protectionist measures.
By claiming the moral high ground and naming the people in the White House and media as “thinking, caring and correct” – these labels made the other side collectively and relatively; “stupid, cruel and wrong”. Just as with Brexit in the UK, these shamed people feel they have genuine grievances and are attracted to more extreme solutions.
Exclusion not Inclusion
One take on the scenario is that Middle America has been abandoned by both sides and feels intense pain – lower quality low paying jobs, less money left at the end of the week and unanswered questions about how to reverse the local economic decline of the past 30 years.
Bad or Bad?
The Republicans have behaved appallingly towards Obama and with little regard towards helping the mechanism of Government itself – pursuing a spiteful agenda of zero cooperation. The Democrats have not been blameless either. They have not addressed the local issues faced by the population – low wages, sub-prime fraud, mass house foreclosures and the alienation of the squeezed middle. They have supported Big Money instead.
It is with universal disgust that Americans see Washington as Hollywood for ugly people bargaining for their own self-interest at the cost of the Nation and with no Hollywood happy ending in sight. Trump can be forgiven from thinking, “anything is better than this.” His extraordinary ability to transcend his own privilege, tax avoidance, sexual abuse scandals, serial strategic bankruptcies and contrived conspiracies against opponents to convince people that his philosophy is the best for his country, speaks volumes about the angst and frustration of a vast sway of voters.
Make America Great Again?
“Make America Great Again” – panned by the liberal elite as crass and by many minorities for whom the 1960’s and before where a long nightmare of oppression and exploitation.
The nostalgia pitch seemed to work. Harking back to the halcyon days of the 1950s;
*Vast sexy cars, modern homes crammed with labour saving consumer gadgets and obedient housewives helping the bread winner to a cocktail and having supper ready for him when he returned from a not too arduous but highly rewarded day’s work at the office.
*Smoking, whisky, employing secretaries for their looks, a marriage bar for many office roles and a good time had by (NOT) all.
*Pool parties and picnics – It was not actually the case for the majority then and certainly it is only reality for a privileged few now.
*For many – their role in this world was as the unloved support, with no choice but to accept the inequality that kept this show on the road.
(If you think nostalgia is the way to go, I have one image for you that may blur your halcyon vision of the past – 18th Century dentistry!)
Push and Pull.
If the Pull of nostalgia was a fantasy, the Push was more urgent and keenly felt. The protest was against the political insanity of Congress, the economic consequences of Globalisation, the death of regional metal bashing in America and the starkly contrasting figures – the USA has about 5% of the world’s population and accounts for about 23% of the world’s GDP. “How then”, asked 60 million Americans, “can I not afford to pay my ever-increasing health insurance premiums?”
Add to this the unpunished crimes of the sub prime housing scandal where the biggest banks were bailed out and rewarded for their immoral exploitation of US working citizens whilst the average Joe and Joanna were not helped out in any way as they experienced the burning shame of house foreclosure. This dark chapter was remembered by many.
Changing the game
For DJT to win against the tide of the media is nothing short of extraordinary. His bizarre and extreme statements gained enormous airtime. His conspiracy theories laid waste to opponents and his nationalist rhetoric resonated with the dispossessed – pushing a complete outsider to the most important job in the world.
With Facebook fake news, a departure from facts and proof (post-truth) and the wildest campaign promises seen since Hitler, the ground was set for a revolution in a country still seeing itself as a Democracy.
The real marketing miracle was for a man tide to Big Money and an address book that went right the way to the top to convince Middle America that he was one of them and would serve their desperate needs for jobs, better wages and a return to easier times. The push and pull must have spun heads.
And with a little help from the Democrats
Many commentators where offering the advice; “the lesser of two evils”. Looking back, this may not have been the MOST appetizing choice at the ballot box. It was matched in the 2002 French Presidential elections by the, “vote for the criminal, not the racist!” slogan that WORKED and got Jacque Chirac elected back as President of France.
Hilary had a ton of baggage to carry around with her on the campaign trail – a list of dubious business connections and dealings, a propensity for war and shameless connections with Big Money. And a less that world changing promise that NOTHING would change.
That and an old man sitting in a blue “court dock” behind his wife during the TV presidential debates looking on with a tired and stony face whilst the most sordid chapters of US Presidential history were dredged up again and flung about the debating hall.
We guess that Bernie Saunders made a pact with Hilary a couple of years ago to mop up the next generation and anti-Hilary liberals and hand these free thinkers over to the Hilary camp at the last minute – A cynical move too far?
What of the Future?
DJT’s Roosevelt / Keynsian infrastructure investment proposal – enormous sums of printed and borrowed money will keep the country calm for now – Nobel Prize winning , Joseph Stieglitz, points out though that the innovation and new industries that will drive US growth will be very light on labour and will fail to provide the promised vast increase in new jobs or a general improvement in the quality of living for most beyond giving them new domestic, leisure and work based gadgets to buy.
New jobs will be created. The majority, however, will be in construction and will be accompanied by minimum wages, poor working condition and little dignity – Not quite the dream of 1950s Hollywood as seen with John Ham in Madmen.
