May’s Brexit Election – A Cultural View – by Matthew Hill

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.

Big Ben and House of Parliament at River Thames International La

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.

Tropical caribbean island in open ocean

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.

Teamwork

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.

Warning Yellow Tape Strips You are about to cross the line

Conclusion

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.

 

Reverse culture shock – the dirty little secret of repatriation by Felicia Schwartz

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.

Crazy Suitcase Plane

Coming home…

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.

What a blunder!

Why did I ever come back?

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.

Felicia Schwartz

* 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.

 

Country Cultural Stereotypes – Are they out of date?

Bipolar or 3D?

Here is a thought provoking post to kick of the ITC year. If you are prone to strong emotions – you will enjoy this article as there is something for everybody to react to…

I am still surprised to see intercultural diagrams showing bipolar dimensions populated with country flags. The historical starting point for this was the pioneering work at IBM carried out by Dr. Geert Hofstede. His premise was that countries were a valid and useful unit of comparative culture and that, further more, over time they have produced unique conditions that, in turn, shape country cultures. Additionally we were told that country culture is, mostly, a constant and unchanging phenomenon.

collage of people on the phone

Technology is changing culture.

BEFORE

The thoughts and filters of scientists and engineers are subconsciously influenced by their environment. Certainly various conditions present in the 1960’s helped to support early interculture theory.

When viewed from the present day, populations 50 or 60 years ago were relatively sedentary. Air transport was prohibitively expensive and not available to all, the Iron Curtain was in place, China was closed and the technology did not exist to promote affordable multicultural exchange or the viable existence of remote and virtual teams. There were many fewer transnational corporations and, most importantly of all, social ranking represented the status quo and this norm was not questioned or challenged as much as it is today – more on that later.

NOW – while there are many aspects of modern life that disgust us – perpetual war, wealth inequality and massive social injustice, there also exist things that represent forces for liberation and progress. A byproduct of these positive changes is that we can enjoy a more holistic view of culture.

Borders – A hundred year’s ago this May, French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot and Brit, Sir Mark Sykes secretly settled the political areas of influence in Asia Minor drawing up a new map favouring government expedience and over cultural sensitivity. This document demonstrated the awesome power wielded by posh white men. The resulting map was to have profound consequences for the Middle East. The effects of its creation continue to be felt today.

Travel – The availability of travel is exemplified by my children. They can match their age with the number of countries visited – It is taken as something like a human right to move and experience geographic contrast. Cheap airlines, airbnb and cash machines facilitate the massive modern movement of people. 2004 and 2014 had profound effects on the movement of people seeking employment within the EU countries.

Technology – virtual videoconference equipment, Skype and Facetime are shrinking the world and giving us access to more experience – instantly. A trivial example happened this Christmas – we had a Facetime call and saw into a German home – with candles lit on the Christmas tree. We even joined in singing. We did not have to leave London to experience this.

Awareness and diversity – the secret and overt revolution that is moving culture training away from sophisticated country stereotypes to something more nuanced and layered centres on diversity. Via education and experience we are moving from acceptance of social rank, to question and investigate both privilege and marginality. We are looking for answers. Pioneering work in this field has enabled a mindful generation to form and own their identity based on more than 70 aspects of diversity thus moving beyond country of origin. In some cases this represents a journey from oppression to deeper community membership. Dogged communication exposing the mechanism and social cost of the old colonial system and historical country power structures is now moving the bar for many, formerly excluded people.

Social media – put simply, the democratic forces of the web can transcend the historic barriers of class, education, wealth or gender oppression. The absence of a dominant country passport is no longer fatal. More are allowed participate via the virtual, connected world.

Group of friends having fun together outdoors

What is possible now?

The FUTURE

So, in the last 60 years we have moved from a rigid white Anglo Saxon Protestant male authored power model with its world of self drawn maps and fixed countries to a richer and multifaceted reality where each individual’s net privilege and marginality combine with other connections and relationships to give access to virtual communities, education and economic possibilities. On offer is membership of something shared and beyond being from a winning or losing country.

The shift from dimensions to a world of 3 dimensions makes bipolar scales look a little dusty, like a museum exhibit.