Ripples around the world
Overseas, the French Presidential election will be the first barometer of the world’s reaction to DJT. Before we saw Slovakia, Austria, Poland take a clear step to the right. Who will be next to join them?
Big money or local income?
Forget the FBI last minute e mail actions, computer voting fraud, the Popular vote and Russian interference – DJT’s rhetoric about immigration, closing borders and his promise to create jobs for regular people is what the frustrated and unheard responded to.
All that has come before has lead to the nice folks of the USA listening to these words and taking notice.
A sobering thought for all of us.
Where’s my driver?
The trouble with repatriation is that few expect “coming home“ to be so difficult. Of course the notion of “coming home” in itself is largely ambiguous because the place one knew before has changed during one’s expatriation as have we as people. Roaming around old stomping grounds chasing shadows is hence often more alienating an experience than confronting a new culture we consciously know will be a challenge.
It does not help that the environment and companies largely ignore the returning expat’s plight. There is little in the way of readjustment programs or any consideration that the repatriate may need help fitting back into the very place they came from. Complaining about having lost the maid and driver and taking a salary cut also tends to attract “surprisingly” little sympathy.
This stands in stark contrast to the tightknit expat communities, training programs and VIP treatment that welcome the expat upon arrival in a host country at the start of their mission.
As a result, many repatriates quickly become disgruntled and experience difficulty both in their private and professional lives. BBC capital found that in 2013, about 16% of workers left their employers within two years of a global assignment ending, while relocation experts such as Brookfield GRS and GMAC quote twice that number*. In any case, given the considerable investment in expats, any attrition would seem like a big loss in terms of ROI.
It would make sense that companies step up their efforts to support repatriates, but also give more thought to making use of the repatriate’s skills and knowledge. Of course, repatriates can also plan their own readjustment process more thoroughly:
- Where possible, expert relocation consultants such as Brookfield GRS suggest repatriates should prepare for repatriation a good 6-9 months prior to their return. This includes planning and discussing new positions at work, living and family arrangements including schools and so on.
- Expect the repatriation process, similar to expatriation, to extend over several stages of adjustment; the honeymoon period: “its so nice to be back in a place where the air is clean and shops are quaint, it feels like a holiday!“ to culture shock “Why are those people at work so parochial and where can I find a decent Chinese restaurant in this city?!“ to eventual adjustment “need to get a mortgage, need to sort out pension, need to plan a vacation to the Isle of Wight“ …
- Similar to expatriation, it is crucial to adjust one’s behavior and devise a strategy for a smoother transition;
- Refrain from starting every second sentence with “Well, in China/ Bahrain/ Rio …” while at the same time ensuring that one’s international expertise is well known and recorded across the organization.
- Equally, avoid overloading friends and colleagues with stories of wonder and adventure in rural Guangzhou – only offer information when asked … as hard as the prospect might seem!
- Develop and show interest in some aspect of local life; sports, music politics …and get involved in the local community. Volunteering is one meaningful way to do so.
- Proactively ask for training if you feel any specific topics/ technologies/ skills have bypassed you while you were abroad. A mentor might also be useful.
From a psychological point of view it is primordial to achieve closure on the expatriation period and stop pining for the past or giving in to the urge of constantly comparing. Without such closure it will be difficult to successfully move onward in a familiar yet new environment which requires a great investment of positive energy!
Author Profile– **Felicia Schwartz has spent 13 years in China and is the founder of China Insight www.hitangandccc.com/china-insight a training and consultancy company helping businesses and executives adapt to cultural change and markets across China and Europe.
* Data Sources – Dr Katharina Lefringhausen : 23% (GMAC, 2013) to 38% (Brookfield, 2010) of repatriate employees resign from their company within the first year upon return and up to 50% leave after 2 (Brookfield, 2010) to 3 years (GMAC, 2013) upon return.
Laughing through the tears…
(Reader Warning – This is a opinion piece that takes a helicopter ride over a complex subject and contains ironic humour.)
Looking back on the dramas of the last 2 weeks in the Dis-United Kingdom there are some things that have now become clearer and other things that we may never know.
Two issues – It seems that there were a multiple of issues being decided on 23rd June 2016 and not just the notion of EU trade vs World trade.
Perhaps the quietest issue was to prove the most profound – the voiceless hard working people of regional England and Wales protesting successfully against the London elite and their pursuit of personal positions of power whilst continuing to marginalise the existence of the regional population.
The disenfranchised voted and were heard. And they will NOW be ignored as a tiny minority of the country (Tory MPs and party members vote for the next Prime Minister to lead the country at this, the beginning of a 40 year negotiation marathon to divorce from the EU (whilst keeping the cleverest child – Access to the Single Economic Market), forging new trade ties with the US, China, Russia, and returning to former lovers – Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Irony – It was the poorer parts of the country that wished to distance themselves from the EU. Despite the fact that they are the greatest beneficiaries of EU largesse when it comes to being awarded valuable Regional Development Grants.
Fisheries – We heard a lot about “loss of control of our country” – the one concrete example was UK fishing grounds (should that be water?) The depleted fishing fleet of the UK will now be able to fish more freely and… export their fish to Spain (or will they?)
Racism – The police are reporting a spike in verbal racial abuse, physical racially motivated attacks and a general increase in xenophobic rhetoric. This harks back to the extremes of the campaign and the ethnocentric chant of “Give us our country back” (from Whom and to Whom?) Scapegoating the Polish for coming over here and displacing us with their intelligence and positive work ethic seems to have found resonant favour with the mob. These visceral abusers have dulled their senses to history (we are all immigrants. Britain robbed, stole, enslaved and killed in the name of empire AND the British Government gave right of abode to the 800 million people of empire in 1931 and the right to work in the UK to 507 million people of the EU in 2004.) The sacrifice of Polish and Czech pilots during WWII is conveniently forgotten in the heat of the moment as emotions fear and stress take over.
The lies – the Leave campaign talked of a two year divorce, the £350 million a week fee to the EU now being available to fund hospitals and schools, EU having sovereignty, 60% of British laws coming from Europe, an immediate halt to immigration and that the EU would beg us to continue trading on terms of our choosing as they needed us SO MUCH.
Unfortunately none of this was true.
And the remain campaign was not above telling vast fibs in support of their cause. Their message though was undermined more by internal conflict, a complacency based on the notion that not enough people were crazy enough to want to leave and that they could continue to fight internal political battles with each other instead of devoting their time and full concentration to producing an agenda leading and honest campaign for reform from within the EU.
Corby-Nation – The most complex sub plot of the last decade surrounds the leader of the opposition – overwhelmingly elected Jeremy Corbyn suffered an assassination attempt, a coup from Tony Blairs’ faction both inside his own party and from powerful lobbying groups and Tony’s cronies populating many powerful places in the media and the outside world.
The Conspiracy is that – it would be better not to unite and attack the current political vacuum and provide some national alternative leadership but, instead, to destroy the Labour party thus providing a distraction from the Chilcot report on the even bigger disaster of the second Gulf War.
WMD – Widespread Ministerial Deception – The Chilcot report (after 7 years) says, in the longest and most British way possible, that the war was an all round cock up from start to finish. (Interculturalists please note the 2.6 million word report is the most low context document on earth and Sir John Chilcot’s speech the most high context one you will hear this year.)
PS – Honest Jeremy did, however, contribute to the disaster we all now face as his incorruptible stance did not allow him to give a clear boost to the remain campaign.
Onwards to the Negotiation table – In the early 1970’s we put away the history books and moved on from the past. The EEC The European Economic Community was the thing. No more mention that Britain had been at war at one time or another with just about all of the major EU players with the only exception being Greece.
From a cultural perspective, those dusty history books look like being opened up again and used against us in a court of law, during the elections in France and Germany and around the negotiation table as we sort out 27 new bilateral trading agreements.
Cultural Perspective – For interculturalists this mad moment provides an expensive and invaluable case study with rich content for your classrooms – The Brexit being an example of the dangers of Government lead patriotic rhetoric, the power of the media to spread negative country stereotypes, a case of complexity keeping reason and clarity from the masses and, the reversal of 40 years of Diversity and Inclusion practice in the workplace happening in a matter of weeks.
What’s next? – a second referendum will not happen. The exit negotiations will be delayed but will begin. The next wave of opportunists will take their places in Parliament as Prime Minister and head of the opposition. The pound will be weaker, speculative and dirty money pouring into the UK PLC will diminish (not a wholly negative thing), The economy will move into mild recession as investment and strategic corporate decisions are delayed and the regions that voted leave will begin to feel the immediate cold wind of economic downturn even before winter arrives.
PS – Scotland will leave the UK and the violence in Northern Ireland will increase.
PPS – Summer holidays will be 10% more expensive.
The End – Going Going Gone – On behalf of the leavers – Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn – “Sorry” (They have not uttered this word themselves but we know they feel burning shame and guilt at this time.)
(Number of words in this post – 1066 – that is a British history joke.)
The Author Matthew Hill is currently applying for Albanian Citizenship.
Warning – Some of the following is not pretty – If you are an ardent British nationalist and lacking a sense of humour, please look away now. All stories have been gathered from conversations in the training room both in the UK and abroad.
- Avoidance of Confrontation
The Gazpacho is warm and the rack of lamb is cold. The waiter approaches the diners and asks with a smile, “Is everything okay with your meal?” What does the Brit reply?
“Fine. Everything is lovely”
The waiter walks away, unaware of both the trouble in the kitchen and the two faced lie he has just been told. If he were to listen closely he would hear the bitter mutterings that follow. “Dreadful food. We are never coming here again!”
Brits will sometimes go to great lengths to avoid confrontation. “It could be worse”, “mustn’t grumble” and, “at least we got a nice dessert.”
Which leads us to the most popular and ubiquitous word in the British lexicon of etiquette – “Sorry”
Sorry can mean, “I am innoculating myself against the constant rainfall of disappointment”, “You have done something wrong but it is me uttering the word sorry so as to avoid violence and carry on with my life.”
A contradictory and more assertive version is employed when sorry is used to mean, “I am apologising for the injustice or hurt that I am about to inflict upon you.
- The Meal Deal
We have a 20-year-old lunchtime ritual in offices across the land – of queuing up to buy a flat factory made dead sandwich which is full of fat, sugar and chemicals, a tooth rotting and chemical laden bag of crisps, and a pressurized plastic bottle of sugar water with artificial colouring, all of which will definitely make you feel worse for having consuming them. All this whilst sat at your desk surfing for kitten videos on YouTube.
The truth is – it’s not a meal and it’s certainly not a deal. A cultural anthropologist or sociologists would take a look at this bizarre British ritual and relate it to another ceremony closer to home. The Meal Deal is, in fact, the fodder found at a 5-year-old child’s birthday party.
I make no attempt at a cultural excuse for the meal deal. Its success is based on the temporary chemically induced high it produces in stressed workers suffering from low self-esteem and poor job prospects. These overworked people have been tricked into consuming the modern work myth as if it were designed to be enjoyable and beneficial.
- The Misery Line
The population of London swells by 1000 souls every week or so. Most of them seem to commute on the Northern Underground line. This produces an etiquette maze and one or two cultural phenomena that are hard to fathom for the outsider. In days gone by the savvy commuter employed a broadsheet newspaper as a shield against eye contact, social interaction and to protect their medium-sized personal safety zone. Now necks are bent as the stressed executive watches last night’s documentary on the breakdown of civilisation on an android phone whilst trying to endure the torture of London commuting. Like the 1970’s game “Operation”, where the “surgeon” extracts plastic organs trying and not set off the buzzer, the modern commuter must desperately achieve separation from other humans – contact is NOT desired. In a cultural coaching session held recently with an Indian executive from New Delhi, he became quite upset at this avoidant behaviour saying, “I felt like an untouchable.”
- Street Life
You could be mistaken for thinking that the main motivation for earning extra money and collecting work related bonuses was to take the middle-class family away from their town high street. The modern scene includes post-war prefabricated shopping centres, pound shops, charity shops and inflation fuelling estate agents all vying for your attention. And, the most vile of British inventions – The charity worker pestering members of the public for signatures and monthly payments to support a wide range of worthy and bizarre causes.
Having developed my presentation and communication skills to become a public speaker, I can proudly claim not to be pestered by the average Chugger – my doom laden scowl (known to make babies cry) and a refusal to engage with the Chugger’s dance ensure a clean path from the beginning to the end of the high street. I note with incredulity that most people are much nicer than me. Making up sugary and polite lies they attempt to avoid the patronising and manipulative pitch of the Chugger to maintain face all-round and continue on their way, feeling good about themselves and the world.
It is the disenfranchised, the sick and the vulnerable who don’t have the energy to escape the gravitational pull that are sucked into the black hole of the Chugger script. When next in town listen out for the word “Sorry” spoken by those caught in the Chugger web and see if you can spot the context in which it is being used.
Wise Words of WARNING!
From a recent relocation training for a couple of executives going to a relatively dangerous country, we build up a useful list of the possible difficulties and risks they could face. This post provides a summary of some of the dangers your relocation executives may face and the best methods of preventing or eliminating these problems. So as not to scare you or the delegates in your relocation classes, we have kept the tone light.
On the streets
You don’t have to be Orson Welles in The Third Man to experience threat and drama downtown. And, whilst Vienna, is an extremely civilised place now, there are many cities where nearly all of the incidents in this post have happened and continue to be a possible threat.
1, The hungry policeman – on a Thursday or Friday (to build up weekend spending money) our friendly cop asks to see your passport. (This can be legitimate, and carrying a passport is a legal requirement in many countries.) The problem comes when it is time for the policeman, having seen your papers are in order, to give you back the documents. If they are scamming you, they will ask for money at this point! – This is irritating but survivable. How can you make their job a little bit more difficult?
Action – take a colour photocopy of your passport and offer this instead. Tell them that the original is in your hotel safe or your office. Say that the document is just 5 minutes away. Smile and invite them to come with you. You have made their lives more difficult, and they are likely to just move on, in search of their next, more compliant, victim.
2, Double identity – in a restaurant you receive the bill and put down a credit card. The person takes the bill and the card away for just a couple of minutes. 3 weeks later you end up with a €7000 credit card charge originating from Argentina – and you don’t remember buying a hand tooled leather horse saddle! Your card details have been skimmed and cloned. The waiter has used a skimming machine smaller than a packet of cigarettes and you will now have months of pain working with your bank to separate your real expenditure from the thieve’s happy spending spree.
Action – I prefer American Express – they have a famously efficient department dealing in a more dynamic and energetic way with identity theft. Of course, to prevent their overwork, never let your credit card out of your sight. Take an appropriate amount of cash out with you, in the more difficult towns and pay with that. Finally, if you have a more sophisticated and customer friendly bank, tell them when you’re abroad. This may seem a bit of a pain, but you will get credibility points and, if the worst happens, they will be more sympathetic to your case and put more energy into restoring your good name and cash balance.
3, Got to pick a pocket or two – it normally happens around the railway station, getting on and off buses and trams or in a crowd. Someone bumps into you and distracts you, and … your wallet is gone. It isn’t personal, though if you dress like a naive tourist, you haven’t helped yourself.
Action – blend in, dress down a level, avoid crowds and don’t put your bulging overfull wallet in your back pocket or an open handbag. Another nifty traveller’s trick is to take two wallets, one with $20 and out of date credit cards kept in the obvious place, and another containing your valuables in your fanny pack or deeper on your person.
4, Spiked drinks – no this is not because you are 007 and the beautiful girl wishes to take you back to SPECTRE HQ. This threat is on the increase where German, British or American executives are targeted. For some strange reason, when they are carried out of a club staggering and supported by glamorous locals, other customers in the bar, seem to think this normal cultural behavior! You then wake up in your hotel room, minus your wallet, phone and Ipad.
Action – don’t drink – only joking – look in the mirror and rate your attractiveness on the scale of 1 to 10. Go on, do it. If you are a senior executive and scored less than 6, then you are a ready target for this scam. If you have an ego, or a sales based job, these double the size of the target on your back!
But seriously – drink in the bars of better international hotels or the bars of classy restaurants, where this is a lot less likely to happen. Avoid those gorgeous women, with a slight glazed look in their eyes. You know the ones – they are sitting down near the bar looking rather comfortable. This is their lounge.
You can also buy a drink tamper test kit that detects whether your red wine has been spiked. It is pretty uncool to ever use this, but it’s also uncool to wake up naked and handcuffed to the sink.
5, Driving – if the potholes, animals in the road and winter ice don’t hurt you, then the policeman, on Thursday, stopping you for a spurious traffic violation will. See point 1.
Car theft is a big problem – there was a wonderful advertisement by the Polish tourist authorities run recently in Germany which basically said, “Come to lovely Poland – your car is already here!”
Action – park in secure underground facilities beneath the hotel where you are staying. Do not park on the street or leave valuables on display. Make sure you have a car tracking system such as LoJack fitted. Also, have a steering column lock which make your vehicle more difficult to drive away.
- Honey trap – again James Bond is with us. Over my career as an intercultural facilitator and relocation trainer, I have encountered a shocking number of executives who have fallen prey to being exploited by young women. Again their mental faculties seem neutralised by charm and some heavy flirtation. What follows can be video footage, audio recordings, light industrial espionage and, if they get hold of the wife’s details, extortion demands for money and favours.
A more subtle version of this is the office romance, where people in the mid-level of your organisation try to get a leg up by offering to sleep with you on a business trip.
Action – Wake up and smell the Rohypnol. Get over yourself. Read more John Le Carre and be prepared for the crazy shenanigans of international office life. They don’t find your looks, charm or lame attempts at humour remotely attractive. It is not about you. It is about your power, your passport and your bank account.
- The knock at the door – you may come from a culture where protection, a shakedown and Mafia business tax are normal. If you don’t, ironically, your naivete may protect you. A good friend of mine, setting up an office in Italy, was approached by such a character, in search of Kriza – protection money. The young executive did not have a clue about the subtle conversation that was taking place. He politely declined the offer, and showed the mobster out. Probably through shame, the organised crime official never called again!
Action – find out what other people in the building do, build a good relationship with your bank and insurance company. Bond with your local Chamber of Commerce and find out how the other companies protect themselves in your town.
8, Employee discontent – whilst you look over your shoulder to see if you are being followed by someone in a wide brimmed hat, a credible threat may already be inside your building. Many companies have a tiny number of rogue employees. I know one senior executive who measured staff happiness by the amount of stationery stolen per month – less paper missing – happy staff. More paper missing – better call a meeting…
A more sinister version of this happens when discontented or money hungry staff purloin data for the purposes of selling it to your competitors. This is terrifying because it represents a high level of threat, and any measures you take to protect yourself, naturally insult the loyal members of staff in your team.
Action – a lot of companies are wise to data loss threats and put in back-end systems which track user logins, data access and dates. At least retroactively, you can effectively track down the culprit and take the appropriate action.
One of the more powerful charismatic leaders I trained about 10 years ago had a method of finding culprits without electronic measures. He would stand up in front of a circle of his department and say that, from now on, anyone caught breaking the corporate security rules, would have the most severe consequences brought down upon them – all he had to do then was to look at everybody’s faces – the guilty ones would freeze, look directly at him and find themselves on a watch-list. A couple of weeks after the first meeting, he would hold a second meeting. In a similar way, he would say he was disappointed and had found the rules have been broken in the past – he now threatened retroactive punishment for past crimes – again he would look around the room and see which additional employees had developed breathing difficulties. It was a clever old school way of finding out if the butler did it.
9, Bribery – related to 8, you can often detect if staff members are being bought off by suppliers by the quality of their watches, cars and holidays. These 3 items are likely to experience an illogical and sudden upgrade when bribery is happening.
Action – make a note of everybody’s watch brand, car value and holiday expenditure! I am exaggerating but only by a little. Classically, executives making decisions involving hundreds of thousands of £,$ or € are susceptible to unscrupulous approaches by suppliers wishing to gain unfair competitive advantage. Have the conversation with them. Offer an amnesty period during which time, no punishment will occur in exchange for full cooperation. It is harsh to say, but to stop a corrupt atmosphere it is necessary to sacrifice a few culprits in the early days. This is the tougher side of any international leadership role.
10 – just because you’re paranoid… We began in the black-and-white streets of Vienna, and we end in the world of espionage and politics. In various countries, politicians do not seek office for the good of the people but more, to rack up large personal fortunes. There are many examples of this and it is your job not to get damaged by them on their journey of accumulation. In the pursuit of political riches, you may be followed, spied upon, threatened or made promises that require company expenditure.
Action – stay at arms length (or further) from any politicians. Remember, you will be asked to do many things for them. It is questionable whether they will be reliable or honest in helping you when it is your turn and you need help. If you must have political contact in one of the more famously corrupt countries, it is best to be transparent and do so in front of bona fide witnesses. Above all protect yourself from scandal, blackmail and coercion.
Conclusion – we do not mean to frighten you or turn your delegates away from beginning their overseas assignments.
With common sense and a little preparation, It is possible to stay, happy, safe and honest. And guys – come on – get a mirror – you are NOT THAT HANDSOME!!!
Good luck with your relocation sessions.
A relocation to the UK that could not have gone much worse….
It was the last intercultural relocation training before Christmas. For Mary and Sam, a lovely couple from Russia and India respectively. They picked me up from an out-of-town station and drove me back to their nice house. As I sipped my coffee and bit into a Swiss chocolate, their unbelievable story of British bureaucracy and service stupidity unfolded – in the 13 years I’ve been in this job, this had to be the worst case of intercultural cock-up I have witnessed.
The bank that likes to say “No!”
Working for a global company Mary, had an American bank account in the heart of Moscow that provided for all her domestic and international business needs. We she heard of her relocation to England her first move was to telephone them and ask to set up a similar account in the UK. 1. No one picked up the phone. 2. Undeterred, Mary sent a series of e-mails that met with a similarly silent response. “Oh well”, thought Mary, this is an opportunity to open up a British bank account. She eventually found that this global bank had no high street operations in the UK.
On arriving in London, Mary and her husband moved into a hotel. They should have moved directly into the house and see 7. From a hotel she called a famous high-street bank and enquired about the protocol for setting up a UK bank account. She was given a list of documents to produce and an appointment was set up. Mary knew that she was moving out of London to deepest Hampshire and so wished to set up a bank account in the larger local town, the one nearest to the village where she wished to live. She had taken time off from work to attend the bank meeting. 3. When she turned up at the bank she was told (only then) that setting up a Hampshire bank account would not be possible, because, as of that moment, she was not actually living in the county. Mary was upset, because she could have been told this over the telephone and she had taken time off from work to attend the meeting, where she was promised, the procedure was pretty simple and would take no more than 25 minutes.
Mary delayed opening a bank account until she had secured a nice property. More later. 4. Having moved into the property, Mary set up a bank meeting in the local large town. She went there secure in the knowledge that she was living in the county. It was early days and she had yet to receive any sort of Bill. Again she took, a half day’s holiday to visit the bank. There she was told, that without a utility bill in her name for her Hampshire residents it would not be possible to open at the bank account. With an increasing level of frustration, Mary left, went home, and telephoned one of the utility providers and asked them to furnish out with a bill. 5. A couple of days later Mary set up ANOTHER appointment and proudly produced the said utility bill. This time the bank clerk enquired about her date of arrival and her other activities regarding registering to live and work and be paid money in the UK. Because she had been in the UK for less than one year, she was told she did not have a valid credit history and therefore, without sponsorship from her company, it would not be possible to open a bank account. Barely containing her anger, Mary enquired why had it taken so long to announce this important fact. No meaningful answer was forthcoming. Mary approached her Human Resources department and asked for a sponsorship letter that would compensate for her lack of credit history. An HR department employee duly drafted a letter and gave it to Mary. Mary photocopied the letter and set up another appointment. 6. A disappointed Mary was told that 2 things were wrong with the letter. One, it was a black-and-white photocopy and not a colour copy. Two, it had been signed “on behalf” or somebody and not with a simple name. Mary then let loose with her feelings of anger, rage and disappointment as she retold the Kafkaesque nightmare to the surprised bank assistant.
Mary and her husband had been allowed a looksee visit to become familiar with the UK and to identify and close a deal to secure a house to live in. They had been allocated a relocation agent who would select a number of properties for them to see. The visit was arranged in plenty of time for them to relocate smoothly from their old town to their chosen house in UK. 7. When they met the relocation agent, she seemed somewhat lacking in charm and communicated with an air of pessimism and scarcity about the cost and choice of property on offer in the area. The first house Mary and her husband saw was horrible. Small, dark, poorly located and at what seemed a seriously overinflated price. The 2nd 3rd and 4th properties were better but in no way adequate. With growing frustration they sensed that the relocation agent was not telling the entire story. As they drove in her car to the final property, the agent extolled the virtues of their “last chance” location as if it would be the answer to their prayers. It wasn’t. They had taken time out of their busy schedules to come all the way to the UK to waste a day looking at a substandard portfolio of properties that were very much on the B list.
- Mary and her husband decided to take care of their property search themselves. Using social media and various agencies that identified a number of much better places. Again many properties seem to be somewhat overpriced when compared with their research figures gained from their investigation via social media. They understood that it was normal practice to under quote and see if the landlord would accept the request. They put in a number of low offers for property, and then had to wait for months to get a response. Each real estate agent told them the same thing – they should only put one offer in at a time. They said that if they put in more than one offer, they would not be taken seriously. What seemed to be happening though was that the landlords were shopping around for better offers. In some cases they did not hear back for a number of months. This must have been very expensive for the landlords. Eventually, after 2 months, the winning landlord came back accepting a reasonable offer and the deal was closed. Mary using various social media websites found a lot of these landlords had wasted months and eventually accepted offers even lower than the one Mary had offered.
Physician heal thyself
- Mary has a chronic but not serious medical condition that requires medication. When she had left her previous apartment, she had packed her pills in her suitcase to be placed on a lorry and taken to England. The French company had told her the lorry would arrive in no more than 48 hours. As a backup, Mary had anticipated the chance of the delay and so had a Moscow doctor write out a prescription in English that she could use in the UK. The lorry became stuck in a French port backlog. Time for plan B. 10. Mary knew that she had to register at a local health centre to gain access to the NHS and to see a General Practitioner. When she heard of the freight delay, she telephoned the health centre to request a 5 minute appointment to obtain a prescription for the medication she was already taking written on green British prescription paper so that she could take you to a chemist and continue taking her pills. The GP’s receptionist, told her, that because this was not an emergency, she can only get an appointment in 7 days time. Mary was aware that the emergency service was in a different place and that the GP surgery was the first port of call for any medical condition. She was sure that the medicine would turn up in just a couple more days and therefore did not make the appointment. The slightly overbearing GP’s receptionist warned her that she should take the appointment for 7 days time as if she did not take it now and call back later her overall delay could be more like 10 or 14 days. Mary left it anyway.
The French port delay continued, and the medicines did not arrive. Mary phoned back the receptionist, and made an appointment, it was for 10 days after the first phone call. The receptionist had indeed been right in her pessimistic prediction. 11. The day of the GP appointment came, and Mary were driven in some pain and discomfort to the surgery. She went into the small doctors office and explained his scenario. Rather than simply write a prescription, the doctor, with no notes to refer to, said that her stomach pain could be anything, and that she should go away, wait, and come back in a week’s time. He said that if the pain continued he would write her a prescription for analgesics. Mary’s mind began to spin at the ridiculous nature of the British system of banking and face-to-face healthcare.
She had experienced better in both Russia and India.
A simple assumption
- Mary and Sam are intrepid travellers and, despite experiencing bureaucratic attacks of incompetence, they thought they’d venture to Edinburgh for a nice weekend. Looking on the Internet they found reasonably priced tickets and elected to start their journey from a “London” airport. Here began their last pre-Christmas disaster. Coming from the West side of London, they imagined that Stanstead airport would be close. For one reason or another, they set off 30 minutes late. Then, they missed a vital turning just a few kilometres before the airport. This last mistake meant a detour of 30 km, by which time they had missed the flight. There was little else to do but to drive back home. The irony of this day was not lost on them. They had spent 10 or 11 hours driving. In that time – they could have reached Scotland by car!
Tragically, all of these incidents that happen before the relocation day. I met with this lovely couple, experienced their warm personalities, their generous actions as hosts and saw their mild disposition. There followed a therapeutic and laughter filled cultural session on how the strange, secret and perplexing world of UK bureaucracy actually works.
Can you guess some of the answers?
Banks – the days when sophisticated career professionals took care of banking relationships are long gone. I have had retail bank staff at my local branch, talk about their minimum wage conditions, the all-powerful computer algorithm making all the decisions combined with their lack of autonomy or authority to make discreet real world decisions and the fact that the high street bank is no longer the human and sensible place what it once was. ADVICE – at the first sign of Franz Kafka, write-down contemporaneous notes in your Moleskine, and find the number and address of the banking ombudsman. A letter threatened or sent here works wonders, and normally generates a grovelling apology and efficient solution to your outstanding issues. Don’t be part of the system – Get ahead of it.
GP Surgery – the receptionist in the story, had been told to turn away patients. She had incorrectly used the distinction between an emergency and non-emergency to do this. She was wrong. Your job as a newcomer to the UK is to expect various barriers to put in your way. These you must overcome with a display of assertive power. Think of it as a video game or medieval quest. The first obstacle as a receptionist who will say, “go away.” ADVICE – become a broken record repeating your, “I am ill and I must see the doctor.” After 2 or 4 repetitions, the receptionist will cave in and grant you an appointment. If it is too long to wait, threaten to call 999. This normally changes her attitude.
GP – again British doctors are told to under prescribed and under-diagnose. In a 5 to 7 min cursory verbal exchange, they will often wrap up this inconclusive session with, “You seem to be fine. If it still hurts comeback in 2 days/a week/a month.” ADVICE – again it’s time to find your personal power and issue the broken record statement, “I feel really ill and wish to see a hospital consultant.” Again, 2 or 4 repetitions of this should see a change in attitude. You will either get a deeper diagnosis, a useful prescription or be referred to a medical expert.
London Airports – there are not 5 London airports! There are 2 airports “in” town. London airport – a tiny and fragile landing strip surrounded by water near Canary Wharf in the East End of London. It is wonderful, cosy and cheap but vulnerable to wind, fog and rain. Many flights are delayed or cancelled. Heathrow airport is the nearest thing to a proper London airport, though technically it is only just within the M25. Stanstead airport should require a passport to get to! It is nearer Cambridge and can take many many hours in busy traffic. Luton airport cannot be reached directly by train. We forgive Gatwick airport for pretending to be in London, as the train service is very efficient and for a lot of people in South and Central London, it can work out as the nearest convenient airport location to begin your holiday. If anyone ever tells you Southend airport is a London airport – punch them in the face. They are lying and part of a Government conspiracy 😉
P.S. Mary and Sam felt reassured by the cultural briefing on the true workings of the UK. They realized that they were not stupid or wrong. Simply that they were too nice for the system. We wish them well and we wish you well on your next trip to the UK.
The word COMPROMISE seems to produce a range of emotions, reactions and comments depending on who is listening.
“No one ever remembers a great compromise.”
My starting point for understanding compromise occurred in the white heat of alpha capitalism where it was legitimate for the winner to take all. This casino like attitude of winning and losing deflated the winner’s sensitivity for the consequences suffered by the loser. Freed, the protagonist treated the episode as a mere transaction and quickly moved on.
Within an intercultural setting we move from isolated transactions to societies and a timeline of connected events. Repetition may lead to escalating pain and negative beliefs for the loser. Over time, this produces a reaction – passive aggression, non-cooperation, resistance and accumulated feelings of resentment.
From a cultural perspective compromise can foster pragmatism, diplomacy and an emphasis on fostering long-term relationships. This creates a different social dynamic and energy. Here the outcome of “not quite to win / not quite win” may have the benefit of preserving a bond that will undoubtedly yield greater value over subsequent weeks, months and years.
In the Cartesian exchange of logic and rational questioning, the outcome of a compromise can be seen as an optimal solution that achieves the least worst outcome for both parties. In such a way we can ascribe a positive quality to this sometimes dirty word.
Mediator Paul Rathbone talks of the “amygdala hijack” a triggering of our primitive brain that produces the fight, flight or freeze response. This explains your neighbour’s angry outburst over a 10 cm boundary infringement in the garden or when you play Black Sabbath songs too late and too loud in the evening.
Here the starting position is a war cry – “revenge.”
Often it is the job of the mediator to bring competing parties to the table and with hard work, illustrate the costs of their competitive strategy in order to lay the groundwork for a mediated solution. The mediator’s magic works when the parties are ready to consider a deal that is “good enough” or accept something that both parties can “live with.”
It is when empathic listening skills encompass the consequence for the other party’s of one’s actions that the shift occurs.
The benefits of compromise
It preserves “face” and honour. It can save time, reduce the risk of retribution and it can preserve one of our most important and undervalued commodities – a give and take alliance.
It is the reputation – saving quality of a decent compromise that is frequently missed. Many cultures and communities value the status of their figureheads and require them to fight and win against foreign bodies.
It is in this spirit that the Golden Bridge of a dignified retreat is critical to reaching a longer-term mutually agreed settlement that yields the positive result of peace and prosperity.
It is a good General who knows when to fight. It is a great one who knows when to beat a hasty or even an undignified retreat.
So, what is the lesson here?
Can we build our self-awareness to a level where we know when our primitive brain is running the show? Can we interrupt our full pursuit of primitive revenge? Can we intervene and shout “STOP”, sidestep the caveman within us and re-engage our intellect to pursue a better path? Can we learn the reasonable allocation of assets through the pursuit of a dignified dialogue?
Will we now seek out optimum benefit for all parties with minimum damage to the status quo?
Homework – Test yourself tomorrow…
When you next receive a slight, challenge or provocation what will you do? Will your first thought be to avenge a wrong? And will your second be to calm your inner caveman? Hopefully your third thought will focus on creating mechanisms to preserve your relationship and to not inflict quite so much damage as you initially wished? Good luck with the struggle…
Matthew Hill is a culture and diversity facilitator working with international corporate executives.